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Obama, take four

Obama wants to ...

  • raise taxes on the rich

  • tax excessive carbon emissions

  • revamp defense spending

  • stop raiding medical marijuana facilities, and

  • once again allow the photographing of the coffins of returning dead American soldiers.

I'd say he's batting 5 for 5.

At least that's the view from 10,000 feet. (I reserve the right to snipe later.)

Already, there's whining about "class warfare." To which I say:

"IT'S ABOUT TIME!!!

The working class has been under siege since Ronald Reagan mistook ketchup for a vegetable for the Contras for freedom fighters. 

I'm not ready to declare Obama a working class hero, but heck, I'll use it as a flimsy excuse to toss up a video.

Hit it, Billie Joe.


Here are some links with the details behind the headlines:

Politico on the big picture.

Chicago Tribune on carbon cap and trade.

Gristmill on green components of the budget.

More Gristmill.

Associated Press on the impact on the rich.

LA Times with a budget primer in Q&A format.

NY Times on military spending and priorities.

NY Times on health care.

Washington Post on the Republican budget reaction.

NY Times on photographing coffins.

Alternet on no more pot busts.

Weigh in, people. I know you will.

Good thing Chris Collins isn't political, Part II

Chris Collins owns a business that bids on county work. His bid wins, but rather than going through the usual channels for approval, starting with a review in the County Legislature, he sends it directly to the Control Board for a final OK, never mentioning that the company in question is owned by the county executive.

Is this what Collins has in mind when he talks about running government like a business?

I'm not saying Collins the businessman should necessarily be barred from seeking business from the county government he heads, although something about it doesn't feel quite right.

But if Collins wants to go down that road, it behooves him to be completely aboveboard. 

Instead, he comes off as being sneaky.

Like watching a train wreck

This is from one of my favorite media Web sites, Newspaper Death Watch:

It had to happen.  As the number of layoffs at America’s 500 largest companies nears half a million, several blogs have started to tote up the gloomy numbers.

They include The Layoff List, Layoff Blog, Jobless and Less, The American Lawyer Layoff List (lawyers are people, too, we think), and the TechCrunch Layoff Tracker.

Most were born late last fall. Let’s hope they live short and brutish lives.

Is there any way to stitch something together that zeroes in on layoffs here in WNY, aside from general unemployment numbers?

40-something and retired on our dime

Most cops and firefighters in this state can retire on a full pension after putting in just 20 years on the job. A lot of them get some or all of their health insurance paid for until the day they die, to boot.

Put another way, those who live to a ripe old age will draw a pension for twice as long as they work.

The New York Post published a story the other day that focused on the impact for NYC:

The city's pension system is collapsing under the weight of payments it makes to more than 10,000 retired cops -- all under the age of 50...

An average 42-year-old male firefighter has a life expectancy of 81, according to mortality tables from the New York City Office of the Actuary. A 42-year-old cop can expect to live to 80.

Because many cops and firefighters retire in their 40s, that means they might collect 40 years of pension checks -- topping $2 million apiece.

NY Public Payroll Watch picked it up from there:

Elsewhere in New York, most police officers ... belong to the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). According to the system's Comprehensive Annual Financial Plan, the vast majority of the 15,486 currently active uniformed members are in "20 and out" plans, which have no minimum retirement age and which require no employee contribution...

The Post story does not take account of another key cost for the retirees -- health benefits. Cops and firefighters throughout the state, like most other public-sector retirees from civilian occupations, can remain in the municipal or state health insurance program after retirement.

This comes at a steep cost to taxpayers.

In Buffalo, for example, City Hall is spending $17.6 million on police and fire pensions this fiscal year. The cost of pensions for all other city workers pales by comparison -- $4.3 million -- because they make less money and have to work longer to retire.

Health insurance costs for retirees are another financial sink hole. Buffalo's unfunded liability approaches $1 billion, much of it for retired police officers and firefighters.

Not to worry, though. We've got Sen. Diane Savino on the job.

Voters vent on state Legislature's excesses

Happy to hear some of our state legislators are starting to get an earful about their bloated operations.

What is the guv thinking?

Gov. David Paterson -- the would-be budget slasher -- "charged taxpayers more than $23,000 in lodging and travel for him, his wife and five staffers to attend the Obama inauguration in Washington, D.C.," the Albany Times Union is reporting.

Included in the tab were four nights in a hotel going for $1,280 a night and use of a state plane.

Unbelievable.

Elsewhere, the New York Times has a reader on Paterson's tenure in office thus far, which includes this tid bit.

Since Nov. 12, after calling for accelerated action on the state’s budget, the governor has spent about a third of his time in the capital, and only 14 full weekdays, according to a review of his public schedule.

Hey, why slum it in Albany when he's got us paying for $1,280-a-night digs in D.C.?

Brownfields in search of green

Western New York has a lot of brownfields and poor people and not enough shovel-ready development sites.

Has Phil Wilcox got a deal for you.

Wilcox spearheads a non-profit trying to build support and obtain funding to buy, remediate and reuse the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of acres of brownfields that dot the shorelines of Lake Erie and  the Niagara River from Youngstown to Lackawanna.

The Niagara Green Space Consortium would take title to brownfields, contract to clean them up, and sell or lease them for industrial or recreational reuse. The details are here and here. 

The restored brownfields would have dual appeal: in addition to being coveted shovel-ready sites, they would be served by power transmission lines, which otherwise cost about $2 million a mile to build.

Arod Think of a shovel-ready site on steroids. In a good way, of course.

"Every brownfield site is an ideal green power site," said Wilcox, a business rep and community affairs representative for the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers Local 97.

He added there's another benefit to their approach: training low-income residents to do the remedial work.The University at Buffalo already has a training program in place.

Wilcox and other consortium leaders have dropped more than $6,000 of their own money to establish the 501(c)3 in 2007 and make their case since then.

They are making headway. In recent months, Wilcox said that he and others in the consortium have met with a number of ranking officials in state government -- including Bob Wilmers, head of Empire State Development Corp. --  and are encouraged by what they've heard. They are scheduled to meet today with Richard Kessel, president of the New York Power Authority.

The key to moving forward is money. The consortium needs a good chunk of change and has identified four potential sources, all of them tied in one way or another to the Power Authority.

I think one has particular appeal: Use of a portion of the profits NYPA generates from the sale of low-cost hydropower earmarked for local industry that currently goes begging.

As I reported in June:

One-fifth of the low-cost power generated at the state power project in Lewiston and
earmarked for local industry has gone unused by area businesses over the past four years ...

  

Instead of helping the local economy, the cheap power has been sold by the New York Power
Authority for an estimated $161 million and used mostly to subsidize businesses outside the
region and fund authority operations statewide, 

It gets worse.

Thanks to the deal recently cut by Gov. Paterson and the Legislature, Albany is taking hundreds of millions of dollars from NYPA -- including the aforementioned profits -- to close the budget deficit for the current fiscal year.

Gee, ya think some of that money could be put to better use funding Wilcox's idea?

While his consortium has done its due diligence to build support for their effort, it could use a champion in Albany.

Kessel keeps saying he wants to do right by WNY. Seems like this is his chance. 

Then there's our local legislative delegation. As I blogged week before last, Senators Bill Stachowski and Antoine Thompson have leverage if they are willing to use it for something better than getting a taxpayer-funded car.

And on the Assembly side, we've got two committee chairmen, Sam Hoyt and Robin Schimminger, the latter of which heads the Committee on Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry. Not that it seems have done much for WNY's economy.

It has been good for Schimminger's campaign coffers, however. Nearly $1 million in contributions over the past decade, despite little serious opposition for his seat. I guess a million bucks will do that.

I've known Wilcox for three years, dating to my work on the Power Failure series. He's one of the good guys - earnest, innovative, progressive. His plan for brownfield restoration seems like a good one.

We'll see in the weeks and months ahead whether any of our so-called leaders are able or willing to deliver on this issue.

Water for thought

This report gets me thinking. Maybe it can do the same for you.

In a nutshell, fresh water is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity, and global warming is only going to make it worse. Those with access to fresh water could be sitting pretty as the century unfolds.

Close your eyes and image the Great Lakes as a future Saudi Arabia -- in more ways than one. I mean, we sit at the door step of something like a quarter of the world's entire supply of fresh water.

Lake erie off buffaloH2O can be an engine for industry, agriculture and energy production, as the aforementioned report notes in its executive summary.

And water can make a place a whole lot more livable for people. Yeah, it might be cold and snowy today, but we'll be able to water our lawns and wash our cars in July, unlike, say, much of the Sunbelt when the periodic droughts kick in and water is effectively rationed. 

Bob Shibley of the University at Buffalo lays it out in this story a while back in the Toronto Star.

Shibley told The Star:

"You're going to have 150 million people living in at least seven of the major regions that don't have water, don't have carrying capacity, can't feed themselves. 

"It's an ecological disaster waiting to happen. So there's a good reason to think that people should come back to the Northeast, where we have the carrying capacity, and have the water."

Some have already taken notice. Last year (2006), The Economist ranked Cleveland as the most livable city in America (26th in the world) based on five categories: stability, health care, culture and environment, education and infrastructure.

The Brookings Institute did an in-depth study of the economic potential of the Great Lakes region. This one-page summary provides a good overview.

Said Brookings:

In this new economic and security environment, both countries can-and should-once again turn to
the Great Lakes region for leadership and new opportunities:

• As a leading center for research and innovation, the Great Lakes can invigorate the U.S. and Canadian economies through new discovery in fields of health, science, materials, and communications.

• As the primogeniture of the world's carbon economy, the region has a special economic opportunity-and responsibility-to be a leader in developing the technologies that can improve the global climate (through energy, automotive, and transport) and be good stewards of natural resources (through freshwater, agriculture, and bio-science).

• As a center for human capital development and talent generation, the region can help educate the skilled professionals needed to keep both countries' economies at the top of the economic food chain in the 21st century, providing new generations with economic opportunity while allowing space for workers across the country and around the globe to learn, grow, and earn a decent standard of living.

• As the home of the largest grouping of interior lakes in the world, the region can uncover its “freshwater coast” from underneath the obsolete mills, factories, and brownfields of the industrial era, and create a new model of sustainable, amenity-rich development.

• As a tightly integrated economic area, the Great Lakes region can serve as a model for building a thriving, globally-engaged, bi-national economy across international borders, while maintaining homeland security.

In other words, we have a future to make here, if we could take time out from feeling sorry for ourselves and get on with it.

A smart new blog

Buffalo has an interesting new blog called Joe The Planner. Check it out.

New York in la-la land

Meanwhile, back in dysfunctional New York State ...

Fiscal crisis? What fiscal crisis? It turns out Gov. Paterson granted some 70 employees raises in secret. Here's the table with the details.

Baby, they can drive our cars: A dozen GOP Assembly members and their staff enjoy state-issued cars, while four from the Democratic side of the aisle do, according to this Albany Times Union story. In the Senate, meanwhile, Dems are driving six taxpayer-supported cars -- including Bill Stachowski of Buffalo -- and Republicans three. The Buffalo Pundit has a photo of the Stachsmobile.

Who, us? The state's public employee unions say taxpayers should not consider their wages and benefits when they talk about shared sacrifice.

You can look it up: The Journal News, in the Lower Hudson region, has a lookup table of shovel-ready sites potentially eligible for federal stimulus money. You can search by county.

Not depressed enough? Read the daily outrages at Public Payroll Watch.

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