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Governor Andrew Cuomo came to Rochester in early January and held a campaign-style event at Tower280. He talked about how Upstate New York is on the way back and the state has more private sector jobs than ever before.

cuomoAfter his speech, I asked him how he can be so positive when Rochester has 40,000 fewer people working than it did at its peak in the late 1990s. Cuomo called me a cynic and said we’re all going to die one day. The governor was joking, of course. But new data shows the Rochester economy is no laughing matter.

First, census data shows a net loss of 25,000 people in Rochester over the last five years when you add up the number of people who moved in and the number of people who moved out. If it wasn’t for new births and international immigrants, we would be in a population free fall. People blame taxes, the weather and lack of jobs.

Speaking of jobs, data out last week from the New York State Labor Department shows Rochester had the most job losses in the state over the last year. We lost 1 percent of jobs between February 2015 and February 2016. That’s 4,700 jobs.

Meantime, in a Democrat and Chronicle article holding the state accountable about jobs promises, officials say some of their efforts to create jobs are paying off. Others will pay off in the future. And some probably won’t pay off, after all. For now, we wait.

The state’s economic development policy is to throw obnoxious amounts of money at companies and hope they create jobs. The state calls it investment, but it could also be called gambling. Most recently, Cuomo came to Rochester to announce two photonics companies are coming here. He said they would create 1,400 jobs, even though neither company makes anything right now and both have a tiny number of workers. As with other announcements on photonics, the jobs estimates are purely speculative.

As much as I love Rochester, it’s clear there’s something deeply wrong with our economic climate. Instead of focusing on making Rochester a wonderful place for all to do business, the state is focusing on only a few businesses in programs such as Start-Up NY. The big picture has been lost.

It turns out I was right to be cynical. I was also right. The region is not on the upswing, as Cuomo would have us believe.

Update: The state labor department questions its own data. Whatever the case, it’s not a pretty picture. – RB 3/29/16

Links of the Day:


Cuomo - 220X165A lot of people said Andrew Cuomo created the Buffalo Billion because he didn’t win Erie County when he ran for his first term as governor. He wanted to win over the community. The strategy was successful, as he carried Erie County when he ran for his second term.

Is it Rochester’s turn?

Cuomo did not win Monroe County in the 2014 election. You can blame resentment over the Buffalo Billion, Safe Act, Common Core, a perception he’s a bit of a bully and the general feeling he doesn’t care about Rochester. Having a lieutenant governor from Rochester during his first term did absolutely nothing to shore up his popularity.

In 2015, Cuomo seems to have discovered Rochester exists.

Gannett wrote an article called “Rochester clearly in Cuomo’s focus now.” It reads in part:

Anti-poverty initiative. Photonics center. Capital for a day. Medical marijuana facility.

After losing Monroe County in November, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration are clearly paying more attention to the Rochester area.


In January, the Democratic governor appeared in Rochester to announce a $1.5 billion competition for upstate economic development aid. He spoke once here in February about his budget proposal, then twice in the county in March.


Cuomo could use the boost, too. His job-performance rating in May fell to 37 percent,the lowest point since he became governor in 2011.

I think it’s too soon to say Cuomo is all about Rochester. (And if he is – where was he before? Why now? Does this make the first four years of not being here go away?)

First, the state’s pledge of $250 million to the photonics institute was a no-brainer. The money, coupled with SUNY Polytechnic’s track record, helped Rochester win the Department of Defense’s award. But this was a pledge of money to a maybe. It was also a pledge of money that will undoubtedly be handed out over many years. In addition, Rochester is already a leader in photonics. The governor did nothing to make that happen. He’s supporting something that already exists.

Second, the Capital for a Day thing was a dog and pony show. Does he think Rochester felt special? It was actually kind of insulting to see a bunch of high-level state officials learning about our community over the course of a single day. They should already know Rochester. It shouldn’t take a highly-orchestrated public relations stunt and the sprinkling of pork to get these officials to come to town.

Third, the anti-poverty initiative is a giant unknown. The plan is there is no plan. The governor gave us $6 million and no one has any idea what it will be used for. So far, there have been some nice brainstorming sessions.

Fourth, the medical marijuana facility and its 195 promised jobs is very nice. But Rochester wasn’t the only place chosen for such a facility. Sure, politics could have played a role in the selection, but Columbia Care – as well as Eastman Business Park – may have won on their merits.

Fifth, Gannett thought it was a great thing for Rochester that Cuomo came here to announce another economic development competition. This “Hunger Games” announcement was panned by many.

Finally, trying to shore up Rochester’s economy will not be as tough as other places. We don’t have the same population loss or unemployment as say…the Southern Tier. Things are not great, but they’re worse in other parts of the state. Rochester also has the colleges, workforce and infrastructure for a great success story.

Cuomo could use Rochester to boost his struggling favorability and job performance ratings. The question to start thinking about is this: If Rochester’s economy improves, how much will be due to Cuomo?


Links of the Day:


– COMIDA: “Nearly a quarter of the projects projected no new jobs and 30 percent estimated creating one new job each.”

– Great history lesson: Why does Jeb Bush admire James Polk?

– The Millennial Commune: An expensive dorm for adults.

– Sweet story: A Syracuse man depended on his bike. When it was stolen, friends and coworkers stepped up.

– Try something new: At 64, Utica man launched second career — as a nude model.


Meet Pixie!






Governor Andrew Cuomo told Syracuse it won’t get help from the state unless it comes up with a viable plan to become economically sustainable. The mayor has been complaining about aging infrastructure, including water mains that burst on a regular basis.

The Syracuse Post-Standard reports Cuomo said:

“Show us how you become economically stronger and create jobs. Then you fix your own pipes.”

cuomoCuomo needs to take a lesson in history. Continue reading



Governor Andrew Cuomo came to Rochester on Thursday and announced the sequel to the Buffalo Billion.

Instead of giving other Upstate regions their fair share, Cuomo said there’s only $1.5 billion for the rest of us.

Oh, and we’ll have to fight each other for the loot.

The governor made this announcement in the only big-city county he lost in November. When Cuomo lost Erie County, he showered money and love on Buffalo. When he lost Monroe County, he thrust us into a game show. Continue reading

Update: The New York Post reports state officials did not take into account updated snow totals from NWS. The Buffalo News appears to take a shot at TV stations over their forecasts.


When the Buffalo area is out of danger, there will be a lot of discussion about how local and state government prepared and reacted to this storm. Why wasn’t the Thruway closed earlier? Why wasn’t there a concrete plan to dig out? Why didn’t people understand the magnitude of what was about to happen? Despite the fact it would have been hard for anyone to wrap their heads around this much snow – and the dangers presented – these are still legitimate questions.

Governor Andrew Cuomo offered one theory. WGRZ reports:

Cuomo said the Weather Service did not indicate that the heavy snow bands would remain stationary and blast South Buffalo and the Southtowns with the incredible rate of snowfall.

Cuomo said that’s part of the reason why New York State is building its own linked weather forecasting system that will be superior to any other state system in the country.

“No one had an idea that it was gonna be that much snow that fast. Snow coming down at the rate of about five inches an hour. No one had an idea. The weather service was off. By the way, I said this in my state of the state last year we’re putting in our own weather detection system,” said Cuomo.

There might have been a communications failure. But this doesn’t seem to be a forecast failure. Meteorologists tweeted that the National Weather Service did predict this monster storm.




Links of the Day:


– Could climate change bring more lake effect snow?

– A government committee will decide if Buffalo area snow broke a record.

Fun lake effect memes.

– Downtown landmarks in Syracuse are illuminated with colored lights some call garish.

– DHD Ventures is renovating some well-known downtown Rochester properties.

– Denver Post explores our broken mental health system, one that only treats people after they’re far into illness.

– Adam Lanza’s mothers refused treatment recommendations for her son, who was 6 feet tall and weighed only 112 pounds.

– Washington Post goes very in-depth on Cosby accusations. Numerous women have same story of being drugged and attacked.

North Shore

The North Shore Development is a $120 million housing and retail complex on 21 blighted acres on the north shore of Canandaigua Lake. Morgan-LeChase Development LLC is developing the project.

The first phase calls for 137 apartments. The project would ultimately have 457 apartments. Construction is scheduled to start this month.

The project is getting substantial help from taxpayers. It has been approved by local governments for $11 million in PILOT incremental financing. That means a portion of the future property taxes will be used to pay for site remediation. North Shore got a $1.5 million award from the Regional Economic Development Councils. It also is expected to receive millions of dollars in state brownfield tax credits and state grant money to help pay infrastructure costs.

Several big donors to Governor Cuomo are backers of this project. The project was spearheaded by the nonprofit Canandaigua Area Development Corporation. Among the board members are Richard Sands, Chairman of the Board of Constellation Brands and Danny Wegman, CEO of Wegmans Food Markets.

Richard Sands and his brother, Robert, CEO of Constellation Brands, each donated $10,000 to Cuomo the same week in December 2013. The Constellation Brands political action committee has donated $27,500 to Cuomo. Constellation Brands Leasing, which shares an address with Constellation brands, has donated nearly $27,000 to Cuomo.

Wegman donated $35,000 to Cuomo’s campaign. His daughter, Colleen, donated $28,000. His wife, Stency, donated $37,000. These donations took place in 2010.

Wayne LeChase, head of LeChase Construction, which is partnering on North Shore, donated nearly $30,000 to Cuomo in 2010. His company donated $25,000 in 2013.

Danny Wegman is co-chairman of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Council, which asked and received support of the North Shore project last year. Robert Sands sits on the council board. North Shore remains a priority project for the council in 2014.

It’s clear the governor, who has had a rough couple weeks, is entering friendly territory tomorrow.


Links of the Day:


– Cuomo is using campaign cash for legal fees. A Rochester area state lawmaker once wanted to stop the practice.

– The Rochester City School District principal shuffle continues. This time, the former principal of Monroe High will direct a program.

– Whoops! Did Bon Jovi violate the Bills’ nondisclosure agreement?

– A Toronto columnist is bummed about Bon Jovi’s letter.

– One-third of new York State Fair vendors come from out of state.

– To save the Syracuse school district, this person suggests it must be desegregated.

– “Diane Watkins screwed up. But she shouldn’t go to prison, and she shouldn’t lose her career.”

– Lovely Warren sent a letter to 19 college presidents to support legislation dealing with campus sexual assaults.





Credit: City of Rochester


During a visit to Rochester earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo made a couple comments that cannot go unchecked. He told the Democrat and Chronicle:

“Things haven’t look this good in Rochester in decades and decades and decades…Are we bumping up against nirvana? No. But are we better off now than we were four years ago? Yes.”

Is Rochester is better off than it has been in decades? There’s a lot of evidence to the contrary.

According to the New York State Labor Department, the Rochester area hit its peak jobs number in 2000, with 529,800 non-farm jobs. Last year, there were 514,500 jobs.

Unemployment was 3.7 percent in 1990, 3.6 percent in 2000 and 7.1 percent in 2013.

But perhaps the most telling statistic is that there were 522,800 people in the local labor force last year. That’s the lowest number of people since before 1990.

In 2000, the median household income in Monroe County was $44,891. In 2012, it was $52,700. If the median household income had kept pace with inflation, the 2012 earnings would have been $59,853.

Are we better off than we were four years ago? The area was already starting to recover jobs lost during the recession when Cuomo was elected. But during his tenure, our economy was called out as the second-slowest growing in the entire country. Meantime, poverty is up and income inequality has grown.

There are reasons to be optimistic about the future, as well as our area’s tremendous potential. But the governor must have been wearing rose-colored glasses during his visit.

Links of the Day:


– The state spent $37.5 million of Hurricane Sandy relief money on advertisements!

– State Senator George Maziarz is in trouble.

– Child migrants have been coming along to America since Ellis Island.

– Cellphone bans have not made us better drivers.

– Eight charts explain the return of school segregation.

– Teacher tenure also protects good teachers.

– Red light cameras tag thousands for undeserved tickets in Chicago. (Same operator as in Rochester.)

– “The fear of predators is part of what’s making kids fat, by keeping them inside, sedentary, and near the fridge.”

– Here are nine outcomes of human cloning.


Tweet of the Day:


Skyline - featured 220X165Rochester is being left out in the cold.

Governor Andrew Cuomo went to Onondaga County on Wednesday to award $100 million in state money for waterfront development, which includes a $50 million performing arts center.

As Syracuse, Buffalo, Albany and even Utica get millions of dollars from the state, Rochester doesn’t even get a mention in the State of the State Address.

As Greater Rochester Enterprise’s Mark Peterson said, “I don’t know what’s going on.”

Could it be that the governor is not happy with his number two, Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, who secretly applied to the top job at Rochester Business Alliance? Could it be our local elected officials are doing a poor job? What is it?

Keep in mind Rochester gets less state aid per capita that its Upstate counterparts. It’s also forced to give the City School District $119 million a year, more than Syracuse and Buffalo give their schools.

Let’s talk about a theater.

Syracuse gets money for a theater while our last two mayors haven’t been interested in such a project. “If the Rochester Broadway Theater League can raise money first, then we’ll help,” said Duffy and Tom Richards. That kind of attitude won’t get anything built. In order to build something with public and private dollars, you have to have an elected official as a champion. Mayor Lovely Warren has promised to be that champion for a performing arts center at Midtown. If she wants a theater downtown, she’ll get her state money for a theater downtown. RBTL’s current partner, Scott Congel at Medley Centre, does not have anyone fighting for him in Albany.

I like the idea of a downtown Rochester theater a lot better than the taxpayer-backed sports stadium projects for the Bills and SU. A theater would require less public money. Theater patrons spend substantial money in the community, at hotels and restaurants. The arts create a vibrancy in a community that sporting events do not.

Whatever dream project Rochester decides it wants, it seems now is the time to go after it, while Cuomo is in a generous mood.

Assuming he’s not mad at us.


Cuomo - 220X165As Governor Andrew Cuomo tours the state touting his Tax Free NY plan, it’s worth noting nothing is ever free.

His plan would allow private start-up companies that locate at select colleges to pay no income, property or sales tax. Cuomo believes this would spur investment and create jobs.

There are several problems with this approach. First, the rest of us will be paying the taxes these companies are avoiding. Second, the plan hurts municipalities desperate to fill vacant office space and generate property tax revenue. Third, competing businesses get no such benefits, creating an unequal playing field. Fourth, the program could invite abuse. 

A report out this week claims doling out tax incentives in the name of economic development has had dubious benefits in New York State, but has cost taxpayers $7 billion. Critics say trying to lure jobs from other states is nothing but a costly shell game.

Economists across the political spectrum are extremely skeptical of Tax Free NY. The Post-Standard reports it’s unprecedented:

(Tax Foundation’s Scott) Drenkard said such targeted tax breaks make the tax system unfair and ultimately hurts, not helps, businesses.

“Carving out special tax breaks for certain favored businesses is destructive to the economic playing field,” Drenkard said. “A much better option in the long run is to go with broader tax bases and as low a tax rate as you can make while still maintaining necessary government services.”

The right-leaning Empire Center in Albany criticized the program for similar reasons.

(Syracuse University Professor John) Yinger says virtually all the research he has seen, and that he and his students have conducted, on targeted tax breaks shows they simply don’t work — especially those that hope to attract businesses in from other states.

“In New York we have a dizzying array of tax breaks with no evidence they help, and now here’s a new version,” said Yinger, who teaches courses in public budgeting and researches the effect of taxes upon behavior. “I think it would be just be another source of inequity in our tax system and would do nothing to help promote economic development. You’d do much better improving our schools and infrastructure than giving tax breaks to businesses who would be in the state anyway.”


Links of the Day:


– New York found “shocking” violations at Rochester area daycare centers.

– “In Monroe County, the media coverage of trials is a patchwork, depending to a degree on the whims of a judge.” 

– ABC News profiled a tough school in Philadelphia. This could have been written in many urban schools across the country, including Rochester.

– A teacher was reprimanded for telling students they have a constitutional right not to fill out a school survey on their drug and alcohol use.

– Another sign the U.S. war on drugs is a big failure is the falling price of illegal drugs on the street. 

Immigrants subsidize, rather than drain, Medicare.

– This is surprising. More people are cutting the cord on home Internet than television.

Garden Aerial is for real.


Cuomo - 220X165Several very critical stories were published this weekend about the Cuomo administration:

– Is Empire State Development a patronage mill for Cuomo?The New York Times looks at the appointments of people connected to the governor’s friends and donors. A former Monroe County Legislator and aide to Assemblyman Joe Morelle was listed. Here’s an excerpt:

Since taking office in 2011, Mr. Cuomo has repeatedly pledged to bring a new approach to Albany, where politicians of both major parties have long rewarded supporters with jobs that are not open to the general public.

But an investigation by The New York Times into hiring by the agency, the Empire State Development Corporation, shows how Mr. Cuomo’s administration has engaged in some of the same patronage practices that have often prevailed here.


While some of the new employees at Empire State had experience in economic development, others did not. Some of the jobs were not open to competition, and were filled with little input from the agency itself.

The Cuomo administration can be thin-skinned about negative press. A Cuomo staffer tweeted his displeasure with the piece:

– Cuomo’s popularity Upstate has been on a downward slide. Is it only about guns? The Buffalo News says fracking, the economy and Hurricane Irene cleanups are also to blame.

– New York’s minimum wage hike might be a “blank check” for businesses to spend our tax dollars on young, cheap labor. This article also implicates the state legislature for this law, which is universally panned by economists. Whether you are for or against a minimum wage hike, the way New York is implementing the increase is extremely concerning.

Other Links of the Day:

– Rochester area residents are listing their homes for rent during the PGA this summer. One family hopes to rent out a houseboat for $1,200 a night.

Terry Pegula is slammed over ticket price increases.

No rich child is left behind.

Frozen yogurt wars in Syracuse.


The governor and state legislative leaders have reached a budget deal. It will include a $350 check for households earning between $40,000 and $300,000. The check will only go to those households with children. The rationale is middle class families have been squeezed and need help.

I don’t like this for a few reasons. The state doesn’t have cash lying around to hand out. The rebate checks will cost $350 million. There’s no question getting an extra $350 is nice, but it’s not the kind of money that makes or breaks household finances.

I’m also put off by the rebate only going to households with children. Children undoubtedly cost a lot of money. But people made a choice to have them. Many of those people live in households with two incomes. I’m a single woman who lives alone and has not been treated kindly by the recession. I’ve also been squeezed. I worry about the future. And my taxes will now be subsidizing the rebate checks for a whole lot of people who make a whole lot more money than I do, even subtracting the cost of kids.

Before you ask, I don’t whine about my tax dollars supporting daycare subsidies or schools or any number of programs supporting children. Those programs benefit individual children, women, families and society at large. If we didn’t invest in our children, we would pay dearly later on.

But a rebate check is not that kind of investment. This is something else – and it has nothing to do with kids.

rouletteThis should be a huge warning to New York state officials, who want to expand gambling. Casinos in Niagara Falls, Canada have suffered a dramatic revenue drop. The Buffalo News reports:

Profits from Canadian gambling facilities close to the U.S. border have dropped from $800 million to $100 million over the last decade.

And at resort casinos like the Fallsview and Casino Niagara in the Falls – built in the last 20 years – profits have dropped by more than $600 million alone.

The stunning decline is blamed on competition from the Seneca Niagara casino on the U.S. side, the requirement to have a passport or enhanced license to cross the border, and the weakening of the U.S. dollar.

There’s such a thing as having too many casinos. New York’s Indian casinos took in less money in 2011. A New Jersey casino just went bankrupt. New York should be very worried the market is already saturated.

Urban v. Rural

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe has an interesting article about whether casinos should be located in cities or rural areas:

“The real secret [to casino profitability] is to get people to stay in the seat longer, and when they win to have them pump the money back through,” (casino consultant Gary Green) said. “In the rural environment, I’m more likely to say, ‘Well I drove all the way out here and I did really well on this machine so I think I’ll stay a little bit longer.’ ”

But Jacob Miklojcik, a casino expert and president of Michigan Consultants, favors city casinos. “I prefer urban only because of job creation,” he said. “That is where the [unemployed] are. What a casino can do . . . is provide a lot of jobs for people without college educations. In a city or urban areas, if developers can make a promise to provide the jobs locally, that’s what matters.”

Miklojcik said the push for “destination resorts” in an attempt to draw large numbers of out-of-state tourists “is way, way overdone.


A problem with the urban casino, said Las Vegas casino consultant Andrew Klebanow, is “we just haven’t seen it done right yet.” With few exceptions, most are designed as “islands” that happen to be within the city limits, but are not connected to the neighborhoods around them: Customers arrive, park in a garage, walk inside, and don’t step out until it’s time to drive home.

This article is interesting when you look at the governor’s desire for destination casinos Upstate. Close to home, the rural Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack and Batavia Downs desperately want to become full-fledged casinos. There’s no public push to put a casino in downtown Rochester, but the Senecas are reportedly negotiating for rights for one.

The urban v. rural debate is also interesting because it shows a rural casino isn’t about economic development. It’s about maximizing cash for the state.

Links of the Day:

– A Brooklyn child was attacked with acid 40 years ago. He has led a remarkable life.

– Their wives are first cousins. But Carl Paladino and Brian Higgins had an incredibly bitter falling out.

– There’s a poker club in the Strong Memorial Hospital heart transplant wing.

– It’s a tough market for new lawyers, especially in Buffalo, which has a law school.

– Thomas Cole’s Genesee Valley paintings are masterpieces.


Revel Casino and Resort

Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to expand casinos at a time they’re going belly up.

In New Jersey, a $2.6 billion casino and resort that got millions of tax incentives is bankrupt. The state is legalizing Internet gambling and wants to legalize sports betting. The New York Times reports:

Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill on Tuesday authorizing Internet gambling, which would allow people to play casino games from their mobile phones or laptops. He is also in court fighting a federal ban on sports betting, having signed a law last year that would legalize it.

At the same time, hotels in Atlantic City are experimenting with in-room gambling, as accessible and private as a minibar or on-demand movies. And lawmakers on the opposite side of the state envision pop-up casinos — one legislator likened them to county fairs — at concerts or sporting events.

Meanwhile, New York’s Indian casinos saw a drop in revenue in 2011. They are faced with competition from casinos in neighboring states and racetracks. Revenue at the tracks grew.

Do we want to go down the road taken by New Jersey? Or should we be focusing our efforts on innovation. We won’t attract economic development by installing more slot machines. We will, however, in the science lab.

Links of the Day:

– Cuomo wants to curtail sales tax incentives awarded to development projects that shift jobs around the same community. COMIDA isn’t happy.

– Mental health officials say the state’s new gun law will cost millions.

– Bath salts use appears to be on the decline. I don’t think that’s because of the ban. (Bans don’t work on other drugs.) I think it’s because users aren’t getting much enjoyment out of it.

– The Eastman House doesn’t like the proposed changes to a University Ave. apartment complex design.

Stephanie Miner

Stephanie Miner

Refusing to be intimidated by Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy’s threat of a control board, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner wrote an op-ed in the New York Times asking the state to help cities. She cited a needy population, population loss, high pension costs and a dwindling tax base. She said “gimmicks” like borrowing for pensions costs are not sustainable. Notable lines:

The stress on cities like Syracuse, where I am mayor, results from profound economic changes but also past decisions by an array of leaders…

Billions of dollars’ worth of corporate tax breaks have been given away in the name of “economic development.” The state has offered, and the cities have accepted, fiscal gimmicks like borrowing money or using one-time revenue to pay for operating expenses…

…the model of using property taxes to finance schools, police, fire, sanitation and other services is no longer sustainable.

Cities are magnets for immigrants and the poor who need and demand costly social services…

The state is benefiting from a resilient income-tax base, while cities are stuck with an eroded property-tax base.

Mayor Miner is standing up for cities. It’s long overdue.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

McCurdy's window display for Valentine's Day ca. 1940

McCurdy’s window display for Valentine’s Day ca. 1940


Sibley's window display for Valentine's 1941

Sibley’s window display for Valentine’s Day 1941

Links of the Day:

Tom Richards is hard to define as mayor.

– A Georgia man was charged with trafficking dozens of guns into Rochester. There’s no “gun trafficking” charge!

– The area between Syracuse and Erie, Pennsylvania has the fourth-highest density of hockey players in the country.

– The IRS doesn’t have much sympathy for victims of an Erie County tax preparer.

– See how much money people make in every neighborhood in every city in America.


Skyline - featured 220X165

Rochester’s mayor was part of the “tin cup brigade” that went to Albany to testify before state lawmakers about the state of their finances and the governor’s proposed budget.

Richards said, “I’m forced to prove how poor we are.”

Richards, along with Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, pointed out Upstate’s cities have particular challenges. Their populations have fallen, their residents are poor, their pension costs are high and their property tax bases have shrunk. The cities didn’t get in this pickle on their own. Decades of suburban sprawl – aided by state policies – have caused much of this distress.

“If Upstate cities are to be successful…we must continue to invest in them…all of that costs money,” Richards testified. “If we back off, Upstate cities will deteriorate.”

Richards called the property tax funding structure an “18th century model for a 21st century reality.”


Astoundingly, downstate Sen. Liz Krueger asked whether Rochester has thought about an income tax, one that would tax people who work in Rochester, but use city services. New York City once had such a commuter tax.

“We’re very much different from New York City. We brag about how our commuting time is one of the lowest in the country. That’s the good news. The bad news is it’s very easy to get out of downtown Rochester….as a practical matter, the ability to go somewhere else is so much easier today…particular when the kind of industry we’re talking about is not locked into large industrial facilities that can’t move. As a practical matter, if we tried to impose a commuter tax or income tax on the city of Rochester, we would make things worse.”

When asked what he would propose instead, Richards said more state aid is an answer. He said it’s more “equitable.” The revenue comes from state income tax, Richards said, and the state already distributes it to schools in need.

“You’ve done it already. You’ve recognized cities like Rochester cannot pay for its school system,” Richards said. “The urban school systems have a demand that we cannot pay for.”

A local income tax would “further penalize people in need,” Richards said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s response to all of this is that cities have to buck up. He threatened control boards for the cities that cannot make structural changes. The Albany Times Union reports:

“The answer is not an additional, ongoing subsidy on a fundamental economic model that doesn’t work,” Cuomo said. “The Rochester problem, or an upstate cities problem — if it was a corporation in a private-sector setting, you would be talking about restructuring. If the corporation does not restructure quickly enough, it goes bankrupt, and it goes to bankruptcy court. You need a restructuring here. The answer is not an additional, ongoing subsidy on a fundamental economic model that doesn’t work.”

Such an approach exacerbates haves and have nots in municipalities. It treats cities – the centers of regional civic and cultural life – as second-class citizens.

Watch the testimony here. It’s about 3:20 in.

Links of the Day:

– I thought the Democrats won their fight on Monroe Community College staying at Sibley. They were stupid to allow the county legislature to bond for a non-specific location when a super-majority was needed. The county has wasted no time putting forth legislation to buy the Kodak buildings. The Democrats have no leverage anymore. No super-majority is needed.

– School districts – mostly wealthy ones like Fairport and Pittsfordwant to drop out of the federal school lunch program.


– The Dutch queen is abdicating. People in Albany apparently care.

– The Syracuse Post Standard is teaching people how to read the newspaper online.

Stephanie Miner

Stephanie Miner

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal throws a bone to cities. It lets them fix pension payments over time.

But Syracuse Mayor Stepahnie Miner thinks that’s just kicking the can down the road and one expert predicts cities will end up overpaying on their pension obligation.

Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy told her if she doesn’t like the proposal, say hello to a financial control board. The New York Times reports:

On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy traveled to Syracuse for a previously scheduled meeting with journalists at The Post-Standard of Syracuse.

At that meeting, Mr. Duffy suggested he had an option in mind: “I would say to the mayor, if this is not sufficient, then I would suggest one viable option she would have is to request a financial control board,” he said — which would assume many of the mayor’s powers.

That drew a sharp response from Ms. Miner.

“I think that’s a false choice, to say to the people of New York State you either have to borrow more or give up democratic control of your city,” she said in an interview.

Good for Mayor Miner.

Upstate’s cities are struggling. They’ve been crushed by decades of people fleeing to the suburbs. That sprawl was aided by state and federal policies that subsidized and encouraged highway and infrastructure development, home-buying, company relocation to suburbs, and segregated school districts.

Cities have been left with a poor and needy population that needs more services and is unable to pay huge amounts of taxes. Cities are pockmarked with vacant lots and empty factories.

Of course our Upstate mayors have had it. The governor’s budget did not provide an increase in state aid. It’s not unreasonable for them to seek help from the state and federal government.

Rochester Mayor Tom Richards told the Democrat & Chronicle:

“I’m working on balancing a budget without anything, and it’s going to hurt like hell,” the mayor said Wednesday, adding later: “Every year since I’ve been here, we’ve reduced our employment. And if we don’t get any help this year, we’re going to do it again.”

Richards recently wrote an op-ed in City Newspaper explaining why cities are so important. The state can ill afford to have its cities fail. Whatever the state does or does not do to help its mayors, don’t blame them for trying.

Links of the Day:

– Rochester has a list of designated buildings of historic value. It’s a little arbitrary and hasn’t been updated in some time. (The house I grew up in and the house I live in now are both on the list.)

– Wegmans plans to build a store in Buffalo and residents say it looks too suburban. It sounds like the East Ave. store fight. The Buffalo store will also have an adjacent wine shop. (Surprise, surprise.)

– To cut down on vacant houses, Syracuse may fine owners.

– The NYPD is testing a device that can spot concealed guns.

– A former Jillian’s in Albany is being turned into a church.


New York State Lottery

New York State Lottery

Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his 2012-13 budget proposal today. It contained a proposal that will set gambling addiction counselors on edge.

Cuomo wants to expand Quick Draw, making it available anywhere that sells lottery tickets. The proposal would allow very small stores to sell Quick Draw. Cuomo hopes the measure brings in an extra $24 million. Last year, it brought in $67 million.

Quick Draw is known as “video crack.” There are drawings every few minutes nearly 24 hours a day.

When the state introduced Quick Draw in 1995, Donald Trump sued, considering the keno-style games competition for his casinos. He told the New York Times it was the “most highly-addictive form of gambling:”

Although his casinos are only a car drive away in Atlantic City, Mr. Trump said the the game poses little competition. What concerns him, he said, is the game’s effect on the residents of New York, and ultimately, on the state.

“People won’t be paying rent,” Mr. Trump said. “They won’t be buying cars, food or clothing. The big problem will be that your welfare rolls will go up. There may be some overflow with my casinos, but the big loser will be the state.”

If you want to see the impact of Quick Draw, visit World Wide News sometime. Assuming the store still has the games, you’ll see a large table where people sit and play, sometimes for extended periods of time.

I asked a friend who has worked in his family’s corner stores in Rochester the potential impact of a Quick Draw expansion. Would mini-casinos pop up in residential neighborhoods with large concentrations of bodegas?

“You have (store owners) who won’t do the Quick Draw specifically for that reason. They want people in and out. They don’t want people hanging around. It’s not enticing enough at 6 percent profit,” my friend said.

But there will be some small stores that could jump right in. Those stores might not have a problem with people hanging around all day playing lottery. With the city worried about loitering and crime around corner stores, could Quick Draw make things worse?

A bigger question surrounding Quick Draw is whether the government should be supplying this game and reaping the profits.

Links of the Day:

– Buffalo’s gun violence is on par with Panama’s.

– An Erie County teacher says state mandates are making her less effective.

– Jill Kelley, the “socialite” linked to the Petraeus affair, tells her side of the story. It’s an important read, because it makes the media look real bad.

– The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Fest headliners have been announced. But all we really want to know is if Trombone Shorty will be back.

rouletteIn his State of the State Address, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed three casinos for Upstate New York.

The state gaming commission would decide where the casinos would be located, and they must have the support of local governments.

Could one of these casinos come to the Rochester area? Both Batavia Downs and Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack would like their facilities, dubbed “racinos,” to become full-fledged casinos. They currently only have video lottery terminals.

What about downtown Rochester? Doesn’t sound like it. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he wants them to be destinations, not located in dense places where people could “go out to lunch from working and lose a month’s pay.” I also can’t see Mayor Tom Richards going all in on a casino, but it’s not clear if he will seek reelection.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Medley Centre’s owner is lobbying for a casino.

The state may not locate a casino in this region because of its compact with the Seneca Nation, which bars competition west of Route 14. The Senecas have been withholding payments to the state and localities because they believes the Finger Lakes and Batavia racinos violate the exclusivity deal. But the Senecas’ compact expires in 2016, which isn’t too far off.

Before New York gets more casinos, the state constitution has to be amended. Cuomo wants to legalize up to seven privately-owned casinos statewide. The state legislature ratified his amendment last year. It has to ratify it a second time and then it would be voted on by all New Yorkers. A vote could happen this year.

Cuomo insists casinos are economic development tools and would help Upstate. That hasn’t worked out so well for Niagara Falls, as studies show casinos don’t help revitalize cities. Casinos do, however, fill state coffers.

MoneyGovernor Andrew Cuomo is expected to push for a minimum wage hike in his State of the State address this afternoon. New York’s minimum wage is $7.25, the same as the federal minimum wage. It has not been increased since July 2009. Democrats want it raised to $8.50.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports half of minimum wage workers are under 25 in 2011. About 6 in 10 were in service occupations, such as food preparation. About half work in leisure and hospitality, which includes restaurants. About 6 percent of all women earn minimum wage, compared to 4 percent of all men.

In New York, 5 percent workers earn minimum wage or less, with 2.3 earning minimum wage and 2.7 earning less.

MIT’s Living Wage Calculator indicates a single adult working full time in Monroe County has to earn $8.79 an hour to support himself. An adult with a child needs to earn $20.55 an hour.

Of course, people unsatisfied with making minimum wage can work two jobs or go back to school, but the New York Times reports many minimum wage jobs are demanding 100 percent flexibility in exchange for work hours and the hours are getting harder to secure. In the end, taxpayers are making up the difference between what a minimum wage worker earns and what he needs to live. Some say this amounts to a subsidy for multi-billion dollar corporations.

What are your thoughts on raising the minimum wage?

Update: The governor has proposed the minimum wage be raised to $8.75.

Links of the Day:

– Cuomo will push for an expansive assault weapons ban. Could confiscation be an option?

– Cuomo buys his daughter a used car and hilarity ensues.

– Vaccinations against whooping cough are among new laws for New Yorkers beginning this year.

– A half-dozen years after opening, the Sagamore on East is finally filling up its first floor retail space.

– Maybe the Redskins bad luck can be blamed on their racist name, a columnist says.

This sounds like my kind of bank.

Bills-stadium_jpg-300x199To keep the Buffalo Bills, taxpayers will shell out $226 million over the next 10 years. That sum includes $95 million for stadium renovations, with the Bills kicking in $35 million. Taxpayers will pay about $3.2 million per home game.

This is what the the Erie County executive called “affordable” and a “gift” to fans.

There’s more. The lease deal includes a provision to form a working group to explore a new stadium. Taxpayers could be $95 million deep into a facility that will be abandoned within a decade. Who would ever invest that kind of money into a stadium used only seven times a year (Toronto doesn’t count) that could be replaced sooner rather than later?

The best part is the Bills could leave Western New York in seven years with only a $28 million penalty. Guess who’s left holding the bag?

Sure, this is way less than the billion-dollar stadium deals we’re seeing across the NFL. But that’s just comparing levels of crazy.

Sure, the Bills have a ton of uncertainty, with no ownership succession plan. It shouldn’t follow that taxpayers throw good money after bad. This is some very expensive, short-term, Band-Aid planning.

This is sports welfare at its finest. The governor said, “The Buffalo Bills account for hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact.” The Buffalo News found very little evidence of economic impact. Studies show stadiums are money-losers for communities.

I suspect this one will be no different.

Links of the Day:

– In a huge win, Kodak has sold its power plant. It’s not clear if taxpayers will have to contribute anything.

– It appears the state inflated job creation figures when it announced a $50 million investment in company’s plans to move to Buffalo. This is a company that’s lost money over the past few years.

– State lawmakers may return to Albany for a special session on guns.

 – People waited in line 30 hours to buy Air Jordans in Syracuse.

Request for Help:

Friends, I received a Facebook message from Melissa Preston. She has five children and one grandchild living with her in East Rochester. She’s unemployed, has had some health issues and lives on food stamps, and rental and utility assistance. Melissa said she doesn’t have a single Christmas gift for her children. I spent some time on the phone with her this morning. I’ve never met her and don’t know a lot about her, but promised her I would pass on her number if anyone cares to help. It’s 371-2673. She has three daughters, ages 20, 15, and 12, and two sons ages 9 and 7. Her granddaughter is 2. She said clothes are a big need.