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GOP braces for Senate staff cuts

This from the very good Capital Confidential political blog of the Albany Times Union:

(Senate) policy staffers expect that only 1 out of 5 will remain in their job in the new year, according to a source familiar with the announcement.

That's what a changeover from Republican to Democratic control will get you. Let's see how many staff the Dems hire. The Legislature certainly has room to downsize.

The Legislature's highest-paid staffer isn't waiting for the axe.

Steve Bogess, longtime secretary of the Senate, is retiring this year, in time to make a career of lobbying (ethics rules would require him to take two years off before lobbying if he retired after Dec. 30).

Speaking of good political blogs, check out Daily Politics from Elizabeth Benjamin of the New York Daily News.

PS: Check back Monday for my next new posting. I'll be enjoying a long Thanksgiving weekend in the meantime. Hope you enjoy your holiday.

Senator Higgins?

It's looking more and more likely Hillary Clinton will be vacating her U.S. Senate seat.

And it's becoming more and more apparent that Brian Higgins is drawing serious interest as her possible replacement, if the talk of the chattering class is any indication. The argument that it's upstate's time for a statewide office appears to be gaining traction.

This is not to say Higgins is going to get the appointment. But perhaps it's time to kick around the pros and cons and implications of a Higgins appointment.

I'll start.

Pro: Western New York gets a strong voice in the statewide political apparatus.

Con: He could wind up losing the seat to a downstater as soon as it comes up for election, short-circuiting a promising career in the Congress.

Implication: A lot of musical chairs at the local level as pols scramble for his Congressional seat, with the winner creating a void that is filled by someone who creates yet antoher void. And so on.

Kind of obvious stuff, I'll admit. But I want to start on conversation. To further lubricate the conversation, here's an online poll. One vote per reader, please.

Crunching state payroll and deficit numbers

   As I'm watching this train wreck of a state budget crumple like an accordion, I've wondered when any of our fearful leaders in Albany are going to start talking the obvious.


   Face it, any company in the state's position, with a projected deficit of $1.5 billion this budget year and at least $12.5 billion next year, would have started cutting jobs by now. But nary is heard a discouraging word out of Albany on this front. Yet.

   There's a lot to work with. The state employs 239,830 - as in full-time employees - and that's not including the various authorities. That head count is up 7,979 jobs, or 3.4 percent in the past two years, since the Democrats regained control of the governor's office.

   What's more, the pace of job growth has gained speed in the past year, despite a supposed hiring freeze.

   This leaves us with more state employees than we've had since 1991.

   Depressed yet?

   A review of state payroll figures complied by the comptroller's office shows some noteworthy trends.

   For starters, guess which of the 59 departments, divisions and agencies experienced the greatest growth, as a percentage of it's work force, over the past two years?

   The governor's office.

   Yup, the governor's office. It's up 25 percent, having added 35 jobs to what had been 139 positions under former Gov. George Pataki.

   The two state-funded university systems lead the way in terms of sheer job growth. SUNY added 2,441 jobs, the City University of New York 2,204. Together, they account for more than half of the state's overall job growth.

   About half of the rest are in three health-related departments - health, mental health and mental retardation and developmental disabilities. They total 1,826 jobs.

   Next in line is the judicial system, up 832 jobs.

   Who has lost jobs? The biggest drop has been parks, recreation and historic preservation, down 167 jobs, or 4.8 percent.

   So, with all this said, how much do you save by whacking jobs?

   The average state worker costs $86,858 including both wages and benefits.

   I did a spreadsheet that costs out various scenarios, involving anywhere from 5,000 to 25,000 job cuts, which would account for anywhere from 2 to 10 percent of the state workforce. (Mario Cuomo cut about 18,000 jobs in the early 1990s in the face of a fiscal meltdown.)

   Cut 5,000 jobs and you save a little less that $435 million a year. Cut 25,000 - 10 percent of positions - and you save $2.2 billion.

   Considering what we're up against - a need for some $14 billion in cuts - my math tells me that layoffs don't make much of a dent in the deficit.

   Suppose you go whole hog and cut 10 percent of jobs. Roll back spending to the level of two years ago. You end up saving about $8 billion. That still leaves you with $6 billion to go.


   Next year is going to be ugly. Real ugly.

   The Empire Center for New York State Policy publishes something called Public Payroll Watch, which is where I've drawn my numbers from. Here's the latest report. Here's another report from a year ago, which includes an expanded analysis.

   Finally, the Empire Center publishes a blog called Public Payroll Watch, which includes links to the day's related news stories  I've added it to my favorites list - maybe you should, too.

Speculation that envisions Hoyt stepping up if ..., which focuses on state and New York City politics, has published this chart showing scenarios if any one of 11 potential candidates to succeed Hillary Clinton gets appointed by Gov. Paterson.

Two scenarios have Western New York angles.

If the event Brian Higgins gets the appointment, Sam Hoyt is seen getting Higgins' Congressional seat.

In the event Byron Brown is our next senator, Hoyt is seen as succeeding Brown as mayor. (I hope Steve Piegon is sitting down as he reads this).

Brown's appointment is regarded by most as a prohibitive long shot, Higgins' less so, as he's usually one of three or four names mentioned as the most likely appointees.

Of course, who knows if Hillary is offered, or accepts, a post with the Obama administration.

File under "Do as I say"

Just when you think perhaps Gov. Paterson gets it, along comes this report from the Albany Times Union on the pruchase of a $21,000, 10-foot-by-15-foot antique carpet for the governor's mansion. The vendor was a big contibutor to the Spitzer-Paterson ticket.

Described as a "Turkish patchwork collection (made of antique rugs in Turkey)," the carpet sold for $16,811.25, according to an invoice obtained from the state Comptroller's Office.

There was an additional $4,350 for labor, supplies and decorative stitch work.

Stark Carpet Corp. contributed $3,000 to the Spitzer-Paterson gubernatorial campaign in 2005 and 2006. The firm also gave $5,000 in 2003, according to state records.

Gimme shelter from this thinking

It was all so depressingly Western New York.

The folks who run the state Power Authority are finally coming off their high horses after, well, forever. They show up in town to hold a board meeting and invite movers and shakers to give them an earful.

Nearly a dozen take them up on the offer, but most showed up mostly to put their hand out.

Gimme, gimme, gimme.

Granted, some of them are pols and bureaucrats from cities and towns that got shorted when the authority was dispensing cash and cheap power four years ago in a successful effort to gain local support for its effort to get a new 50-year license to operate the Niagara Power Project.

Hey guys, I feel for you, but that ship has sailed.

Then there was the owner of the HSBC Tower who asked for a block of cheap power for downtown business interests. I sat there and thought to myself (1) cheap power has way more value to energy-intensive manufacturers than commercial operations such as banks and offices, which consume a lot less electricity, and (2) is there any subsidy program the boys downtown won't try and lay their hands on?

Kessel_in_buffalo Folks, I've seen Rich Kessel, the new NYPA boss, in action three times and think I'm getting a handle on the guy. And if you play your cards right, you have a good chance of coming away happy.

But playing your cards right doesn't involve simply saying gimme, gimme, gimme.

The authority under Kessel has opened preliminary discussions with Hydro-Quebec about buying loads of cheap hydropower, a good chunk of which could end up here.

Kessel also seems open about rethinking how cheap hydropower generated at the Niagara Power Project is used to promote economic growth here.

Finally, he's big on wind power, which means NYPA could be the catalyst to helping this region develop its wind resources. We're something like the 4th windiest urban area east of the Mississippi. It's good for more than just a nasty wind chill on a January night.

My advice, therefore, it to focus on the big picture. Kessel is.

A little cheap juice for this guy's office building or a little scratch for that pol's town government isn't going to get WNY out of its economic fix.

This region blew a major opportunity to get hydro right in the way it mishandled the negotiations involving the relicensing of the Power Project. As one environmental attorney described it: "Community against community, group against group. It was clear there were a lot of people out for their own piece of the pie."

I'm not suggesting those dynamics are at play this time around. Not yet, anyway.

But people, please, recognize there's an opportunity to get it right. Stop with the "gimme" stuff.

Hopefully Kessel is hearing more enlightened perspectives in private meetings he'd had with people around town. But it makes me wonder, given our track record as a community.

Double-checking Golisano's math

Bob McCarthy reports in today's News that Tom Golisano's Responsible New York spent $4.4 million this election season on State Senate and Assembly candidates.  He dropped $760,000 on winning Senate candidates and $2.3 million on losers. Then there's a boatload he dropped -- maybe a half-million, the public record makes it hard to make a precise calculation -- on behalf of Barbra Kavanaugh in an effort to oust Sam Hoyt in the September primary for the 144th Assembly seat.

That means Golisano and his sidekick Steve Pigeon spent nearly $4 on losing candidates for every $1 they invested in a winner, at least among his major investments.

I'm not sure I'd want to take this guy with me to bet on the ponies.

I mean, among the Senate horses he bet at least $100,000 on, he backed two winners and four losers. Plus Hoyt in the Assembly.

Golisano thinks he's standing in the winner's circle, however.

Ask to assess his performance, Golisano told McCarthy he thought he hit "a solid double; maybe a triple.”

Golisano also said he was OK with the tactics used against Hoyt. He deemed as necessary what many consider to be gutter-level attacks and said, "It bothers me that people think it was sort of vicious."

Legislative spending continues

New computers. New copiers. Refurbished conference rooms. Budget deficit? What budget deficit? Capital Confidential by the Albany Times Union has the details on the state Senate in action.

An upstate successor if Hillary leaves?

Let's speculate for a minute.

Suppose President-elect Barack Obama appoints Hillary Clinton secretary of state. Who would get her Senate seat?

Another downstater? Perhaps. Probably. I mean, they hold every other major office in the state  -- governor, comptroller, attorney general, Assembly speaker, Senate majority leader and both U.S. Senate seats.

What if Gov. David Paterson decides to make a gesture to upstate and go north of the Westchester County line for a successor? We've only had four senators from upstate since the Great Depression and the two from Western New York were appointed when their predecessor died in office.

Way back in 1938, James Meade, who was then representing Buffalo is the House of Representatives, was appointed to the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Royal Copeland. Meade won a full six-year term in 1940. He gave up the seat at the conclusion of that term to run for governor.

In 1968, Nelson Rockefeller appointed Charles Goodell of Jamestown to fill Bobby Kennedy's seat after he was assassinated. He lost the seat to Conservative James Buckley when he ran for a full six-year term in 1971, getting only a quarter of the vote in a three-way race.

Two others from upstate gained their Senate offices at the ballot box. Irving Ives, from Chenango County in Central New York, served from 1947 to 1959. Kenneth Keating of Rochester served from 1959 to 1965. He lost his seat to RFK, who he denounced as a "carpetbagger."

In other words, no one from upstate has represented New York in the Senate in 36 years. Which is to say, good luck getting a Senate seat if you're from upstate, and a vacancy may be your best bet, especially if you're from WNY.

So, what does the upstate talent pool look like?

Higgins_and_hillary_2 Brian Higgins looks like the best candidate of the lot. He's got more time in the House, and/or has won election/re-election by wider margins than most of the upstate members of the House. He's tight with Hillary. He's not close to Paterson like he was to former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, but it's not like they're enemies. 

And, perhaps most importantly, his selection would shut up all those people in this neck of the woods who bemoan the fact upstaters don't hold any of the state's major political seats. That could help Paterson politically as he runs for a full term as governor.

Still, Higgins would be a long shot. An even longer one would be Leecia Eve, the Harvard-educated lawyer and daughter of Arthur O. Eve who Spitzer considered as a running mate before settling on Paterson. She used to work for Hillary, too.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown? I don't see it. He was close to Paterson back when they both served in the state Senate, and they might still be. But Brown has a relatively narrow base, even in his own back yard, and it's getting narrower. So it's probably Higgins or no one from upstate, at least from WNY.

Of course, there's a longer list of downstaters being mentioned as a possible successor. It starts with Paterson himself, although taking the job would mean turning the governor's office over to the next State Senate majority leader, most likely Malcom Smith, because there's no lieutenant governor.

Other names in the mix include Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, a couple of downstate Congress members, Joseph Crowley of Queens and Nita Lowey of Westchester County; and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental attorney mentioned as EPA secretary in an Obama administration.

Gee, he'd be an intriguing choice, huh?

The Buffalo Pundit has a post on this, as well. So does Politico, which mentions some additional potential successors, although the list strikes me as something akin to "everything but the kitchen sink."

Of course, no one knows if Obama will offer Clinton the job, or if she'd accept. But speculation is fun, isn't it?

A postscript to Joel Giambra's Furnituregate

Ah, for the good old days, when men were men, boys were boys, Joel Giambra gave county business to his buddies and Eliot Spitzer sued everyone in sight.

SpanoI report in today's News that Jim Spano has fallen behind in repaying Erie County for excessive prices he charged for office furniture he sold to the county when Giambra was running the show. Spano missed a payment of $32,500 due in August.

In court papers filed Wednesday, the state attorney general agreed to let him spread the payments over the next 10 months. Spano's lawyer said the poor economy has denied him the cash flow necessary to make the payment in one lump sum.

I did investigative pieces in October and December 2003 that found that Spano, who was Giambra's best friend and chief political fund-raiser at the time, overcharged the county and  Erie County Medical Center by up to $550,000.

The county went on a spending spree for office furniture after Giambra took office in 2000 and awarded 85 percent of the business, worth $2.5 million, to Spano's firm, Buffalo Office Interiors. The purchases involved work surfaces, filing cabinets and other components of modular workstations. The company billed the county and ECMC at higher rates than it charged other government customers for the same products and services, despite bid specifications requiring vendors to give the county the lowest prices offered others.

County Comptroller Nancy Naples followed up with a review that came to the same conclusion and Spitzer then filed suit. The AG and Spano settled out of court in August 2006.

To date, Spano has paid $62,500 of the $225,000 he agreed to pay the county. If he was on schedule, he'd be up to $95,000.

The scandal proved to be the beginning of the end for Giambra, who was a bit of a Golden Boy up to that point. The furniture sales were brazen, and it wasn't too long until Giambra did his green-red budget, which spelled his doom.

Giambra_5I covered Giambra first as a member of the Common Council, then city comptroller, and just a bit as county executive, mostly in relation to my investigation of the furniture sales. Talk about a guy who changed over time.

I knew Giambra pretty well when he was in City Hall. A competent public official and a very likable guy, he started off almost every conversation with a dirty joke. Usually a pretty good one.

I don't know if it was the episode with cancer or the power of being county executive, but he was a changed  guy by the time I called him in 2003 to talk about his dealings with Spano.

Brooding. Easily agitated. Quick to find dark conspiracies. Me, Nancy Naples, Eliot Spitzer were all out to get him because he was an Italian, a Republican, whatever.

It made for good press, but at the same time, it was kind of sad. Joel was no dummy and was right on some of the big issues, starting with regionalism. But his hubris did him in. 

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