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Number of state employees making big bucks jumps 16%

Yeah, New York State might be facing the biggest budget deficit in its history, but that's no reason why it should affect the state work force.

Reports the Journal News:

The number of six-figure salaries on the public rolls grew to 23,685 workers in 2009, up 16 percent from 2008. It's the largest total in state history, and four times as high as it was in 2000, when 5,800 state workers made $100,000 or more.

The highest salaries are almost exclusively at the state's public colleges, universities and medical centers, according to the data provided by the state Comptroller's Office ...

Budget officials said a main reason for the higher salaries is the raises that then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer agreed to for union workers in 2007.

Great, just great.

If that's not enough, the Republicans in the state Senate have killed ethics reform, for the time being anyways, and speculation is running rampant that Gov. David A. Paterson may be on the verge of resigning.

Question: What comes next after you've jumped from the frying pan into the fire?


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Monday musings, from Paladino to Spitzer to Pete and Roger

Cacthing up on a Monday ...

Prospective gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino insists he is not a subsidy developer. This coming from a guy who helped lead the charge to get downtown -- including his Ellicott Square -- declared an Empire Zone and who built the the pricey Waterfront Place, where tax breaks for condo buyers will save them $5.3 million. Please. Paladino has been one of the leading advocates of subsidy programs that have benefited downtown business interests -- and practically no one else. What's next -- advocating for campaign finance reform?

Eliot Spitzer is emerging from exile following his resignation through a growing number of media appearances in which he has weighed in on everything from Wall Street to Kirsten Gillibrand. The other day he said he's not interested in challenging Gillibrand in the upcoming election, but said it in a way that has some speculating about a possible candidacy. Among those saying "Run, Eliot, Run" is a columnist for the New York Daily News. Says Mark Greenbaum: "Spitzer's deep credentials in going after Wall Street fat cats would be a welcome addition to a decrepit Senate body which seems largely uninterested in pursuing the broader reform that many Americans crave."

The Buffalo Pundit is usually spot on, but slamming my boys for their appearance during the Super Bowl? Why, I ought to get my buddy Tony to have a talk with you. 

And, as an added bonus ...

Hey, I can have fun mindless fun on this blog once in while, can't I?


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Paladino weighs race for governor

Carl Paladino has the ability to press people's buttons, and he's at it again with today's storyabout his interest in running for governor. As of noon, Bob McCarthy's story on the potential Paladino candidacy already has generated 125 comments.

Paladino, the talker, has people talking.

The appeal of his candidacy is that he would give voice to the frustration so many people have with the state of government in New York. He's a bomb thrower -- a verbal one, that is -- and that holds a certain appeal to some folks, starting with those in the Tea Party movement.

With that in mind, a theme song comes to mind for his campaign, if he chooses to run. You all know it, the one by Billy Joel in which he sings:

You may be right,

I may be crazy,

But it just may be a lunatic you're looking for.

Hit it, Piano Man.

Seriously, if Paladino wants to run for office, he needs to get, uh, serious.


Not gonna happen.

Yeah, all the talk might be fun, but ultimately, it's not going to lead anywhere.

That's the problem with the efforts by Paladino and Tom Golisano, guys with energy and money who invest it in campaigns and politics in an effort to change things from the top down. Top down isn't what leads to change. No, change works its way up, not down.

If Paladino really wants to take on Albany -- and I know him well enough to say that for all his bombast, the man is sincere in wanting change -- he shouldn't necessarily abandon his interest in elected office. Instead, he should set his sights on a seat he could actually win.

He constantly rails against the Buffalo Board of Education. Well, all the district seats are up for election in May.

He decries the State Senate and Assembly. OK, everyone is up for re-election in the fall. 

All the seats in the Common Council are up for grabs in 2011.

I'm not saying he should do it.

I'm not saying he shouldn't.

I'm saying that Paladino's name and money would make him a serious candidate in any of these races and draw people out of the woodwork, both for and against him.

I doubt he would run for one of these lesser offices because he's got a business to run, and I question whether he really wants to give that up. He likes being the boss, he likes making money.

That's one reason why running for governor may hold appeal. He can raise hell until November and then go back to his day job.

It would lead to a lot of headlines, but no real change. Which begs the question: What's the point?

Senate, Assembly incumbents already have $2.2 million in the bank

We're heading into an all-important election year, with every seat in the State Senate and Assembly up for grabs amid an unprecedented amount of public disgust with the state of affairs in New York.

Money is going to play a significant role in determining which incumbents hang onto their seats and I've researched the latest filings with the state Board of Elections to get a handle on what sort of financial shape the incumbents in our local delegation are in. (Ah, the glamor of being an investigative reporter. The exercise was almost as much fun as shoveling my driveway. Without gloves on).

Here's what I found out, starting with the Senate:

Dale Volker has $71,904 in the bank and raised $23,047 for the six-month period ending Jan. 15.

Antoine Thompson has $149,641 in the bank and raised $199,525 the past six months.

Mike Ranzenhofer: $100,333 and $94,247.

Bill Stachowski: $214,535 and $79,376.

Catherine Young: $304,714 and $37,136.

George Maziarz: $628,833 and $81,295.

As you can see, Mariarz and Young are sitting pretty. Volker is at the other end of the spectrum and it's noteworthy that Erie County Republican Chairman Jim Domagalski is making noises about challenging him.

Thompson is probably going to have success raising money -- he did well the past six months -- because he was just named one of three co-chairs of a party committee charged with re-electing Democrats to the Senate. That gives him access to donors.

Here's how the Assembly looks:

Francine Delmonte has $55,117 in the bank, thanks in part to raising $19,850 over the past six months.

Sam Hoyt has a negative cash balance of $10,302. Repeat -- negative cash balance. Steve Pigeon has to be doing cartwheels over this bit of news. Hoyt raised $39,184 during the last reporting period.

Jim Hayes: $76,513 and $40,249.

Crystal Peoples-Stokes: $58,836 and $8,929.

Jack Quinn: $8,304 and $12,314. For a candidate supposedly interested in challenging Stachowski, this is an awfully small bank balance.

Robin Schimminger: $410,349 and $12,680.

Mark Schroeder: $2,960 and $26,545.

Dennis Gabryszak: $10,589 and $31,094.

William Parment: $31,130 and $2,026.

Dan Burling: $22,959 and $22,180.

Jane Corwin: $5,753 and $3,025.

Joseph Giglio: $12,280 and $100.

Steve Hawley: $75,008 and $9.

The big news here is obviously Hoyt's numbers. He's got a long way to go in the fund-raising department, especially if Pigeon again targets him with Tom Golisano's money.

Schimminger is the only Assembly incumbent with all that impressive of a bankroll, but there's lots of talk he might finally be in for serious competition.

Add it all up, and the Assembly and Senate incumbents start the year with $2.2 million in the bank. Two-thirds of it, $1.5 million, in the hands of Senate incumbents, whose body is the target of particular public scorn.

Keep in mind, however, that $1.3 million of the $2.2 million is in the hands of just three legislators - Maziarz, Young and Schimminger. So it's not like the rest of them are financed to the hilt.

Regardless, the collective pile of money underscores the challenge to those who would like to oust the incumbents. 

I encourage readers to explore the links, as they lead to the details of candidate fund-raising and spending. Feel free to play reporter and share with the class.

Either way, enjoy this topical tune.


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Taxpayer money not well spent

Today's topic is state politics. Let's drive in:

Members of the state Senate and Assembly spent a lot of time schelping back and forth between their districts and Albany last year to accomplish, well, not much, unless you count the Senate coup and largely ignoring the state's fiscal crisis as productive work.

Stachowski The Albany Times Union has calculated the cost to taxpayers at $3 million for transportation expenses and per diems.

The tab for eight lawmakers topped $30,000 apiece and three of them hail from Western New York, including:

  • Sen. William Stachowski of Buffalo, $39,077, pictured at right entering a fund-raiser last summer that was picketed by members of the public.
  • Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak of Cheektowaga, $35,587.
  • Sen. Dale Volker of Depew, $30,108. Volker, whose time in the Senate dates to the days when Julius Ceasar held sway, isn't shy about spending our money. I did a story a while back that showed he spent close to $1 million to staff and otherwise operate his office the last year the "cost conscious" Republicans controlled the chamber.

A quick show of hands - how many of you feel you got your money's worth?


The Times Union also surveyed legislators asking them to disclose their household income. Two-thirds failed to cooperate.

Here's the list of senators who think it is none of our business. They include Volker, Mike Razenhofer, Antione Thompson and Catherine Young.

Here's the none-of-your-business list from the Assembly. Included are Francine DelMonte, Sam Hoyt, Crystal Peoples and Mark Schroeder.

The good news for Sen. Kristen Gillibrand is that the latest Marist poll shows her with a big lead over Harold Ford - 44 to 27 percent. So, maybe she wins the Democratic primary.

The bad news -- the poll shows George Pataki beats her head-to-head in November by 10 points.

Yes, it is early, too early to read too much into the polls. But the numbers indicate the Gillibrand will have her hands full if Pataki decides to run.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer -- deemed all but unbeatable, according to the conventional wisdom -- has an approval rating that has dipped below 50 percent for the first time in nine years.

Schumer is a power in the Senate and a major player in Democratic Party circles, to say nothing of being a master in generating lots of positive coverage from a rather compliant press corps around the state. So I find his numbers surprising. Kind of.

Then again, he's long been a good friend to Wall Street and some folks see him as a shameless self-promoter. Perhaps the poll is an early sign that his shelf-life is starting to expire.


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Council members who don't pay their taxes

In this business, one story often begets another. So it is with my story today on the failure of Common Council Members Damone Smith and Bonnie Russell to pay their state income taxes.

As you may recall, I did a story on the liens filed against six of the nine candidates seeking the vacant Ellicott District seat, which was prompted by an anonymous source mailing me a copy of a tax lien filed against one of them. It prompted me to background all nine candidates.

No sooner was the ink dry on that story than someone else sent me a tax lien filed against one of the current Council members. I again cast a wider net, looking at all nine members.

My research showed that only two had had liens filed against them -- Smith, who represents the Masten District, and Russell, who represents University. In both instances, the liens included tax warrants filed for failure to pay personal state income taxes. That's pretty serious, given that Council members have taxing and budgeting powers.

I've found in my years of reporting that when you find a lien, you often find other issues, so I dug a little deeper, and sure enough, there was more there.

Not all that much on Russell --  three instances where the state suspended her car registration for lapsed insurance.

Smith was another matter.

I learned his campaign habitually fails to file his financial disclosure reports on time with the state Board of Elections. The board has obtained three judgments against him totaling $1,282, none of which he has paid.

This is bad. Not just just because of the pattern, but because Smith is president of Grassroots, the largest political club on the East Side, the one aligned with Mayor Byron Brown.

How can you head a major political organization and be so lax about following election laws?

What does that say about Smith's judgment? Or that of Grassroots, for putting him in charge?

The reaction each Council member had to my inquiry was interesting.

Russell was very open with me, much more than the typical politician. And she didn't dispute that people have a right to be upset with her. All very atypical.

Smith, demone Smith wasn't bad to deal with, although I had to pull some things out of him and he made himself scarce when I called with my final round of questions.

The primary thing I wanted to know was just how much the state determined he owed in unpaid taxes once his protests were adjudicated. The figure was presumably less than the $6,012 stated in the original lien. State officials told me they couldn't disclose what his adjusted tax liability was because of confidentiality laws, which meant I had to get it from Smith. I called his office and cell phone Thursday and Friday, and e-mailed him as well, seeking that number, but did not get a response. Smith had told me in an earlier interview that his protests had resulted in a determination that he had a refund coming,  which was presumably applied against the lien. So, just how much he ended up owing the state, beyond the $89 he paid, only Smith is in a position to disclose, and he's yet to say.

Smith has a reputation of being a loose cannon on the Council, quick to turn combative, such as when he called his colleagues "tyrants and despots" when they passed over his favored candidate, the Rev. Darius Pridgen, in favor Curtis Haynes Jr. to fill the Ellicott District seat vacated by Brian Davis.

Smith was civil and mostly cooperative with me -- and I can't say that about everyone in the Bryon Brown crowd -- but I come away from my dealings with him thinking he doesn't have his act together.

There are the big things, like failing to file a tax return for nine years and habitually submitting campaign disclosures late. And, of course, the outbursts in Council chambers.

There are little signs, too.

He's the only Council member who doesn't make his home phone available to the public, and if you can get hold of his cell number, you find out there no way of getting message to him -- his voice mail box is full and not taking messages.

Not a big deal, but telling in its own small way. Kind of unprofessional.


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