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Skelos: Senate will support prison closings

ALBANY -- Senate Republicans will accept up to six prison closings, so long as they are spread between Democratic and Republican legislative districts, according to Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

Skelos said the Senate proposal –- a reaction to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s less-defined prison-closing plan -– would call for up to 3,600 bed reductions and the shuttering of five or six prison facilities. He declined to name which ones might be on the Senate list, saying he wanted to first present the idea to Cuomo.

"There will be some in Republican districts … unlike when the Democrats controlled everything. Every bed they closed was in Republican districts. So, we’re going to try to do this both from a positive way governmentally, but also it’s not going to be done in a partisan way," Skelos, a Long Island Republican, told reporters at the Capitol this morning.

In his budget plan, the governor floated closing about 3,500 beds to save $72 million. But he did not identify the number or locations of the affected facilities. He said a task force could come up with the specific prisons to close after the budget is adopted, an idea that does not sit well with Senate Republicans. Cuomo also proposed giving $10 million to communities where prisons shut down as a way to ease the job losses.

For Senate Republicans, whose ranks come heavily from upstate, including many communities that rely on prisons for jobs, the issue has become a major sticking point in budget talks.

Skelos said the plan he will present Cuomo focuses heavily on minimum-security closings, which have seen their inmate ranks reduced over the years, in part, because of criminal justice sentencing law changes.

As Skelos talked up the likelihood of an ontime budget by March 31, Cuomo today ratcheted up the rhetoric against the Legislature if it is late. He said a late budget could lead to a government shutdown, which would be the fault of the Legislature.

“If the Legislature fails to pass a budget on time, the government will not have the funds to operate, and it may be forced to shut down," Cuomo said this video his office released this morning.

--Tom Precious

Silver sends a message to Schimminger

ALBANY -- Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver initially said he was not trying to send a message when he kept Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, the longtime chairman of the economic development committee, off a legislative panel considering the budget's economic development plans.

"No, no message at all," Silver said Tuesday.

And then he sent a message.

"We had a [budget] resolution. He wasn't supportive of it," Silver said of Schimminger. "The way the conference committees usually work is the people who are supportive are the ones who defend the house position. They are representing the house."

Schimminger, a Kenmore Democrat who came to the Assembly in 1976 in the same class as Silver, in years past had been co-chairman of a joint Assembly/Senate economic development conference committee ironing out some budget details.

Schimminger had the post because he has been chairman of the Assembly's economic development committee since 1997.

Schimminger last week voted against the Assembly Democratic budget plan, explaining it included too much in the way of tax hikes. A day later, Schimminger found out the budget panel on economic development would not include him; the panel's chairman for the Assembly is Bronx Democrat Peter Rivera.

--Tom Precious

Spending restoration advocates target Grisanti

ALBANY -- A labor-led coalition is starting up a new radio ad campaign Wednesday in the Buffalo area targeting Sen. Mark Grisanti to get them to back an income tax surcharge on millionaires.

Strong for All Economy, whose members include the AFL-CIO and unions representing teachers, health care workers and other public and private sector unionized employees, is trying in the last couple weeks of budget talks to restore money for education and other programs slated for big cutbacks.

The radio ad (which you can play below) targeting Grisanti, a freshman Republican from Buffalo in a Democratic-dominated district, is an attempt to prod the Senate Republicans to go along with a Democratic plan in the Assembly to keep intact an income tax surcharge set to expire at the end of the year on those making more than $1 million annually. A similar ad is running in other some other Senate Republican districts.

Senate Republicans, including Grisanti, say they oppose any tax increases, and side with Gov. Andrew Cuomo in opposing the tax surcharge's extension.

The Strong for All Economy also plans direct mail pieces into the districts of Grisanti as well as Sen. Patrick Gallivan, another freshman Republican from Erie County.

-- Tom Precious

SUNY presses new "rational'' tuition hike plan

ALBANY -- State University of New York trustees are expected to pass a tuition hike plan later today, though the mood among some legislators make the request a tall order.

The plan this morning passed a finance committee panel of the SUNY trustees.

Here is the draft proposal from SUNY:

                               M E M O R A N D U M
                                                                                         March 22, 2011
To:                        Members of the Board of Trustees
From:                   Nancy L. Zimpher, Chancellor
Subject:               Pursuit of a Five-Year Tuition Plan


Action Requested

The proposed resolution delegates to the Chancellor the authority to pursue, in the context of the current year budget process, a five-year tuition plan for resident undergraduate tuition at the State University of New York that is fair, predictable and responsible.


I recommend that the Board of Trustees adopt the following resolution:

Whereas the State University of New York (SUNY) has already seen its capacity to deliver programs and services diminished – including hiring freezes, increased reliance on adjunct faculty, reductions in course offerings, increases in class size, a decrease in enrollment at our State Operated campuses for just the second time in the last 15 years, from fall of 2010 to fall of 2011, and already announced decisions to limit enrollments or otherwise restrict programs; and

Whereas over the last 48 years SUNY has increased tuition only 13 times, with the smallest increase 7 percent ($310) in 2009-2010, and the largest increase 43 percent ($650) in 1991-1992. Seventeen times since 1963, a first-year student entered SUNY and never had to pay a tuition increase during his or her college career, while nine times others saw two or three tuition increases; and

Whereas  SUNY desires a tuition plan that will allow students and families to plan for the cost of a college education, as well as give SUNY a sustainable revenue stream that will enable students to successfully complete their baccalaureate degrees in a timely fashion and permit SUNY to undertake more planned program development; and

Whereas SUNY is firmly committed to its mission of access for all New Yorkers to the quality education that it offers, but that access without timely completion is costly and unfair to students and their families; and

Whereas SUNY is committed to exercising good stewardship over all resources and will continue to seek out and implement greater efficiencies in how we operate our campuses; and

Whereas a fair tuition plan protects access and affordability through modest annual increases if such increases are necessary and will ensure that all the tuition charged by SUNY is invested in faculty, programs and curriculum that would enhance completion; and

Whereas a predictable tuition plan allows students and families to plan over a five-year time period; and

Whereas a responsible tuition plan establishes a “maintenance of effort” construct, that includes:

* Placing state support received, and all tuition and fees charged by SUNY, in a fiduciary account or some other form of “lock box” whereby tuition and fees would be disaggregated from other general funds, and thus, not subject to future sweeps into the general fund.

* Prohibits by statute the use of incremental increases in tuition to backfill cuts in state support for SUNY.

Whereas SUNY students, through their duly elected representatives in the Student Assembly (SA), have courageously and wisely adopted a resolution calling for a rational tuition plan that appropriately limits the extent to which SUNY could raise tuition and includes a call for a maintenance of effort construct; and

Whereas the SUNY faculty at our State Operated campuses, through their duly elected representatives in the University Faculty Senate (UFS), have adopted a resolution in support of a five-year tuition plan that is fair, predictable and responsible; and

Whereas the process for establishing a budget in New York requires a high degree of flexibility, nimbleness and responsiveness to the ongoing negotiations between the Executive Branch and Legislature; now, therefore, be it

Resolved that to meet the ongoing costs of current operations for the State Operated campuses, preserve gains in academic quality, achieve excellence, protect access and completion and serve the State of New York to the greatest degree possible, the SUNY Board of Trustees hereby authorizes the Chancellor to negotiate a five-year tuition plan for resident undergraduate students that is guided by the parameters set forth in the Student Assembly (SA) and University Faculty Senate (UFS) resolutions.


SUNY’s current annual tuition of $4970 is the lowest among all public institutions of higher education in the Northeastern United States, and among the bottom quartile of all such institutions in the country. Even with modest annual tuition increases, SUNY will continue to be the most affordable university in the New England and Mid-Atlantic states and among the most affordable in the U.S.

A severe reduction in state support is why this plan is necessary now. SUNY has endured more than $1.1 billion in cuts over the past three years. If enacted, the FY 2011-2012 Executive Budget proposal reduces this support by an additional $362 million, bringing the total reduction over four years to $1.5 billion – a decrease in state funding of nearly 35 percent. SUNY has already seen its capacity to deliver programs and services diminished – including hiring freezes, increased reliance on adjunct faculty, reductions in course offerings, increases in class size, and already announced decisions to limit enrollments or otherwise restrict programs.

SUNY will continue to do its part during New York’s worst economic crisis in more than a generation by finding efficiencies within the 64-campus system, and by seeking reforms to the process of procurement and creating public-private partnerships. However, in order for SUNY to approach its own budget problems in a balanced and thoughtful manner, an essential component is a rational, five-year tuition policy.

--Tom Precious

Economic development czar confirmation delayed

ALBANY -- The scheduled Senate confirmation of the Cuomo administration’s top economic development official was postponed this morning.

Kenneth Adams, tapped by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to become president and chief executive officer of the Empire State Development Corp., has to put off his appearance before three Senate confirmation committees before an expected full Senate vote this afternoon. A Cuomo spokesman said Adams could not make it to Albany today because of an illness in his family.

Adams is the former president of the Business Council of New York State.

-- Tom Precious

Economic development boss up for confirmation

ALBANY -- Looks like the Cuomo administration will have its economic development czar approved on Tuesday, if a peak at the Senate committee agendas is a good guide.

Kenneth Adams, the former head of the Business Council of New York State, is on the agenda of three Senate panels –- economic development, corporations and authorities, and finance -– Tuesday morning.

The committees are considering Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s nomination of Adams to serve as president and chief executive officer of the Empire State Development Corp., as well as the commissioner of the Department of Economic Development.

Adams, a Brooklyn resident, will, if confirmed by the Senate, be the point person for Cuomo to run a program expected to be approved in the state budget process to create regional councils around the state to come up with local priorities for state economic development spending. Adams also will be responsible for negotiating with companies to locate or stay in the state.

-- Tom Precious

Cuomo tries role of peacemaker

 ALBANY –- All is OK in the aftermath of the dust-up created Wednesday by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s smack at Buffalo, according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

"I believe Mayor Bloomberg apologized for it. I’m sure Mayor Brown will accept it," Cuomo said today.

"We’re one state at the end of the day. We work together, and both mayors will work together," the governor added.

In a forum Wednesday, Bloomberg said the problems facing his city are "problems of success." He then launched into Buffalo.

"There's an awful lot of free space in Buffalo, N.Y., if you want to go there. I don't think you do," he said.

"Buffalo would love to have our problems, and one of the challenges in this country is how we help a city like Buffalo," Bloomberg said.

-- Tom Precious

The News' Meyer discusses police reorganization issue on WBFO

Brian Meyer, The News' City Hall reporter, talked about the citizens' panel — in the wake of its interim chairman's arrest — offering suggestions about police reorganization this morning as a guest of Eileen Buckley on WBFO-FM 88.7:

Download the clip and take it with you

Former Senate hopeful blasts GOP leaders in bid for Bellavia

   Gary Berntsen, the former CIA station chief in Afghanistan who unsucessfully sought the GOP nomination for Senate last year, is coming out big-time for Iraq War veteran David Bellavia's bid for an independent line in the upcoming 26th Congressional District special election.

   In fact, Berntsen has appealed to fellow veterans in the most military of terms.

   "If you were serving beside me in Afghanistan, this would be an order," Berntsen said in a letter to  party activists.

   And he fires a blast at Republican leaders who are backing Assemblywoman Jane L. Corwin of Clarence, accusing them of abandoning Bellavia the same way they spurned his Senate bid.

   "The same Erie County Republican leaders who killed my 2010 candidacy for the United States Senate have conspired to push David, perhaps the most decorated combat veteran of his generation, out of the campaign for Congress in New York's 26th Congressional District," Berntsen wrote. "They killed David's chances to earn the Republican nomination through an insidious whisper campaign, just like they tried to do to me last year."

   Bellavia has also been critical of Republican leadership for failing to give adequate consideration to his candidacy. As a result, he has affiliated with the Conservative Party and is attempting to form his own party line by collecting 3,500 signatures on designating petitions over the next few days.

   Berntsen also wrote:

   "You see, while his opponent was hosting glamorous house parties, David was fighting house-to-house against an enemy lying in wait to ambush Americans.

   "While his opponent was showing up for work in a comfortable job at a family company, David was leading a platoon of men who were fighting and dying for our nation.

   "While his opponent was inheriting millions, David was kicking down doors, taking heavy fire and fighting in brutal hand-to-hand combat in squalid bombed out houses booby-trapped to blow his men into a million pieces."
    --Robert J. McCarthy




Davis, Bellavia begin collecting signatures for special election ballot

   Representatives of two potential independent candidates for the 26th Congressional District -- Jack Davis and David Bellavia -- have begun collecting designating petition signatures for the seat vacated by Republican Chris Lee.

   Aides to Davis were spotted at a local supermarket, while Bellavia gave the strongest sign to date that he will attempt to make the ballot by indicating he is also collecting signatures.

   "I'm out there," Bellavia said.

   Candidates seeking a spot on the ballot must collect 3,500 signatures over the next 12 days, according to state election law. Davis has said he will pay workers to collect the signatures as part of the $3 million he has pledged to spend, and has retained former East Aurora Mayor David J. DiPietro to assist his effort.

   Bellavia has said he is relying on a network of tea party and veterans organizations activists.

   Election experts note that collecting valid signatures for an independent line is not as complicated as qualifying for primary or general election ballots, since party affiliation is not an issue.

  -- Robert J. McCarthy

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri |

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski |