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Greening Niagara Falls -- an interview

I recently used the word "politician" in describing Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster to someone. I was swiftly admonished.

"He is NOT a politician!"

Ah, OK, he's a college professor, arms negotiator, small business owner, environmentalist, doctor of international law and studies and, well, elected official. Will that do? Is it enough to make you want to listen to him hold court for 14:20 on his vision for greening Niagara Falls. He knows his stuff.

This video was shot to accompany a story I did last month contrasting green efforts by city governments in Niagara Falls and Buffalo. I also did a companion video report and blog post.

Among the points Dyster made in a series of interviews:

"Green has to permeate every aspect of your decision-making. It's a different paradigm of looking at public policy."

"The cities that are the most nimble in addressing the challenges of their day will become more prosperous. Those that lag on this issue are going to find themselves increasingly impoverished."

And, although this is not a direct quote, stop squandering hydropower on fading industries and instead use it to develop renewable energy businesses.

Right on, Mr. Mayor, right on. Even if you are that "P" word. Or not.

Schools would still get more state aid

Allow me to put Gov. David Paterson's proposal to cut school aid in perspective.

If Paterson's proposal was enacted, school districts across the state would still get more aid from Albany than last year. It would just be less of an increase. State education aid would would increase $1 billion, rather than $1.8 billion, which would amount to a 5 percent increase over last budget year.

Second, districts are required to maintain reserves to cover unanticipated developments like this.

Third, the deficit clouds were already forming when Albany agreed to the record increase in school aid in April. You could see this midyear correction coming a mile away. But that didn't stop school districts from doing what they always do with more state aid. Spend more.

Nevertheless, we've got school bureaucrats doing their Chicken Little routine.

Chicken_little “It’s unfair and it would be devastating midyear,” Yonkers Superintendent Bernard P. Pierorazio said in this New York Times story.

“That’s a number way too big to deal with midyear,” said Grand Island Superintendent Robert Christmann in today's Buffalo News.

This is the same school district that used its increase in state aid to help boost  spending this budget year by 6.5 percent, a bigger increase than all but three of the 28 school districts in Erie County.

Nevertheless, Christmann said the so-called cuts would set off a "tidal wave across New York State."

Yeah, right.

Greening Buffalo - an interview

Last month I did a story contrasting green efforts by city governments in Niagara Falls and Buffalo. I also did a companion video report and blog post.

One of the key interviews I did for the story involved Sam Magavern, an instructor at the University at Buffalo Law School, co-author of "Greening Buffalo: What Local Governments Can Do" and a leader in the Partnership for the Public Good. The video above features a 13:47 invterview with Magavern. Good stuff if you're interested enough in the topic to sit through it.

Among the key points made by Magavern, in a series of telephone and video interviews about what's going on and not going on in Buffalo:

"I think we're still substantially behind most peer cities. If you look at a Milwaukee, a Cincinnati, they've got a lot more going on."

"We need to set measurable targets and set strategies to achieve them."

"There are a lot of things you can do that are low cost or actually save you money in the end."

Tomorrow I'll post a full-length interview with Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster.

Upcoming green conferences

There's a couple of green conferences on the horizon.

First up, this Friday and Saturday, is the Chautauqua County Energy Conference and Expo in Mayville. Here's a link to the agenda. Sessions include one by the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities on their proposed coal-fired power plant (Saturday at 9:45 a.m.), followed at 12:45 p.m. by Walter Simpson, who will no doubt be offering a different perspective.

On Nov. 22, Sam Hoyt is hosting a Green Jobs Conference from 8 a.m. to noon at ECC's downtown campus. This is a follow to the successful green conference held at Buffalo State College in April.

The conference will touch on 10 topics: community revitalization; manufacturing; public awareness and education; energy; existing opportunities and best practices; creating opportunities and industries; training programs; housing waste management and recycling; transportation; and public health and food.

To register, call 885-9630 or visit


A blogger's take on NYPA

I'm not sure what to make of this, but there's a blog out there that has a section called Richie Kessel/NYPA Watch. I'm passing the link along for what it's worth, which is at least a look.

The blogger takes issue with Kessel's interest in developing wind power. As I see it, NYPA should be exploring the possibilities, which have especially good potential in WNY.

As for the blog, Street Corner Conservative, when it comes to NYPA, the more people keeping on eye on it, the better.

My version of Hot Stove League

New_yankee_stadium_3The baseball season may be over, but controversy about the public subsidies for Yankee Stadium continue.

Clawback, the blog of Good Jobs First, has a good roundup of the latest developments, including a take out by the New York Times on the deals for both the Yankees and Mets.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press is reporting the Yankees are having a hard time moving all their suites because of the economy.

Given the state's fiscal condition, this could be the last big stadium/arena project for a good, long while. Besides, what is left to build?

Some of you might say a replacement for Ralph Wilson Stadium at some point in the future. Yeah, it's 35 years old, and it's modest by NFL standards. And yes, the team's lease expires in 2012. But it's not gonna happen.

State Sen. Antoine Thompson has floated a new stadium idea a couple of times and it's gone nowhere. The idea of using precious waterfront real estate may have something to do with it. But the notion of sinking well in excess of a half-billion-dollars into a facility used 10 times a year doesn't make a lot of sense, at least not here.

Yeah, it makes sense in Dallas and New York, where you can sell suites and seat licenses at top-top dollar. WNY just doesn't have the corporate base to pull it off.

Spending continues unabated - for now

It's not just New York state government that has spent itself into a deep hole filled with red ink. It seems state and local governments across the nation have been living beyond their means, according to this story in USA Today.

Even as the economy slides into recession, many state and local governments continue to spend freely and expand their workforces.

State and local spending jumped 7.4% in the third quarter compared with a year earlier, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. Hiring increased faster than in any sector except health care.

Total state and local revenue grew just 2.6% in the third quarter. Sales tax collections fell 0.6% as consumers cut spending.

New York's fiscal crunch - we're looking at $14 billion deficit over the balance of this budget year and next - means belt tightening not only at the state level, but in cities, towns, villages and school districts. Painful on one hand, but arguably long overdue.

State aid has enabled localities to keep spending in the style they're accustomed to. Consider this post and this post on how school districts this year used a record increase in state aid, and this post on how city government in Buffalo has intentionally made itself more and more reliant on state largess.

Without a sugar daddy in Albany, perhaps City Hall would bargain labor contracts that end the practice of employees gaming the pension system so retirement payments don't approach, and sometimes surpass, the paychecks of people when they were working. So far as I can tell, the recent settlement with the fire union that Byron Brown wants the Control Board to approve allows the abuse to continue.

More red ink

It turns out there's more than one state budget deficit to worry about.

Most everyone knows about the $1.5 billion deficit projected for the balance of this budget year and a bigger $12.5 billion gap next year.

There's a whole additional layer to state government -- authorities -- and a report issued a few months ago and recently brought to my attention by a reader shows these shadow governments aren't in great shape either. 

Revenues the two previous budget years, ending this spring, increased 5 percent while expenses grew 14 percent. The result: authorities project a collective deficit of $876 million this year.

The report by the New York Authority Budget Office went on to say that much of the red ink can be traced to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which, among other things, operates the subway system in New York City, and the Long Island Power Authority. But the problems don't stop there.

The report covers 279 authorities, ranging from statewide authorities, such as the Thruway and Power authorities, to county and town industrial development agencies, to local water and sewer authorities.

Other "highlights" of the report:

-- One-third of authorities failed to report financial data, as required by state law. Among the local entities that failed to meet one or more reporting requirements were the Buffalo Sewer Authority, the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency and the Erie County Medical Center.

-- The Power Authority chalks up some of the biggest operating surpluses in the state, totaling $261 million the past two years.

This reporting system was put into place in 2005, and the report, while somewhat illuminating, could be more informative.

Part of the problem is the absence of information that comes with such widespread non-compliance. But the folks analyzing the data could have done more with what they had to work with. For example, it'd be nice to have a clearer picture of what kind of shape authorities are in once you factor out the MTA and Long Island Power Authority.

That said, the report sounds a warning bell that our fiscal problems extend beyond state government.

A town crier for University Heights

I've come across a nifty Web site for those interested in the downward spiral of University Heights.

The University Heights Answer Lady, as the author dubs herself, takes on the issues that afflict the neighborhood, starting with crime and substandard housing. She maintains this map that pinpoints crime scenes and problem properties. Cool stuff.

It's must reading if you live in University Heights, as well as for anyone who has a concern about what's going on in the city. It's also a good example of what inspired neighborhood activists can do with new media tools.

Buffalo Rising has a post on the site as well, including extensive reader comment. It's worth a read.

A few more election thoughts

OK, people, one last day of election stuff and I'll move on.

I was struck first in the voting booth, and again in reading the vote tabulations in Thursday's paper, at the competition in local judicial races.

Let's see, for Buffalo City Court there was McLeod on the Democratic line and McLeod on the Republican line.

Erie County Court, Pietruszka vs. Pietruszka.

Erie County Family Court, Rodwin vs. Rodwin.

Only when you got to State Supreme Court did you have a choice, three candidates, vote for two.

And they (the party bosses) call this democracy. (Hit it, Bruce)

Next, what lies in store for State Senate Republicans come January, when they lose their majority? My colleague Tom Precious discusses Dale Volker, who spends more on his office operation than anyone in the local delegation, some $1 million.

First elected to the Senate in 1975, Volker was coming to grips Wednesday with his loss of majority power. Come January, he will be stripped of his Codes Committee chairmanship. His staff will be slashed, his office downsized, his influence reduced.

To say nothing of the loss in pork barrel spending, which Volker spread around his district like manure in the months leading up his primary, then general election. Well over $2 million.

My guess: This is it for Volker. After more than three decades in the majority, with all its perks, moving to the back of the bus will hold zero appeal.

Finally, on the national front, Gristmill speculates on what green agenda to expect from an Obama presidency.

A declining carbon cap with fully auctioned permits, massive investments in energy research, job training, infrastructure, and efficiency, a renewable portfolio standard, a low-carbon fuel standard, higher fuel economy standards, and so on and on, in great detail. It is marred by its lavish support for biofuels and "clean coal," but that is a minor flaw in light of the historic changes it would spark if fully implemented.

Will it be fully implemented? In trying to figure out what Obama will do, it's helpful to contemplate how he navigated the campaign itself.

The overall campaign strategy was to play the long game, to proceed steadily toward big targets and not get flustered or distracted by the day-to-day news cycle. No-drama Obama.

MSNBC's Bob Sullivan had a good item the other day about Ralph Nader's final press conference before the election. Nader gave only one-word responses, his way of taking a shot at sound-bite journalism.

What should Bush do on his last day in office? "Surrender."

Will Obama be able to provide tax cuts to 95 percent of the population? "Impossible."

What is your opinion of the media? "Servile."

Contrived, but clever. The reader posts are pretty good, too.

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