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Things are tough all over.

   Breaking on The Buffalo News Web site today:
- Deficit grows to $3 billion as Paterson asks for ideas - Tom Precious/The Buffalo News
   ALBANY -- Fiscal officials in the Paterson administration and Legislature believe the state's deficit is at least $3 billion -- $900 million more than estimated in July.Paterson108
   In a letter today to his negotiation counterparts in the Legislature, Robert Megna, the governor's budget director, said the Paterson administration needs the help of lawmakers to close the red ink.
   The request came a couple days after Paterson ordered $500 million worth of savings in state agencies -- which is about as much as he can do on his own, officials say, without approval from the Legislature.
   Hours later, Paterson rejected -- before it was even made public -- a five-year capital program for roads and bridges work around the state, saying the state's precarious fiscal condition will imperil the projects
.

   Elsewhere:
- State's budget faces $415 million shortfall - The Des Moines (Iowa) Register
   State officials must ax $415 million in state spending over the next nine months, the most severe midyear cut in more than 40 years.
   It will mean trims and elimination of some government services, and some state employees will face layoffs.
   A projected nose dive in tax collections prompted Iowa Gov. Chet Culver on Wednesday to vow to cut at least 8.4 percent from the current budget, if not more.

- Heineman calls special session of Legislature to cut budget - The Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star
   The Legislature will meet in special session, possibly beginning Nov. 4, to deal with declining state tax receipts and revise the state budget, Gov. Dave Heineman announced Wednesday....
   General fund tax receipts through Sept. 30, the end of the first quarter of the two-year budget, are below projections for the quarter by $56.8 million, Heineman said. Gross general fund receipts for the month were $358 million, 9 percent below the forecast of $393 million.

- House approves state budget, accompanying tax bill - Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette
   HARRISBURG -- It looks like 100 may be the General Assembly's lucky number, as legislators near the end of arduous work on a long-overdue state budget.
   In a 107-93 vote tonight, the state House approved a state spending plan along with a tax code bill, which includes $1.7 billion in new revenue to fund it...
   The revenue bill raises the cigarette tax by 25 cents per pack, delays the phaseout of a tax on business assets, authorizes leasing of more state forest land for natural gas drilling, depletes the state's "rainy day" emergency fund and starts a tax amnesty program aimed at getting scofflaws to pay up.
   The new taxes, which accompany $2 billion in federal stimulus aid and $25 billion from the sales tax, income tax, corporate taxes and other state revenues, will pay for a fiscal year 2009-10 budget of nearly $27.8 billion. The fiscal year started July 1 -- 99 days ago.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Buffalo, you are not alone

Some news from elsewhere. And why it sounds familiar:

- Pavement to Parks Allison Arieff/The New York Times
   Last Friday, cities and towns throughout the world celebrated Park(ing) Day, an event created to bring awareness to the importance of using and enjoying public space.

- Why not turn vacant lots into gardens? Donn Esmonde/The Buffalo News
   Buffalo’s full-bore demolition policy has left in its wake thousands of vacant lots. Next to many of them are homeowners like [Roxanne] Chase, who would gladly turn an eyesore into a lawn for kids to play on or a garden to brighten the street.

- Jail conditions violate rights of prisoners, feds say Laura Maggi/The New Orleans Times-Picayune
   Conditions at the Orleans Parish jail "violate the constitutional rights of inmates," according to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice released Tuesday that focused on inmate safety and mental health care....
   Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who runs the jail, lambasted the report, saying it doesn't reflect the current reality at the complex or take into account difficulties his agency has faced since Hurricane Katrina. "This report is a terribly dated, fundamentally flawed work done by people who obviously have little appreciation of the tasks facing a city in recovery from the greatest national disaster in this country's history," Gusman said in a statement.

- State sues county over jail conditions Matthew Spina/The Buffalo News
   The State Commission of Correction charged in a lawsuit Tuesday that the Erie County Holding Center consistently violates state standards and that jail managers have failed to correct the problems, despite their claims. ...
   "This lawsuit is a blatant political attack in an election year to cast negative aspersions on the good work done by the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office,” said [Sheriff Timothy] Howard, the Republican incumbent.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News 

Is Sotomayor's confirmation a forgone conclusion?


   WASHINGTON — So often when a president picks a Supreme Court justice, Washington politics suddenly turns into something akin to Red Sox vs. Yankees. The two parties dig in and dig deep and argue that the nominee will either preserve and protect the Constitution or turn it into a paper airplane.

   But something different happened Tuesday, when President Obama nominated appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace retiring Justice David A. Souter.

   Democrats offered the kind of praise you might expect — but key Republicans spoke cautiously about Sotomayor and their approach to vetting her.

   Sotomayor's confirmation will surely get more confrontational as her hearings and a Senate vote draw closer, but there was something striking about the subdued GOP reaction on Tuesday.

   It's enough to make you wonder: are Republicans afraid of enraging the huge and growing Hispanic population, which reacted with joy to the appointment of the first Hispanic justice?

   Or did Sotomayor somehow manage to sit on the federal bench for nearly two decades without
leaving conservatives much ammunition to use against her?

   —Jerry Zremski

New York's newest senator still unknown to many - and vulnerable

After eight years of following Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton from Washington to Waterloo, Iowa, and beyond, I couldn't help but notice the differences last week when I tagged along as her replacement in the Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand, got to know her new New York City constituents.

There were no Secret Service agents trailing Gillibrand, no battalion of cameramen, no gawking autograph-seekers. Instead, there was just Gillibrand and one crowd after another filled with people who either didn't recognize her or didn't have much of any opinion about her.

Such is the state of affairs for the former upstate congresswoman who is trying to suddenly serve the giant, and very different, political constituency of New York City.

Aiming to please, Gillibrand has shown a newfound interest in gun legislation and eased the harsh edge of her stance on immigration, but that has done nothing to stop a coterie of potential Democratic primary challengers from lining up behind her.

The question is: Can she fend off potential challengers like Reps. Carolyn McCarthy, Carolyn Maloney and Steve Israel, who are far better known downstate?

— Jerry Zremski

Read the full story.

Sobering enrollment numbers for upstate Republicans

These are not exactly the best of times for the Republican Party — nationally, statewide or in Western New York.

Now the party's woes are reflected in a cold, hard statistic: for the first time in anyone's memory, upstate New York collectively falls into the Democratic column.

That old, reliable concept of upstate countering the Democratic advantages of New York City now lies in the past.

There are reasons for all of this. New York Republicans have never identified with the more conservative brand the party now sports in other parts of the country. The New York GOP, after all, always had a good number of "Rockefeller Republicans" in the more liberal fashion of the late Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller.

In addition, even Republican pundits acknowledge that the party finds itself at low ebb resulting from the unpopularity of former President George W. Bush. The pendulum, they say, is on a leftward path for the moment.

All is not lost for the GOP. The party has recently elected county executives in Erie, Monroe and Onondaga counties, and Michael R. Bloomberg became mayor of New York as a Republican (he is now an independent). And many see the 2010 gubernatorial election as another golden opportunity for Republicans, especially in view of the many problems encountered by Democratic incumbent David A. Paterson.

Still, it's a sobering moment for the GOP. The party controls no statewide office and lost its majority in the Senate in 2008. Some, like former Erie County Republican Chairman Bob Davis, say it's time for Republicans to develop a message and articulate it.

Do you think the newest statistic sounds the death knell for the Republican Party in New York? Or do you believe it can re-establish itself as part of the state's political mix with the right message and the right messenger?

— Robert J. McCarthy

Read the full story.

A message of hope at the Lincoln Memorial

   WASHINGTON … Pop music concerts are supposed to be one step short of a party, but Sunday's inaugural opening event at the Lincoln Memorial was decidedly different.

   Sure, the crowd danced and swayed as Garth Brooks stole the show with his rocking versions of "American Pie" and "Shout," but it stood eerily silent when Tom Hanks read from Abraham Lincoln and when Barack Obama ascended to the podium two days before he becomes president.

   And Obama himself leavened the mood with a speech that was both somber and hopeful.

   "In the course of our history, only a handful of generations have been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right now," Obama said.

   Noting that the nation is at war and that the economic crisis has left many worrying about the future, Obama said: "I won't pretend that meeting any one of these challenges will be easy. It will take more than a month or a year, and it will likely take many. Along the way there will be setbacks and false starts and days that test our resolve as a nation."

   But then Obama transitioned into the more hopeful message that defined both his campaign and the performances by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder.

   "But despite all of this … despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead … I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure … that the dream of our founders will live on in our time," Obama said.

   The incoming president has been doing this for weeks now: talking in a more measured way about the hope he preached during his campaign, and warning of tough times ahead.

   It's all enough to make one wonder: how tough are those times going to be?

   … Jerry Zremski

Is star power trumping competence?

  WASHINGTON —  Sen. Caroline Kennedy, D-N.Y.

   Yes, we're getting a little bit ahead of ourselves here — but we might be seeing that phrase a lot in the coming years.

   Just when it seemed as if we might be through with celebrity senators from the Empire State, here comes the daughter of a slain ex-president and maybe the next generation of America's premier Democratic dynasty.

   Polls released Tuesday indicated that Kennedy, a 51-year-old lawyer from New York City,was the favorite of rank-and-file Democrats for appointment   to the next two years of the term of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is in line to become secretary of state.

   The appointment is in the hands of Gov. David A. Paterson, who surely knows that a Kennedy appointment would give New York another senator with star power.

   But this raises some questions.

   In the end, what good is star power?

   And why does New York keep looking for it when choosing its senators?

   -- Jerry Zremski

Big Three bailout -- the devil is in the details

   WASHINGTON  -- So now, suddenly, the debate over the auto bailout seems to be all about details and options.

   At a six-hour hearing Thursday that often moved as slowly as a '74 Pinto, senators from both parties kept throwing out alternatives  to writing the $34 billion blank check Detroit is seeking.

   Options spelled out over the course of the hearing included a Treasury Department or Federal Reserve bailout using existing funds or a mandate that some of the recently rescued banks come to the aid of the auto companies.    Meanwhile, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., suggested a two-tier approach in which auto companies would get immediate loans and federal oversight, and more money later if they meet preset conditions.

   So, which should it be?

   Or shall we take our chances and bet that Mark Zandi, of Moodyseconomy.com,  is wrong when he suggests that letting Detroit die would cost taxpayers several times more than any bailout?

   -- Jerry Zremski

Spitzer avoids prosecution for his dalliances

   Eliot Spitzer, who spent a lifetime in public office condemning wrongdoers, got lucky Thursday with the decision by federal prosecutors to not charge him with a crime for his role in a prostitution ring.

   The former governor, who thought one day he could become president, has been sweating since March that he would be charged for patronizing a prostitution ring. His allies -- and there are not many of those left -- say Spitzer, who was brought down from office by the scandal, already was punished, and is still being punished, for his sexual dalliances.

   Prosecutors were clear they found nothing illegal in how Spitzer paid for the services. There was no money laundering and no campaign funds were used.

   The public statement from the U.S. Attorney's office did not say why it did not use the Mann Act -- a law making it a crime to cross state borders to engage in acts of prostitution -- to go after Spitzer.

   Michael Garcia, the top federal prosecutor in the Justice Department's Southern District in New York City, said simply that the "public interest would not be further advanced" by charging Spitzer with a crime.

   Now what?

   Will Spitzer, who talked at the time of his March resignation of someday trying to get involved with some higher cause, return in any way to a visible public scene, such as through some charitable work? Or is he destined to use his law degree and credentials to keep working out of his wealthy father's real estate development company?

   -- Tom Precious

After years of hubris, Obama offers humility

   CHICAGO -- Now comes the hard part.

   For Barack Obama, the challenges of a campaign -- the constant travel, the ups and downs of the polls, the darts thrown daily by your opponents -- will pale in comparison to the financial crisis and the two wars that await him. Both Democrats and Republicans agree on that.

   The trouble for Obama is, that's about all that they agree on. And while Obama will have enlarged Democratic majorities to work with in both the House and the Senate, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton proved that Democratic majorities are not enough to guarantee success for a Democratic president.

   But there are some things that seem decidedly different about Obama. Most notably, he's starting out by naming a chief of staff who actually knows Capitol Hill: Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill.

   And for another, just listen to our new president-elect:

   "Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long," he said Tuesday night. "Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House -- a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty and national unity.

   "Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress.  As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, "We are not enemies, but friends -- though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection."  And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn -- I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too."

   I can't help but wonder, though: after years of bitter partisanship, how will Republicans -- and Democrats -- react to a president who talks like that?

   -- Jerry Zremski

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