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Analyzing the latest votes in Congress

WASHINGTON -- Call it Pander Week in the U.S. Senate.

With drivers nationwide fuming hotter than their engines over high gas prices, the U.S. Senate obliged and indulged them with a series of sounds-good/can't pass amendments designed more for the fall campaign ads than for the law books.

Democrats and Republicans put forth a series of amendments to a highway bill that are just what their core constituencies ordered. The GOP tried shifting the federal gas tax to the states, repealing alternative energy subsidies and resuscitating the Generalissimo Francisco Franco-like Keystone XL pipeline. Democrats tried extending energy tax credits and creating a new one for the purchase of natural gas vehicles. New York's two Democratic senators voted predictably, casting yeas for the Democratic panders and nays for the Republican panders.

Oh, and in the end, an important piece of real legislation did actually pass: a lean but better-than-nothing measure that keeps federal highway funding going for two years at a cost of $109 billion.

Meanwhile, it was not Pander Week in the House of Representatives. The House was not in session.

--Jerry Zremski

Here are the votes of Western New York's two U.S. senators 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 House.



* States and Gas Taxes: The Senate rejected an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., to the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act. The amendment would have given states authority to adjust gas taxes and determine how to utilize proceeds. DeMint said the amendment would allow states "to make their own construction and repair decisions without costly rules such as Davis-Bacon regulations and without having to funnel the money through Washington's wasteful bureaucracy and some self-serving politicians." An opponent, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said it "would force your State to raise its own taxes or force cuts elsewhere to offset massive cuts in Federal highway and transit investments."

The vote Tuesday was 30 yeas to 67 nays.

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D, N; Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D, N.

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Occupy protesters target New York Post

2012-03-20 10.42.48

ALBANY –- Occupy protesters took their vocal wrath out on the New York Post at the state Capitol this morning, with chants against everyone from its owner, Rupert Murdoch, to its state editor, Fred Dicker.

The protesters timed their protest on the third floor to a radio interview by Dicker with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The demonstrators, which included members of VOCAL-NY, held signs and shouted about Cuomo’s generally positive treatment in the New York City tabloid.

"Fred Dicker: Mouthpiece for Governor 1%" said one sign. "Rupert Murdoch: Public Enemy #1" said another.

About 30 protesters showed up. They were blocked from coming down the third floor hallway outside the pressroom by a dozen or so troopers.

On his radio show, broadcast in Albany, Dicker called the protestors a "rag tag collection."

--Tom Precious

The halls are filling up

ALBANY – Guns, God and teachers.

So goes another Lobby Day – every Tuesday during the legislative session – at the state Capitol.

For today, besides a protest in a short bit by Occupy Albany forces outside a radio show broadcast from the Capitol, Second Amendment backers will be hearing from a top official from the National Rifle Association as they promote gun ownership rights.

Down the hall in a state convention center, evangelical Christians – more than 1,000 of them – are already gathered for their once-a-year lobby and pray event put on by New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms.

And members of the New York State United Teachers union have been walking the halls pushing their fiscal agenda – a week before the state budget is expected to be adopted.

UPDATE: Add members from the Communications Workers of America (and their red jackets) and fracking backing Friends of Natural Gas to the list of hall walkers today.

-- Tom Precious

The News' Meyer discusses special election on WBFO

As a guest on WBFO-FM 88.7, Brian Meyer previewed Tuesday's special election for the 145th Assemby District — a race including Christoper J. Fahey and Michael P. Kearns:

Download audio

The News hosted a debate between the two candidates on week ago. Watch a replay of it here:

Minimum wage hike off the budget negotiating table

ALBANY -– Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who rarely shows his cards, today said he will not try to insert a hike in the minimum wage into the upcoming state budget.

After the Assembly Democrats bucked unions last week and went along with a change in the state’s pension law for future government workers -– watered down as it was –- observers thought Silver would have to come up with some sort of olive branch, and the minimum wage was thought to be among those possible issues.

Silver has proposed increasing the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour, with annual increases to follow based on the inflation rate.

“I don’t see it as part of the budget discussion,’’ Silver told reporters today, saying the matter could be taken up later in the session. What leverage Silver might have later in the session on the controversial issue is uncertain.

For his part, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos made clear there would be no talk of minimum wage increase and the budget. “I don’t see that as part of the budget ... I oppose the increase in minimum wage as a job killer,’’ he said today.

Optimists have been saying they believe the rush was on to get the budget done later this week. The common theory: Thursday.

Albany realism took over today. Skelos said he could see a “framework’’ deal on the 2012 spending plan this week. “I do believe we’re going to have an early budget the week after,’’ he quickly added.

The budget is due March 31. Lawmakers are already planning on taking off the first two weeks of April.

--Tom Precious

CSEA closing the wallet -- at least for now

ALBANY -- Upset with last week's new pension plan agreement affecting future government workers, the state's largest public workers union says it will "suspend" political endorsement -- and contributions.

"This unprecedented action is a direct result of the political deal between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the state legislative leadership, Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats, trading the future retirement security of working New Yorkers for legislative redistricting lines,'' said Danny Donohue, president of the Civil Service Employees Association.

How long the boycott lasts -- in this election year -- is uncertain. Unions have made political threats before and later caved, and there are still a few months left to the 2012 legislative sessions for lawmakers to try to get back into CSEA's money column.

Besides money -- lots of it -- that CSEA gives state lawmakers, it also has one of the best political field operations to provide foot soliders to help candidates pass out literature and get people to the polls, as well as a large, computerized phone bank operation for polling and get-out-the-vote efforts.

"This action is necessary to give our union the opportunity to re-evaluate our political relationships and make judgments about the criteria we use in determining who has earned and deserves our support. It is also important to consider how our support is valued,'' Donohue said today.

Donohue said CSEA also will work with other unions and groups to see "how we can collectively address the disrespect and disenfranchisement of working people by our state's elected officials.''


Just a very quick look at recent state Board of Elections filings shows the oomph of CSEA's dollar flow. When just looking at single contributions above $20,000, the union has given at least $407,000 to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee the past four years, and another $256,000 to the Senate GOP main campaign account, along with $209,000 to the state Democratic Party. The money does not include hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to individual lawmakers, nor what it has spent helping campaigns with its political operation during election season.

--Tom Precious

Jerry Zremski's Week in Washington, March 19, 2012


Five Questions with David Franczyk

Every Sunday, we'll publish a quick Q&A with someone from the local political world. Instead of touching on the latest in policy issues and proposed legislation, the intent is to catch a glimpse of the person behind the title. The interviews are done via email.

Franczyk, Kearns
Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk, left, speaks with South Council Member Michael P. Kearns during a Jan. 24 Common Council meeting. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

David A. Franczyk

The basics
Age: 57
Job title: Buffalo Common Council member, Fillmore district
Family: Married. My wife, Annemarie, is an educator and journalist.
Education: Bishop Turner High School; Buffalo State College, B.A. History; Niagara University, M.A. History and certificate of specialization in East European studies; Loeb Fellow, Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
Party affiliation: Democrat
Other employment: Lecturer, Buffalo State College.
Previous work experience: Lifeguard; filter operator; research historian, Buffalo Landmark and Preservation Board; resource information specialist, Ethnic Heritage Studies Program; editor, Polish-American Journal newspaper; senior lecturer, history, Niagara University; adjunct faculty, Hilbert College, Liberal Studies; mentor, Empire State College.
City salary: $52,000

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Smardz confirms he will seek re-election

Assemblyman Kevin Smardz (R-Evans) today announced his plans to seek re-election to the newly formed 147th Assembly District.

Smardz made the announcement on the steps of the Wyoming County Government Center in Warsaw. The new district comprises 10 towns currently represented by Smardz including the new additions of Aurora, Elma, Marilla and Wales in Erie County as well as all of Wyoming County.

"Following the retirement announcement of good friend and esteemed colleague Assemblyman Daniel Burling, and after discussing it with my family, I am formally announcing my candidacy for re-election to the New York State Assembly's 147th District," Smardz said.

Burling stood alongside Smardz for his announcement.

--T.J. Pignataro

Pataki already a Super Mario fan

    ROCHESTER -- Former Gov. George E. Pataki found himself in the familiar position of being surrounded by microphones and notebooks today at the Republican State Convention in Rochester.

   Pataki was waxing on the day's purpose of designating a candidate to oppose Democratic Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand as well as the upcoming presidential primary in New York when he suddenly spied a reporter from The Buffalo News.

   For a moment, all that stuff about politics stopped. The press conference then took a very different turn.

    "Hey, you guys got Mario Williams," the governor said, launching into a different sort of speech about how the defensive end was just what the Buffalo Bills needed.

   Pataki, during his days as governor, often attended Bills games at Ralph Wilson Stadium. And when it was suggested he might watch a game there again, he was quick with a reply.

   "I just might," he said.

--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 |