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Audio from Albany: Fran Turner of the CSEA

As part of a new weekly feature on the Politics Now blog, Tom Precious of The News' Albany Bureau will post an audio interview with a newsmaker or provide audio analysis from the Capitol.

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Fran Turner, legislative and political action director for the Civil Service Employees Association, the state’s largest public employees union, talked with me this morning. Her comments came before her appearance on behalf of the union before a joint Senate and Assembly fiscal committee considering Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s 2012 budget proposal -– including a plan that includes a dramatic overhaul of a pension system for future state and local government employees.

The governor calls those workers the "unborn" who should not be worrying today about future public employees they don't even yet represent. The governor's plan increases pension costs for workers, lowers expenses for the state and localities and provides an option for future workers to join a defined contribution system, similar to a 401(k) program.


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--Tom Precious

Live blog from Gov. Cuomo's speech downtown

A comptroller finalist urges 'fairness' in search

A finalist for appointment to the vacant county comptroller's post is criticizing Democratic Headquarters' handling of its search process, claiming he believes the choice is already made to select Boston Town Clerk David J. Shenk.

George F. Hasiotis said he hopes to blunt a growing perception that the decision on whom to recommend to the County Legislature for appointment has already been determined.

"Unless you point out the idea that there's a predetermined outcome, it will happen," Hasiotis said. "There has to be fairness for everyone involved."

Hasiotis and Shenk join M&T Bank Vice President David P. Rutecki, former Amherst Supervisor Daniel J. Ward and former Buffalo Deputy Comptroller Richard C. Pawarski as those under consideration by Democratic leaders for the post vacated by Mark C. Poloncarz when he was elected county executive.

But Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan insists no decision has been made, pointing out that more interviews are scheduled for this evening by a search committee headed by John F. Malloy, former managing partner at the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche.

"George is seriously off on this, and I'm disappointed in him," Lenihan said late Tuesday. "We are far from making a decision."

But several sources in recent days are pointing to Shenk -- an Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan -- as the favorite. He is thought to be the front-runner for the Conservative Party nod too, since his late father was a longtime member of its executive committee.

Now Hasiotis says the process has produced the "appearance" of inevitability for Shenk.

"A lot of people, candidates as well as the eight screening committee members, have put their good faith into this," Hasiotis said. "An appearance has been created that the outcome is predetermined and that one candidate has the support of the county executive and county chairman."

Hasiotis went on to say he is prepared to name a campaign committee and start a treasury with donations of $20,000 and more to follow.

"As a candidate who is both serious and independent, I may need to work harder to claim those credentials," he said, "and I'm in that frame of mind."

Legislator Lynn M. Marinelli, D-Town of Tonawanda, said she expects the Democratic Party to play a role because the County Charter calls for appointment of someone of the same party as the previous comptroller.

"I prefer to work with someone who is independent and can work with the legislative and executive branches," she said, adding it is possible headquarters could submit more than one name for the Legislature's consideration.

Lenihan also said more than one recommendation is possible.

"I think they look to us to give them our input," he said. "I doubt we will give them five names, but I don't rule anything in or out."

-- Robert J. McCarthy

Analyzing the latest votes in Congress

Last week in Congress: How our representatives voted with analysis from News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski

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WASHINGTON — Here are the votes of Western New York's four members of the House of Representatives on major legislation in Congress last week. A "Y" means the member voted for the measure; an "N" means the member voted against the measure; an "A" means the member did not vote. There were no key votes in the Senate.

HOUSE

Increasing Debt Limit

The House approved a resolution sponsored by Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, expressing disapproval of the president's exercise of authority to increase the debt limit.Reed said the growing debt "will destroy the American Dream if we do not stand up to the plate and lead us out of this fiscal nightmare that we now find ourselves in." He added that the resolution will show the House's leadership on deficit reduction.

An opponent, Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., said the resolution would put the U.S. government "back to the brink of default" on its debt obligations and distracted the House "from addressing the real needs of the American people."

The vote Wednesday was 239 yeas to 176 nays. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, N; Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Amherst, N; Reed, Y; Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, N.

Jerry Zremski's analysis: The most telling thing about this vote is that it was the ONLY SUBSTANTIVE ONE held in the House last week. Welcome to the way of the world in Congress in election year 2012, where very little will be on the agenda except what absolutely has to be.

This measure was on the agenda because the debt-ceiling deal from last summer gave House Republicans the chance to take a symbolic stand against President Obama's decision to increase the borrowing cap. There is no chance of this resolution going anywhere in the Democrat-controlled Senate, meaning House Republicans could use the vote to flex their budget-cutting muscles without actually having to do any heavy lifting -- and without potentially throwing the economy into chaos with a federal default.

It's a vote rich in irony, though. After all, the debt ceiling had to be raised to cover expenses that the government had already made -- with the approval of budget legislation last year by many of the very same Republicans who voted against raising the debt ceiling last week. It's sort of like running up debts on your credit card, and then refusing to pay, knowing all along that your wife (or husband) will pay the bill for you.

-- Jerry Zremski

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Information is supplied by Targeted News Service.

State of the Union live chat with Douglas Turner at 8:30 p.m.

The closest it will come to Buffalo this year

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ALBANY -- The Stanley Cup is making the rounds at the state Capitol this morning, and yes, diehard New York Rangers fan and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver did touch the Cup on its Boston Bruins' victory lap.

Indeed, Silver even took the offer from Delaware North's Jeremy Jacobs, the owner of the Boston team, to wear the championship ring. He then faked not being able to get it off his hand.

The Cup has already been to the governor's office, and after being greeted by a growing line of hockey fans outside the Assembly chamber, will head down to the Senate. A day earlier, Jacobs and his team were at the White House for a ceremony with President Obama.

The Cup - which has its constant watchers and even a couple plain clothes state troopers watching after it -at one point disappeared behind closed doors into Silver's Capitol office. Silver, a longtime hockey fan and Rangers' season ticket holder, then held a brief meeting with Jacobs and other officials from Delaware North, which has much in the way of business before the state government. Chief among them are proposals floating about to expand casino gambling in the state, a business the Buffalo company has been involved in at several racetracks in New York.

--- Tom Precious

Members of Congress in an Albany state of mind

ALBANY -– They’re calling on the phone. They’re traveling here. They’re donating money to state legislators. It must be the once-a-decade congressional redistricting process.

Today, U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins made his way to Albany to meet with Assembly Democratic officials who are partly in charge of drawing new congressional district lines to account for population shifts seen in the 2010 Census. New York will lose two congressional seats this time around.

Of course, when it comes to redistricting in Albany, silence is best. "Whatever Mr. Higgins says," responded Assemblyman Jack McEneny, an Albany Democrat, when asked if he had met with Higgins today. McEneny is co-chairman of a joint Assembly and Senate panel drawing up new district lines for state lawmakers -– that plan is due out this week -– and members of Congress. (Republican members of Congress look to the Republican-led Senate to look out for their interests, while Democratic members are reaching out to the Democratic-controlled Assembly to protect their political futures.)

"We talked to a lot of people today," McEneny responded coyly, and then added, "Mr. Higgins was in town today."

Proposed congressional lines might not be out for a few weeks. "We’re focusing on getting the Assembly seats out," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. (That might come Tuesday or Wednesday.)

Silver was asked if the announced retirement last week of Rep. Maurice Hinchey, a Hudson Valley-area Democrat, would result in the disappearance of that seat and a corresponding Republican seat elsewhere in the state. "I really don’t know at this point," Silver said.

--Tom Precious

Stanley Cup fever, sort of

ALBANY -– And he calls himself a Rangers fan.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver wouldn’t directly answer whether he will touch the Stanley Cup when the trophy stops by the state Capitol Tuesday on its victory tour following the victory last year by the Boston Bruins.

The Cup is making an unusual stop Tuesday considering the considerable fan animosity in New York -– between the Sabres, Rangers and Islanders -- for the Boston team. Sources told The Buffalo News over the weekend that Delaware North’s Jeremy Jacobs, owner of the Bruins, is scheduled to join the trophy as it travels between the Assembly and Senate chamber areas.

"We’re trying out the Stanley Cup here in New York tomorrow," Silver said today.

Asked if he would touch it and, at least indirectly, honor the Bruins, Silver said, "I’ve had the privilege years ago, so maybe there will be a permanent place for it here." Silver has been a Rangers season-ticket holder over the years.

--Tom Precious

Jerry Zremski's Week in Washington: Jan. 23

Buffalo News Washington bureau chief Jerry Zremski previews the week ahead in Washington, a new Monday feature on Politics Now.

Education commissioner presses mergers, teacher evaluations

ALBANY –- The state’s education commissioner says there will be more pressure on school districts to more seriously merge and consolidate services as the gap is expected to steadily grow between district expenses and revenues, especially as a new property tax cap law kicks in this year.

"We’re very concerned about this," Commissioner John B. King told Senate and Assembly lawmakers this morning in the first hearing on the proposed 2012 budget by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

King presented lawmakers with a projection -– “Impact of caps on local and state revenues for school districts” –- showing by 2016 overall revenues for 700 districts rising to $62 billion but overall costs expected to hit $80 billion.

Noting that school districts cannot legally file for bankruptcy protection, King said the pressure will be on to realign how districts staff their schools. He said districts will likely have to consolidate and merge some services, not just with their neighbors but possibly across the county in which they are located. King said officials also are concerned about what he called an "educational insolvency" by some districts unable to offer a full slate of classes to prepare students for college or the workplace.

King also said the state needs to reduce the number of state-imposed mandates on school districts. The commissioner said the Regents will be pushing a new round of mandate relief in special education services and other categories.

King, who was the first witness in the budget hearing process, also touched on the thorny issue of teacher evaluations. The governor has threatened to hold back school aid funding to those districts that are unable to enact new teacher evaluation systems.

--Tom Precious

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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.

rmccarthy@buffnews.com


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.

tprecious@buffnews.com


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 | jterreri@buffnews.com


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 | jzremski@buffnews.com

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