Saturday, January 9, 2010

Urban and I Meet the People

There was a great exchange Friday morning at City Hall that I wish you all could have seen or taken part in.
Twenty or so people participating in the Jefferson Leadership Institute were there to hear from a four person panel there to explain structure and operation of local government.
I have participated over the years as the explainer of how cities work and the sessions can be dry, trying to explain the structure of local government in NY and why it is as it is.
This year the group was animated as wind farms and tax breaks got everyone involved in the discourse. In fact we never got to talk about anything else as the time flew by.
Fellow panelist, Supervisor Urban Hirschey of Cape Vincent was elected on the wind issue yet in his role as Chairman of the JCIDA he also is neck deep in the "inducement" game that is resulting in a flood of tax breaks for the wind farm developers, affectionately known as Big Wind.
For me it was also a chance to get my beliefs heard by Mr. Hirschey as I have long thought agencies like JCIDA operate in their own orbit. Meanwhile, I got to hear where he is coming from.
I was pleased at his opposition to PILOTS in principle and his desire to rethink some of the tax breaks handed out like candy on Halloween.
Urban is a practical guy and knows how hard it is to do business in NY and so his willingness to go along with PILOTS is not out of some feeling that they are right.....just necessary.
I made the point that while some PILOTS make sense in some cases, the notion that everyone regardless of circumstance gets one is wrong. That's why I oppose a blanket or standard PILOT.
I also raised the issue of the elimination of mortgage tax and sales tax in the most routine of circumstance, I think he heard me.
The discussion of abatements needs to occur in the forum of the entity granting the exemption at the expense of the rest of us. That is why I hope the County Legislature doesn't continue to look for ways for the issue to just go away with the drafting of a standard wind PILOT they can dismiss as just perfunctory and automatic...
These are weighty issues and the folks elected by the people need to be a part of the conversation. Letting the lawyers and the professionals talk about it in private doesn't cut it.
Let's go Legislature....Craft whatever is to be done and quit punting.....That will never get you in the end zone.

Weighing Senate Challenge to Gillibrand, Ford Says He Won’t Be Bullied - NYTimes.com

This Harold Ford for Senate deal sounds serious. The reaction of New York's political bosses is evidence of that. Ford's Tennessee Blue Dog ties and his ethnic appeal could indeed make him an attractive candidate. Worth keeping an eye on this.
Weighing Senate Challenge to Gillibrand, Ford Says He Won’t Be Bullied - NYTimes.com

Port Authority police arrest Haisong Jiang in weekend security breach at Newark Liberty Airport

A Rutger's student who wanted to kiss him girlfriend goodbye is the fall-guy for security paranoia that shut down Newark's Liberty Airport in the days following the attemped attack on an inbound jetliner at Detroit. Apparently, in an impulsive act, this guy scotted past a check point to kiss his girl goodbye. Law enforcement tracked him down...Head the story here.
Port Authority police arrest Haisong Jiang in weekend security breach at Newark Liberty Airport

Friday, January 8, 2010

Barclay Lad Forms Exploratory Committee to Consider Running for Congress in NY-23

The man who turned certain victory into an ignominious defeat in the 48th Senate District is now pondering a run for Congress in NY23. Assemblyman Will Barclay of Pulaski, scion of a wealthy Oswego County political family is in the hunt having formed an exploratory committee.
Mr Barclay is a graduate of SU Law and an undergrad at SLU. He attended the exclusive Taft Prep School in Connecticut and was on his way to a career in high office when Senator Darrel Aubertine dealt him a shocking defeat in the February, 2008 special election in the 48th.
"Young Will". as he is called by friends brings money, name recognition and political experience to a race for the GOP nod that includes investment banker and Alex Bay native Matt Doheny and probably last year's NY23 runner-up Doug Hoffman.
Aubertine turned the Barclay name against him when he rapped the toll both on the Salmon River for anglers. The Barclay family owns much waterfront and charged an access fee to provide for maintenance of the shoreline. Democrats made Barclay look the Dickensian character charging the commoners to fish.
He actually seems a pleasant, well spoken fellow and his dad was a popular State Senator until 1984.
We will see how he does.
Barclay Forms Exploratory Committee to Consider Running for Congress in NY-23

Harold Ford Sees a Dem Senate Win and May Step over Gilly to Get it for Himself

With both US Senate seats up this year, New Yorkers are big players in any potential power swaps in the upper house. However with the GOP having trouble fielding candidates, it is looking like a twin win for the Dems.
Senator Charles Schumer is a possible unopposed candidate and the other seat is looking so blue that a second Democrat is hinting at a run where the Democratic nomination likely is tantamount to election.
Former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Jr.....now a NYC resident and registered to vote here for just two months is looking at a primary against Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
If Mr. Ford runs, he could win that primary since black voters make up a full 25% of the a Democratic primary vote. Mr. Ford also appeals to blue dogs since Senator Gillibrand was forced to lurch to the left following her appointment to the seat.
One possible for the GOP is former Staten Island Congresswoman Susan Molinari who is a capable candidate and is pondering a run. There is also Rep. Peter King, but so far he doesn't seem to be in it.
With their prospects wanting in the races for Governor, Comptroller and AG as well, a resurgent GOP could be stymied on all the statewide races, even if they do make strides in Congressional races and the State Senate.

Board weighs PILOT options

The WDT reports Jefferson County continues to pursue the goal of a standard PILOT agreement for wind projects. That would spare lawmakers the messy job of considering and passing judgment on individual proposals.
How about a different take. That's their role. The decision to tax rests with elected officials and the power to exempt some from taxes should take place in the same forum.
Also, coming up with a uniform PILOT assumes all situations are the same, including need. In fact, uniformity suggests everyone in that business gets exemptions. This is a long way from the notion of targeting inducements to situations where normal economic factors stymie a business plan.
Since these policies include exempting other taxes (sales and mortgage) that affect every community in the County, those stakeholders need to be heard from.
Often there is a move in government to off-load tough decisions away from political leadership to unelected entities. However, it is in the crucible of political discourse that public policy issues need to be debated. That is the essence of a representitive republic.
Watertown Daily Times | Board weighs PILOT options

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Congressman Paterson ?

With Governor David Paterson defiant in his stated desire to seek election to a full term, word surfaces of a possible out that would allow Paterson to save face and give a clear path to expected Democratic Gubernatorial nominee, Andrew Cuomo.
A well informed source in Albany politics tells me the Dems may push aside scandal ridden Harlem Congressman Charles Rangel and fill the seat with David Paterson, perhaps through a special election.
A key broker in the affair may be Paterson ally , Assemblyman Keith Wright, who while the governor gave his speech yesterday was in NYC with other black leaders at the funeral of long time Harlem political icon Percy Sutton. Representive Rangel was also at the services for Mr. Sutton.
Such a scenario would allow the governor to step back from the limb he is on and be awarded an important job. Last fall the White House tried to orchestrate Paterson's departure until the Governor defiantly said no and began running commercials for the 2010 election. Mr. Paterson's hand is stronger now as his get tough on Albany stance is playing well and his poll numbers are rising.
Democrats do not want a bruising primary between Paterson and Cuomo. Mr. Cuomo was acting like a candidate in Albany yesterday, hosting a huge post speech reception and giving a thumbs up while seated on the dais.
Several black leaders have made it clear a primary against the state's first black governor is a non-starter and so easing Rangel out and Paterson in to the Congress would solve a couple of issues.
If it happens, you can say you read it first here.

Virtue Blossoms in Albany (for now)

Rival Democratic Gubernatorial hopefuls David Paterson and Andrew Cuomo may be dueling to see who is most ethical and virtuous. Yesterday the Governor railed against lawmakers and proposed creation of an independent Ethics Panel to ride herd over errant lawmakers. Meanwhile AG Cuomo was serving a subpoena on Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada as part of a probe of his activities mixings politics and a private health care provider he runs.
Watertown Daily Times | Local News, Sports, Features, and Community Information for Jefferson County, St. Lawrence County, and Lewis County in Northern New York

Town OKs Galloo site plan

Pieces continue to be put together for approval of the Galloo Island wind farm, as the Town of Hounsfield conditionally OK's the project. Included are assurances that shore dinners can still be held on the island.
Watertown Daily Times | Town OKs Galloo site plan

A Tough Issue That Doesn't Need Executive Session

Tomorrow morning I am scheduled to appear on TV7's morning show to be interviewed by Jeff Cole. 6AM I have to be there. Mr. Cole wants to talk about wind mills and PILOTS as I have been one of several local elected officials who are questioning the finances of a deal between the County and Big Wind.
There are some who feel I am way off base criticising PILOTS or other inducements being offered by the JCIDA. OK, thats their Constitutional right as it is my right to make an alternative argument.
Many people have spoken against aspects of this project. On the HOTLINE show, its been virtually all anti-Big Wind. That's not bias on my part. Those proposing the deal have been conspicuous in their absence from media. They are talkative in private but don't seem to want to discuss their viewpoint in open forums. The lawyer for Big Wind on Tuesday attempted to collar key lawmakers into a private meeting before Tuesday's meeting until it was busted up by the WDT.
The history of the HOTLINE is simple. Folks who come on are treated with respect, and ask questions. Some questions are pointed, some are easy and allow the person to express their viewpoint.
I have offered Mr. Blankenbush and Mr. Alexander opportunties on the air and would be glad to have the representitive of the wind company on as well.
The fact is this is another one of those deals where public awareness of the details is minimal. Due to the sheer dollar volume of the deal this one is attracting interest and criticism.
Tune into TV 7 early Friday....I hope I wake up in time.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

With the right plan, the GOP may rise again – By George J. Marlin «

Tough times of late for Republicans in NY but this piece by long-time conservative George Marlin offers some good advice for a listless GOP.
With the right plan, the GOP may rise again – By George J. Marlin «

Paterson Talks Ethics During Our "Winter of Reckoning"

The response was tepid as Governor David Paterson called for ethics reform, restrained spending and consolidations of government in a State of the State Address that was a mirror of the dire times we live in. Governor Paterson proposed programs he says will aid the ailing economy, and chastised a Legislature unable to control its spending urges.
It was the chance for Paterson to begin his election campaign, while sitting behind him on the dais was Attorney General Andrew Cuomo who was giving a thumbs up to the crowd...perhaps a symbol of his own intentions.
Paterson Talks Ethics, Spending In Annual Speech - wcbstv.com

Tax Incentives...How They Work

Here is the JCIDA explanation of tax abatements given out. The fees from the transactions are a significant source of revenue to the IDA.
What in essence happens is that short duration assumptions of title (as short as a day) are used to avoid taxation by local jurisdictions. This could be done on new construction, but many times it is done for refinancing of existing debt.
For instance, if I refinanced Fort Pearl for say $200,000 I could get the IDA to take title on the day before the closing and since it is technically owned by a public entity, there is no mortgage tax. I think it's .75%, so the amount would be $1,500. Under the guidelines, a quarter of that ($375) would go to the IDA as a fee, with that money used at their discretion for operations or other assistance to business. To give another perspective,in 2008 a Co-Gen plant on Fort Drum was allowed to refinance its $50million debt in a one-day change of ownership. In that case the mortgage tax avoided was $375,000.
Now, If I was going to remodel the building, I could leave it titled to them for the duration of the construction, so I could avoid sales tax on the building materials. In the meantime,a leaseback would allow continued use of the building by its true owner.
The argument in favor of this practice is that if such measures are not offered, businesses will locate elsewhere and take jobs with them.
The argument against is that this is merely an avoidance of taxes that have been enacted by the State Legislature, and a transfer of burden to other taxpayers.
There are also payment in lieu of taxes agreements to avoid property taxes.
Jefferson County Job Development Corporation in Watertown NY [ tax incentives ]

KRUG: Lewis County Bar Owner to Run for Assembly

Lewis County political blogger and former Legislature Chair Bruce Krug says the owner of the legendary Montague Inn plans to run for the GOP nomination for Assembly in the 122nd. Krug says on his blog that Rick Lucas will even oppose Assemblywoman Diedre Scozzafava, if she runs for reelection. The 122nd includes all of Lewis County and portions of Oswego, Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties.
Lewis County Uncovered

Just Explain to the Folks Why All This Makes Sense

Tuesday's County Legislature meeting may have ended in a fizzle when PILOT proposals were dropped from the agenda. No first down...so you have to punt in hopes of getting the ball back for another drive.
It's important to understand the skepticism that exists over these financial inducement deals.
One need only examine the corporate shirt changing that plagued the Empire Zone program to see what I mean. On top of that is another technique that is frustrating local mayors and supervisors. One of them called me last night to tell me about one frustration concerning the mortgage tax.
The NYS mortgage tax levies a one-half of one percent tax on any mortgage filed with the county clerk. One can argue such a tax is onerous, but any of us who have bought a house have paid it. You also pay it when refinancing. It is now common practice to transfer title of such a property to an IDA for a day while the mortgage closing occurs. This avoids the mortgage tax and local counties, cities, towns and villages lose a source of revenue.
Now maybe such a tax should not exist, but if so it should not exist for all of us.
Lease back arrangements are used to avoid sales tax on purchases made to improve properties. An IDA can take title so there is an exemption on sales tax for construction materials,but effective use of the property remains with the actual owner through a lease back arrangement.
My point is what the public doesn't know about these arrangements far exceeds what they do know. That needs to change and the elected bodies need to step up and determine what is an appropriate public subsidy of private sector development.
Watertown Daily Times | Wind farm PILOT plan suspended

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Tennessean May Challenge Gillibrand - NYTimes.com

What was a rumor a month ago is coming into focus as former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Junior....who lost a bid for a Senate seat from the Volunteer State.....is seriously pondering a primary challenge to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand........With Rudy Giuliani not seeking the GOP nod and no substantive Republican challenger, the prospect of a Democratic primary is not only appealing to Mr. Ford....but it is not particularly threatening to the party.
Ford moved to the Empire State three years ago, following his loss to Senator Bob Corker.
Tennessean May Challenge Gillibrand - NYTimes.com

HOTLINE: Anti Wind Out Talks Big Wind in the Public Arena...But Behind Closed Doors, Likely Another Story

Lots of HOTLINE calls today on the Wind issue.
The most interesting was Karl Williams from Henderson, the former Assembly candidate. Karl says unsuspecting landowners are signing long term options on their properties in exchange for some cash. They are also signing non-disclosure agreements with Big Wind.
If that's true where is Big Government as in the AG to protect people against such aggressive tactics ?
One thing is sure, there are lots of well informed and influential people on the anti-wind side. On the pro side.....who knows ? I doubt they do talk shows.
As is always the case, the pro-wind side is always welcome to call or visit the HOTLINE, and as with any guest over the years will be treated respectfully.

The People Struggle to Assert Control

With television commercials striking fear into county legislators who normally toil in obscurity, there is doubt a PILOT agreement with Big Wind will be voted on tonight at what is expected to be a packed house at the historic county courthouse where they meet.
It seems the argument is over whether it should a 15 year or a 20 year payment in lieu of taxes agreement. If the county board rejects the 20 year deal, it can fall back on 15 and claim that's their standard PILOT and it can be approved by the unelected, and thus unaccountable, JCIDA.
Let me express an opinion shared by more and more people.
The folks are tired of bailouts...tired of transfering of wealth through PILOTS....tired of sales tax abatements that flow straight to the bottom line of the well-to-do. We are sick of slick lawyering to come up with tax avoidance schemes. And we are sick of being told it "creates jobs."
The County Legislature needs to take control.
Watertown Daily Times | Vote on wind farm PILOT up in air

Monday, January 4, 2010

Unknown Brew to be Treated at City Sewage Plant

City Council tonight heard about and debated a trial program to treat wastewater from natural gas wells being dug in Otsego County.
Oddly, no municipal sewage treatment plant near the wells will treat the water and the DEC has suddenly said only the Watertown plant can handle the brew that comes out of these controversial wells.
The Watertown plant will receive thousands of gallons of water with unspecified toxins. The plant is located next to the Fairgrounds on Coffeen Street.
The question I have is why have so many plants refused the water and so it makes sense to ship tankloads of water some 200 miles to Watertown. The sewage plant operator, Mike Sligar, has been summoned to the next meeting to answer questions.
Meanwhile the first test shipment comes tomorrow

Council also OK's the purchase of two refuse packers and approved the nomination of financial consultant Jeffry Weldon to serve on the Flower Library Board.

Media gets punked by Elin's twin sister in ski vacation photos - Out of Bounds - NBC Sports

Its always a hoot when the media get snookered.....They must have forgot Tiger's wife...Elin Nordegran....has a TWIN sister...so the lovely blond on the slopes in the French Alps was
not Elin , as was reported....but instead was her sister.
Media gets punked by Elin's twin sister in ski vacation photos - Out of Bounds - NBC Sports

Liz: Paterson the Populist vs Andrew's Heavy Wallet

The Daily Politics - NY Daily News

Paterson Rallies after Epiphany

So the Governor had an epiphany....a realization that being governor means you have to be the adult in the room.
So Governor David Paterson tells the Associated Press in a year-end interview.
Gone are the days in the Legislature when as a member and leader of the Minority Caucus, you could advocate for even the silliest of initiaves to placate the wackiest of constituents.
Now its time to govern and David Paterson says he is up to the task.
The President still wants him to bow out in exchange for whatever bauble a President can offer.
Andrew Cuomo still wants the state's first Black governor to step aside without a hassle so he can put aside his angst over Carl McCall.
Governor Paterson is trying to tackle the state's fiscal mess....It needs to happen....and his critics still baying over the non-appointment of Caroline needs to realize that as well.
David Paterson is still a long-shot to win a term in his own name...but he looks better off than a few months ago....
Let's hope he is serious and not just posturing for that deputy cabinet post alongside the Potomac.

Going Green Bridges Differences

I was watching the Jets pummel the Bengals last night at Pete's and heard a key staffer to Senator Darrel Aubertine is also an avid Jets fan....
This is a guy who is lefter than left.....hates Palin.....and is a true believer in Obama-mania......Yet through our joint following of Gang Green, we have something in common to discuss should we bump into each other at a cocktail party.
It's always good to have a bit of common ground with those you otherwise disagree.

Get New Yorkers out of tax hell | democratandchronicle.com | Democrat and Chronicle

Editorial writers and citizens may start the new decade in search of the change we have been waiting for, but don't expect the forces of the status quo in Albany to change without a fight.
This piece in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle lays out the issues, but the drumbeat will need to better deafening before lawmakers will feel safe enough to tackle the entranched forces who like things just like they are, thank you.
While we in Jefferson County debate lowering taxes for one business, the broader point is missed. Taxes are too high for everyone and helping out one wind developer does not qualify as an action that lifts all ships.
Get New Yorkers out of tax hell | democratandchronicle.com | Democrat and Chronicle

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Voting Yes in the Absence of a Plan for Prosperity

There are a lot of comments here and elsewhere that suggest the supporters of Big Wind somehow are getting something for their vote.
The process would be easier to understand if it were as simple as a bag of money in a dark corner of a parking lot....
In my 14 years in office, nobody ever offered money or a job in exchange for a vote. Even campaign contributions are not a big deal here in NNY. The county legislators do not have contested races anyway.
One of the motivators in politics is ego and another is a real desire to see your community prosper. To be seen as a "job creator" is important to today's lawmakers even though as Republicans they should know that jobs are created in the private sector not throught government fiat.
I suspect those in favor think they are taking advantage of an opportunity and doing something that will lessen the onerous tax burden on property owners...at least those in a couple of communities.
I feel it is misguided altruism, as this PILOT and tax abatement scheme for Big Wind is the same old saw we hear concerning malls, factories, convention centers, etc.
You know....it will only happen if approved and if you don't people who want to work won't and their families will suffer. If you look at it that way, I guess you vote yes...Nobody wants to hurt someone else...but increasingly, I am skeptical of all these arrangements.
I used to be a believer, but I no longer buy into the government creates jobs mantra. There are times government can be of assistance but most of what passes for economic development is merely subsidy for the well to do....or subsidy for industries and technologies that just can't make it. How much was sunk into local paper mills like Deferiet before the obvious became reality
If a county legislator got in his car and found a bag of money on the seat, at least the vote could be explained.....In the absence of that happening, it's a more inexplicable vote I suspect is based on the frustration of wanting prosperity and figuring doing anything is better than nothing.

WDT: Lewis Wind Farm Withholds Tax Payment

Remember just five years ago, the crowing over the Lewis County PILOT with Big Wind....It was raining money and every town got to buy new dump trucks and have the most chrome on their fire trucks.....And most of the windfall was coming from Albany's Empire Zone program...The lawyers had discovered a way to have the state pay most of the tax bill for Wind. Now the gig is up and the money is not coming. Surprised....You shouldn't be. This is the end result of the machinations that occur when local government puts quick cash ahead of following the law.
Meanwhile the lining up of votes continues in advance of Tuesday's County Legislature vote on the Galloo Island project.
Key swing votes are thought to be District 2 lawmaker Bob Thomas...District 14's Jennie Adsit.....and District 10's Mike Behling.
The board's two Democrats are solidly for the project because of the support it has from labor. District 13 lawmaker Scott Gray is an opponent, in part because he wanted the matter to go through his Finance and Rules committee first. Insead, jurisdictional committees are being bypassed.
Interestingly, unlike many legislative bodies....this issue is coming before the board without a sponsor. It will be interesting to see who quicklgy offers an introduction and second to put it up for discussion.
Watertown Daily Times | Maple Ridge withholds payment

...Whats Up NY23?

In today's media....Let all flowers bloom...Here is another intersting blog with a pretty good look-see at the potential challengers to Rep. Bill Owens. In such a big district,itis important to follow the thoughts and writings from many. Last year's old media chasm between the different areas of the NY23 was a devestating indictment of the parochialism of old media. Anyway, this new blog offers up a pretty good appraisal of potential GOP challengers. Let the speculation begin.
...Whats Up NY23?