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What 'market access risk' means for Erie County

Politically charged debate over who should do Erie County's borrowing has been around almost as long as the state-appointed control board.

It's been no different this year, as County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and County Comptroller David Shenk prepare to sell the county's first general obligation bonds since 2006.

There are six legislators -- including three Republicans, one Democrat, one Conservative and an Independence Party member -- that have been outspoken in their opposition to the plan because of the higher costs Erie County will see if it borrows on its own.

Staff for Poloncarz have made the argument that returning to the bond market will help the county get better ratings from the Wall Street ratings agencies in the future, which in turn would mean cheaper interest rates.

A story in today's City & Region section looks at what analysts from the ratings agencies had to say about that.

Pressed by county legislators for written documentation that the ratings agencies look at whether the county has issued its own general obligation bonds when they determine what rating to give, the Poloncarz administration has pointed to a line in a ratings report from Standard & Poor's completed in December.

In it, analysts note that one of the risks facing Erie County is: "Market access risk for purposes of financing operations during low cash-flow periods."

So what does that sentence mean? It is a comment on the county's low cash flow.

Analysts for Standard & Poor's said that refers to the fact that the county must rely on short-term borrowing each year to cover some of its finances, a tactic many municipalities without a lot of extra cash use to cover expenses as they wait for revenue to arrive.

"What that's referring to is the fact that the county issues cash-flow notes each year to finance operations," said Lindsay Wilhelm, primary Erie County credit analyst for Standard & Poor's. "So basically, during low-cash periods, they'll have to go out to the market to just finance their day-to-day, and we see this a lot. This is definitely not unique to Erie County."

Why is that a risk? Because, in an extreme credit crisis, a county might not be able to borrow that money -- a scenario the analysts said they don't currently foresee.

"They might not be able to sell the notes if there was a real financial meltdown of epic proportions," said Richard Marino, an analyst for Standard & Poor's. "You can sell notes, even if you have weak credit, you can still sell them. It just costs you more."

-- Denise Jewell Gee

Politics Now chat with Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski

The News features a live politics chat weekly at 1 p.m. Thursdays. Today's is hosted by Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski, with the focus on politics and policies in the nation's capital and the effects on Western New York.

Audio: Cuomo after his Buffalo address

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo touched on a variety of topics in his address this morning, as he did in a news conference afterwards.

Here's some of what the governor said in a conversation with reporters:

On the Buffalo Bills and getting a new stadium lease:

“The Bills are very important, not just to Western New York, but to the entire state. We want to keep the Bills here. I’m looking forward to being part of a cooperative effort to keep them here. Obviously, money is tight; we all know that. The taxpayers are not in a position to be shelling out more money, and we’re going to great lengths to bring efficiencies to this state budget, and I’ve cut the budget, but the Bills are important and I want to be a big part of keeping them here.”

On funding for Roswell Park Cancer Institute:

"We cross our fingers, we hope for the best and there's nothing immediate that's going to happen from the state's side. We're talking about two years, so we have two years to figure it out."

On funding for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority:

"We have some money for the NFTA in the budget and we're doing the best we can, but money is tight all over. And we need efficient partnerships all across the state where everyone is doing what they need to do."

Listen to the full audio of Cuomo's press conference:

Download the audio.

--Aaron Besecker
Follow me on Twitter: @BeseckerBN

Legislators want time to examine polar bear proposal

The polar bears are heading for committee -- or at least a debate over whether Erie County should contribute a third of the $18 million price tag of a project to build a new habitat for the Buffalo Zoo's bears.

Erie County Legislature Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams sent the $6 million funding request to the Legislature's Community Enrichment Committee this morning after several legislators said they wanted time to examine the proposal.

County Executive Chris Collins on Tuesday surprised legislators when he sent over a request to use left over funds in several lines in the 2011 budget for the zoo's capital project.

Zoo President Donna Fernandes reiterated her concern to legislators that the zoo is in danger of losing its polar bears if it does not make progress toward its goal to raise $18 million to upgrade the habitat that houses the polar bears to meet modern standards. The exhibit was first built in the 1890s, she said. 

Fernandes told legislators during a work session today that Collins told her to secure funding commitments from the City of Buffalo and from private foundations before he would move the proposal forward. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown has proposed giving the project $535,000 from the city's capital budget next year. 

She said the zoo has commitments for just under $8 million so far for the project.

Some county legislators have called the timing of the zoo proposal "awkward" as they complete their review of a 2012 budget proposal that would cut more than 300 county jobs.

--Denise Jewell Gee

Rath hopes for vote on cyberbullying law next week

A proposal to make cyberbullying a misdemeanor in Erie County drew only one public comment during a hearing this morning.

Crystal J. Rodriguez, executive director of Buffalo's Commission on Citizens' Rights and Community Relations, urged county legislators to pass its own local law since state antibullying legislation approved last year did not address online bullying.

"The Dignity for All Students law does not address cyberbullying," Rodriguez said. "And quite honestly, that's where the bulk of the bullying -- especially the bullying that has the most emotional effects -- that's where it's coming from."

Two Erie County legislators -- Edward A. Rath III and Raymond W. Walter -- proposed the local law following the death of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer in September. Rodemeyer, a freshman at Williamsville North High School, complained of being bullied before committing suicide in September.

The proposal would make cyberbullying an "unclassified misdemeanor" that would carry a fine of up to $1,000 and up to one year in jail.

The legislation mirrors similar laws passed in three other New York counties last year. The Niagara County Legislature is also considering a cyberbullying law. 

Walter said students from Casey Middle School in Williamsville also submitted a petition with dozens of signatures in support of the proposed county law.

"We're dealing with kids," Rodriguez said. "This is something that will deter them, but it won't ruin the rest of their lives."

Rath and Walter, as well as legislators Christina W. Bove and Lynne M. Dixon, also spoke in support of the proposal during the hearing. Rath said he hopes the local law could come up for a vote during the Legislature's next meeting Nov. 17.

--Denise Jewell Gee

 

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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.

[email protected]


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.

[email protected]


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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]

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