Amid much back-slapping and chest-thumping, state lawmakers passed a third consecutive “on-time budget” last week. Code-named “Magic” (by me), this budget held spending to less than 2 percent — demonstrating again that the state can commit itself to some of the rules it imposes on its minions — jacked school aid by another billion dollars (which of course is not nearly enough) and gave tax breaks for those earning less than $300,000 a year.
So why isn’t everybody else dancing in the streets? One answer is people are cynical. (This week’s arrest of state Sen. Malcolm Smith and several other elected officials on corruption charges will not lessen that cynicism.) They don’t easily believe that three politically motivated people — four with the addition of the leader of a so-called independent state Senate Democratic coalition — meeting in secret will do what’s right. That the budget looks good on paper, or as explained at joint press conferences by the ruling four, is no comfort because sooner or later other shoes will drop. The bottom line is state government has an insatiable appetite for fresh cash and there is only one source.
And come to think of it, isn’t passing a budget on time one of government’s fundamental duties?
Judging from his post-budget press release, it would appear Assemblyman Kevin Cahill focused much of his effort this session on funding projects near the soon-to-be-named Levon Helm Highway (Route 375 to Woodstock).
At the behest of Cahill, state Sen. Jim Seward (he replaced John Bonacic as our upland solon) and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state legislature appropriated $2 million for a Route 28 valley rail-trail, something of a misnomer. When they rip up the track, as advocated by County Executive Mike Hein, who requested the $2 million from the governor, there’s no more rail. Perhaps future hikers can sing snippets from “John Henry was a Steel-drivin’ Man” in memory of the once great U&D Railroad. Cahill, coming on now as solidly in toot with railroaders, also reminds readers he had previously secured a million bucks for the railroad, giving Hein-come-lately the old backatcha.
Of sentimental value is the million dollars being appropriated for the renamed Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretative Center at Mount Tremper, now one of the Catskills’ more expensive parking lots. The future facility will pay tribute to the man who couldn’t quite get it finished. In fairness, some of the blame for the project’s delay must be affixed to foot-dragging state bureaucrats, bickering local interests and a withdrawal of state funding. Perhaps they could commission a statue of Hinchey standing atop a logjam.
Another million dollars has been earmarked for upgrades of the lodge and snowmaking equipment at the Belleayre ski center in Highmount. Ownership of the facility passed from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to the state Olympic Regional Development Authority last year. Folks from the ever-watchful Coalition to Save Belleayre seem pleased, so far, with ORDA’s management of Belleayre.
Say what you will about the Bernardos of Rochester town, they keep the presses running, bloggers bloviating, columnists regurgitating, Facebookers fulminating, even with some of the most powerful forces in the county aligned against them.
In the latest installment, the county Industrial Development Agency — after huffing and puffing almost a year — finally pulled the plug on the Bernardos’ Pilot (payment-in-lieu of taxes) agreement on their skating rink in Accord. Meeting in emergency session with minimal public notice last week, the IDA board determined that Len and Terry Bernardo had violated their (2005) pilot application to create 22 FTE (Full-Time Equivalent) jobs at their skating rink. IDA records show just 4.5 FTEs last year, which probably means you might have to wait a bit for that slice of pizza with those roller skates. The Bernardos, who claim their current contract with the agency demands no jobs at all, will tell it to a judge.
For a while, there was debate among IDA members over which document took precedence, the original application for tax relief or the contract signed by both parties. The termination resolution, as adopted, punted. Since the IDA is a state authority, it falls under state reporting rules that use the initial signing statement as conclusive, or so said IDA Chairman Dave O’Halloran in explaining the board’s actions.
O’Halloran, the Boss Hogg of Rochester, would seem an unlikely adversary of the Bernardos. But then few things public are as simple as they might appear, especially when politics rears its head.
Recall, the dispute between the Bernardos and Hein over the roller rink pilot, one that has played out over five years. Terry Bernardo, in a Facebook posting a few weeks ago picked up by an enterprising reporter, bitterly complained of a Hein “vendetta” against her and her husband. I’ll leave to readers whether the IDA sanctions that swiftly followed were coincidence or cause and effect.
Bernardo, a Web-savvy pol, rather naively took umbrage at a reporter making hay of her “private” Facebook message “to a few friends.” Hello! Though I’m not on Facebook, I know whatever is out there is out there for the world to see.
Hein in his response to Bernardo’s charges of political vindictiveness, called her “increasingly erratic,” a choice of words some of my feminist friends found problematic.
But if O’Halloran, a really smart guy at times too clever by half, thought he would curry favor with the executive by slam-dunking the Bernardos, he may have another think coming.
I refer to a recent letter to the editor where O’Halloran appealed to the executive for support on a memorializing resolution before the county legislature to establish state-authorized gambling devices (Video Lotto Terminals) at his Pine Grove Ranch and the Hudson Valley Resort. The Rochester town board has given its support to both resorts.
VLTs, which are authorized at state race tracks, are not to be confused with the establishment of full-blown casinos, expected to be on the ballot this November. The state legislature on its own authority (with the governor’s signature) can designate VLTs.
Last month, Hein told the monthly meeting of the county Association of Town Supervisors and Mayors that he “fully supported” establishment of a casino at the Nevele Hotel outside of Ellenville, and advised that VLT issues could be taken up after casino passage.