After years of delay, Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week dropped $8 million in a capital development grant at the state-owned Belleayre Ski Center at Highmount. Belleayre’s entire operating budget is on the order of $5.1 million a year.
A week before the surprise announcement, a packed house at a Shandaken Town Board meeting was shaking its collective fists at Albany. The silence from on high was deafening.
And then along comes what they hope will be the first installment of a $74 million plan concocted five years ago and finally approved by the state last November.
Cause and effect? You’ll never hear it from the powers that be, though Ulster’s two leading Democrats, County Executive Mike Hein and Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, playing catch-up, promptly issued congratulatory news releases. Cahill, with his in-depth knowledge of state government and his connections in the state Senate, is better equipped to pursue this announcement into an action plan.
The “up to $8.2 million” budget item was among the governor’s 30-day budget amendments, thus part of the 2017-18 budget. The money, if approved by the legislature, will go to the Olympic Reconstruction Development Authority (ORDA), which runs Belleayre. Speaking to belts and suspenders, Cahill says placing the funding with ORDA, an independent state authority, serves to insulate it from the whims of politics.
“It’s a good thing,” he said. “We’re very optimistic that this funding will go forward, in part because it is long overdue. It is a very good first step.”
Before we give too much credit to the Cuomo administration for finally anteing up, it should be understood that most of the goodies in the $8 million grant, approved only months previously, had been thoroughly fleshed out before Cuomo went public. But it was welcome news nonetheless.
Given the history — five years dead in the water — it would behoove local leaders to keep the heat on Albany. As many have observed over the years, too-good-to-be-true grants often take years between breathless announcements to the first shovel in the ground.
In the weeds
Republican county legislators may have gotten away with voting for repealing the Affordable Care Act at last week’s regular session, plus voting against a resolution condemning hate speech. Maybe not.
They were smart in linking a resolution banning memorializing resolutions with their stance on the ACA and hate speech. It provided them a plausible out should constituents raise those questions as they campaign in the fall.
The conversation might go like this:
“What’s this I hear you voting against the ACA and hate speech. Who could be against that?” asks a concerned constituent.
“Not me,” responds the pol. “Remember, I went to school with your cousin Joe. We’re against memorializing resolutions. They waste a lot of time and paper, and have nothing to do with our jobs as legislators. And besides, most times they’re deep-sixed. So why bother?”
“So, you support the ACA or its improvement and you’re against hate speech?”
“Of course. Who could be against that?”
“So why did you vote that way?”
“Well, as I said, we’re against memorializing resolutions, and …”
I don’t think hordes of legislators will be turned out of office by the events of last week’s session. Only one or two of 23 incumbents lose their seats every year, and some just retire. But in the true spirit of democracy, unless lawmakers are completely tone-deaf, most have to learn something from their constituents about memorializing resolutions.
As demonstrated in the presidential election there is a crying need to be heard in this country. Almost every speaker spoke directly to that subject. We want to be heard! Memorializing resolutions, no matter how narrowly focused or, in some cases, trivial, represent the voice of the people. How legislators, presumably connected to their constituents, missed that fundamental point is beyond me.
The two subjects memorialized were obviously wrapped in politics, building walls, healthcare, sanctuary cities, Obama, Trump, Democrats and Republicans, left and right.
It was a healthy debate, one of the primary purposes of a memorialiazing resolution. Any restriction on free speech is dangerous, quoth Republicans in defending their position.
That always strikes a chord in the press section. Hate speech is hateful and can lead to bad things, said supporters.
The ACA was overcomplicated when it was adopted in 2010. Recall the then-House speaker advising we’d have to figure it out after it passed. Repealing, rejecting and revising while keeping everybody in it covered will be a tall order.
Unlike most of our politics these days, the session was civil. No speaker favored the repeal of ACA or condoned hate speech.
Republican ranks were depleted owing to four of their 12 members taking winter vacations. One would think that might offer an opportunity for the opposition, but no. The Democrats were unable to muster the 12 votes necessary to pass the memorializing resolutions.
As for me, missing forests for trees is an occupational hazard. After hundreds of county legislature meetings where maybe a thousand memorializing resolutions were brought to the floor, I had long ago turned a deaf ear and for most of the reasons Republicans stated lat week.
No more. I just hope the solons keep this safety valve open for important, relevant topics.
Notes on the numbers
Woodstock Legislator Jonathan Heppner was preaching to the choir in opposing ACA repeal, and he brought a bunch of folks with him to last week’s meeting. Among Art Colony attendees were three members of the town board, including Richard Heppner, the legislator’s father, and councilmembers Laura Ricci and Jay Wenk. Ricci was compelling; Wenk, polite — for Wenk.
Young Heppner, he turned 29 this month. Knowing he didn’t have the votes, he gave it the old college try. One stat that got people’s attention was that repeal of the ACA (without a replacement) would directly affect 19,850 people in Ulster County and cost the county government $2.9 million in federal reimbursements.
I have learned over the years never to trust statistics from politicians, even from painfully sincere freshmen legislators. So I asked Heppner after the session where he got those (oft-repeated) figures.
Governor Cuomo’s office, he replied. Hmm.
Woodstockers are pretty savvy when it comes to politics, but parliamentary procedure and Robert’s Rules can vex even veteran observers. Some ’Stockers sitting behind the press table couldn’t understand why an 11-8 voter did not approve the measure. You need a majority of the entire body, regardless of who’s in attendance, I whispered to one.
“But we won!” the woman whispered back.
“So did Hillary,” I said. “Those are the rules.”
I think a statement by Republican Legislator Herb Litts of Highland could serve as a rallying cry for challengers in this year’s elections. Speaking to the ACA, Litts said, “What we have is not good enough. I want something to change. Staying with the status quo is not good for anyone.”
A dog’s life
Forrmer Kingston alderwoman and 2011 mayoral candidate Andi Turco-Levin says she’s pretty sure she didn’t name her champion West Highland Terrier after Freeman reporter Paul Kirby, but she might have.
“At the time , I had lost a [primary] election and my prize Westy, Sherlock,” she recalled. She had been airing her woes with Kirby, then the Freeman City Hall reporter. The hard-bitten scribe expressed no sympathy for either loss. “Maybe I’ll name him after you,” she said she said.
Kirby (the dog) competed in the Westminster in the agility class earlier this month. A backyard jumper, he showed well, won a few ribbons, but didn’t take top prize.