Thursday, March 31, 2005

STARTING THIS TUESDAY APRIL 19TH: THE WNY PROGRESS REPORT

Starting this upcoming Tuesday April 19th, from 4:00 - 5:00 PM on WHLD, AM-1270, Cliff Parks will host THE WNY PROGRESS REPORT. The show will focus on local, national and even international issues - from the Erie County Budget Crisis to the right wing nature of the Republican party. Cliff will be joined by Coalition president Mark Poloncarz as his co-host, and special guest James Hartman to discuss the Erie County Budget Fiasco.

If you would like more information ON THE SHOW or become a sponsor of the THE WNY PROGRESS REPORT, please contact the Coalition Here. As always, if you would like to play a part in Media & Communications working group please e-mail working group Chairperson Cliff Parks, Jr.

So tune in to WHLD AM-1270 from 4:00 -5:00 pm each Tuesday to hear a sane voice on the radio - Cliff Parks and THE WNY PROGRESS REPORT!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

What Do You Think Is Really Needed for WNY?

OK, free forum blog time. We are asking our readers/members to comment on what they really believe is necessary to move this area forward - lower taxes, consolidation of City and County, consolidation of all municpalities, no consolidation, electing new leaders, reforming Albany, all of the above, none of the above?

Feel free to bring up any topic because no idea is a silly idea. If we are too move forward we need to know what everyone is thinking. So go at it and comment on what you think is really needed to move Buffalo, Erie County and WNY forward to a better future.

Friday, March 25, 2005

New Updates to the Website

The WNY Coalition for Progress' Website has been updated to provide links to all the working groups. More changes will be forthcoming, including a new logo, but for now check out the website at http://www.wnyprogress.org.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A local education weblog.

Florence Johnson, the President of the Buffalo Board of Ed has a blog called "A Permanent Revolution"

Education is the key to this region's future. It's quite obvious that Ms. Johnson gets it. Pay her a visit.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

3-24-05 Meeting of WNY Coalition ROOM CHANGE

Please note that the WNY Coalition for Progress general meeting to be held this Thursday, March 24th at 7:00 pm will be held in the same building, but different room. The location is

Buffalo State College
Campbell Student Union
ROOM 415
1300 Elmwood Avenue
Buffalo, New York

The Student Union is behind the main library which is behind Rockwell Hall. A map can be found here:

http://www.buffalostate.edu/pdf/campusmap.pdf.

The student union is building 8A on the map.

Kevin Gaughan will be present to discuss his onebuffalo movement. He is slated to speak at 7:30 pm

3-20-05 Sunday Buffalo News Article on Erie County

This article was on the front page of the Viewpoints section in Sundays Buffalo News. Many are commenting to it elsewhere so please respond below.

A realistic Erie County budget
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
We need to move beyond babble and deal with the hard realities
By JAMES M. HARTMAN
Special to The News 3/20/2005

http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial/20050320/1010201.asp

The recent Buffalo News poll on the Erie County budget crisis was highly curious. Some 75 percent of respondents opposed raising the sales tax. However, 64 percent disagreed or expressed uncertainty about the layoff of county workers. Apparently, most people thought there was some easier, more painless way to cut the budget. Well, bluntly put, most people were wrong in that viewpoint - and therein lies the heart of our current public dilemma.

Perhaps the best insight into the contradictory public mood came in the Feb. 22 Buffalo News column by Jeff Simon. He described our quality of public discourse in Erie County as reduced to "government by babble." Simon correctly points to some elements of the media as deliberate, self-serving purveyors of bad information. The worst offenders are our local Rush Limbaugh imitators on talk radio.

More interesting, however, is the phenomenon of certain television stations that have aired inaccurate, sensationalized reports that both originated from and whipped up their e-mail constituencies. Even the usually thoughtful Donn Esmonde of The Buffalo News has written multiple columns based more on emotion than analysis.

Well, congratulations to the cheerleaders of the "tax revolution." The guillotine is in full swing and heads are rolling. Sadly, we are now dismantling the basic service delivery capacity of county government. More disturbing, despite the bloodletting, Erie County is still headed for fiscal insolvency.

The public has been badly confused and misled. Engaging in babble does not solve a budget crisis. Someone needs to pick up a calculator, do some honest math and share the simple but hard facts with the public. So, let's give that method a try.

Are our taxes in Erie County too high?
Yes, of course, but that's no different from elsewhere in New York State. According to the most recent data, compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, local taxpayers in New York pay property and sales taxes with a statewide average that is 72 percent above the national average.

Meanwhile, state government taxes in New York are 3 percent below the national average. This situation results from a deliberate Albany strategy to push Medicaid and education costs downward to local governments while resisting a more progressive system of statewide income taxation.

But, hey, everybody, surprise! County taxpayers in Erie are under-taxed relative to other counties. We have not had a major tax hike in Erie County in more than 10 years. Increases during the late 1990s in the last years of the Gorski administration were quite minor.

Then enter the Giambra administration, which foolishly initiated a 33 percent property tax cut in 1999-2000 - removing $70 million of permanent revenue. As is by now well known, it plugged subsequent budgets with nonrecurring reserve and tobacco funds.

We often hear the statistic that property taxes in Erie County are 42 percent above the national average. This number comes from the New York State Business Council and includes school, town and county taxes. However, the same report shows that property taxes in upstate New York overall are 55 percent higher than the national average. The number is 70 percent in Monroe County and 75 percent in Albany County.

Property taxes in Erie County are less than in other areas of the state because our county portion is comparatively quite low. Our current county property tax rate is $4.24 per $1,000 of assessed value. Other upstate counties have rates more than double that amount.

Those county governments gradually raised property taxes in recent years while Erie existed in an unreal world of fiscal gimmickry and obfuscation. Why do you think we "suddenly" had a 2005 budget hole of $130 million? I

s Erie County government bloated and wasteful?
The answer is no. The Gorski administration had cut 1,400 jobs during its tenure. County Executive Joel Giambra has not achieved similar economies - but neither did it add extravagant spending to the operating budget. Objectively analyzed, there is limited waste or "fat" in the county's operating budget. (Note: The Giambra capital budget, funded with borrowed and tobacco monies, has grown markedly.)

The operating budget is more than $1 billion - half from federal and state sources and half from local tax sources. Of the county-funded portion, more than two-thirds is dictated by federal and state mandates in areas such as Medicaid, social services and criminal justice.

The county has discretion over only about $150 million. Of that amount, more than 75 percent goes to personnel. Simple conclusion: Cutting the budget means cutting people who provide basic services.

In my role as budget adviser to the County Legislature, I spent several months examining that $150 million. In my judgment, the county reasonably could have cut about $50 million of that total.

To mitigate the service impact, those cuts should have been phased in over one year and accompanied with well-planned management reforms. Even so, we would have needed to make some tough choices with regards to work rules and fringe benefits, the libraries, the sheriff's patrol and the Erie County Medical Center.

In contrast, the recent action to cut up to $110 million - with immediate implementation - is recklessness verging on insanity. Public outrage will grow as the details and impacts emerge. We are willfully destroying the basic institutions of county government. We are at risk of doing irreparable damage to the economic competitiveness and quality of life in our region.

Erie County is not overstaffed relative to other counties. The Buffalo News report of Feb. 13 showing the county to have 9,000 employees compared to 4,667 in Monroe County was highly misleading. The Monroe number is regular, full-time employees. The Erie number included 2,300 grant-funded and part-time employees.

Erie County has about 6,700 full-time employees - of which 2,000 work at the medical center. Monroe County has no public hospital. Thus, staffing levels in equivalent functions are quite similar in the two counties.

What about the reports of patronage, pork and perks?

This issue has been wildly exaggerated. Some employees indeed may obtain jobs using political connections. Giambra has admitted to poor judgment on certain high-profile officials. But many so-called "patronage" jobs are necessary positions filled by qualified people doing good work. Flagrant patronage abuse probably existed with about 100 positions - the elimination of which saved close to $3 million.

With regards to the so-called "pork," there was about $4 million of discretionary funds available to the Legislature and executive for community projects. Most of those projects were worthwhile - but they were not a priority and were eliminated. Also, the final budget cut more than $100,000 in take-home cars, cell phones, etc.

So we now have saved about $7 million in the notorious category of patronage, pork and perks. But let's not pretend that it represents a solution to the basic budget problem. Some legislators guilefully used this issue as an excuse not to vote for the sales tax increase.

What is the true structural condition of the county's budget?

The number of $130 million was widely reported as the 2005 budget gap. But the true gap actually was about $180 million. The Giambra administration stuffed its proposed budgets - both the red and green versions - with its usual fiscal tricks. Sales tax receipts are overestimated by about $20 million. The administration also included $30 million of nonrecurring reserve and tobacco funds. In its final budget actions, the executive and Legislature agreed to another $15 million of one-shot fixes.

Because of the fudged approach to 2005, the outlook for 2006 is quite alarming. Reserve funds will be totally depleted. Thus, the county will enter 2006 with a starting gap of at least $65 million that needs to be filled with real money. That number makes two highly optimistic assumptions: 1) that all the projected 2005 savings will be realized, and 2) that Albany proposals to cap local Medicaid costs will succeed. Otherwise, the 2006 problem grows even larger.

What should we do now?

The citizens of Erie County now have a basic choice. We can acquiesce to the current path initiated by a minority group of misguided, inexperienced legislators. Alternatively, we can decide to restore some level of sanity and stability to our county. This latter choice will be difficult and it will require accepting the needed reality of a major tax increase.

How much of a tax increase? Follow the logic of the math I've presented. We should fund at least $60 million of service restorations. We need to raise about $70 million to ensure solvency to the 2006 budget. Thus, we need $130 million of new revenue.

This money should come from a combination of sales and property tax increases. The sales tax increase should take effect in the second half of 2005 to guard against any further risks to this year's budget. The property tax increase should take effect in 2006.

Many citizens will argue that we should not raise taxes locally without the guarantee of mandate relief from Albany. That view is befuddled. Other counties have pressed for reform while managing responsibly in the interim. Only Erie County has decided to protest by blowing itself to pieces. We are not advancing our case in Albany. We simply look foolish, and we are hurting ourselves deeply. We need to come back to our senses.

Copyright 1999 - 2005, The Buffalo News

Monday, March 21, 2005

Member Ellen Poch's Letter to the Editor of the Buffalo News

3/20/05
Buffalo News

How many local taxpayers wanted this revolution?


http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial/20050320/5035952.asp

It would be nice, wouldn't it, if we could describe this entire budget mess not as red or green but as a revolution of John and Jane taxpayer? Those poor souls who have paid too many taxes over the years are just fed up. Where do they reside? No offense, but probably in Amherst. Did the rest of us taxpayers want this revolution?

How do you measure a revolution? By the callers to Sandy Beach's show? By Channel 2's Web log? Or do you instead look to an inept government that had no notion of a balanced budget and looked for the easy button - a taxpayer revolt?

It's true that the taxpayers did not want an increase in the sales tax or the property tax. That is why we are in the mess we are in, and need to cut the jobs of the lowest-salaried workers. More than 1,300 people are losing their jobs. These people are also taxpayers.

Our leaders now point to this opportunity for regionalism. This is another convenient distraction. Show us reform, show us willingness to cut your own fat while cutting the life out of this region.

No matter how you describe this budget process, the poor have lost their jobs and the rich politicians remain in office. We have no parks to play in, fewer days to look at art and little left to do but leave.

Ellen Poch

Buffalo

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Elmwood reconstruction

Someone from the group should go to this & report back. -ed.

ELMWOOD RECONSTRUCTION PROJECT
SATURDAY, MARCH 19, 2:00 PM
ALBRIGHT-KNOX ART GALLERY AUDITORIUM


The city is rebuilding Elmwood Avenue from the Scajaquada Expressway to
Forest Avenue, something that won’t happen again for years.

Don’t miss your chance to get your input into what we end up with. Will it
be just a reconstruction of what’s there, or will we get a gateway into
the Elmwood Village, a project that highlights the museum district, and
something we can be proud of for many years.

Representatives from Forever Elmwood, Partners for a Livable Western New
York and the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo and WNY will
present some alternate plans and ideas for discussion.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Proposed Bass Pro Transaction - Coalition to Review

The WNY Coalition for Progress will be examining the issue related to the proposed Bass Pro Shop/Memorial Auditorium rehabilitation to determine whether it is a good or bad proposition for WNY. As part of this process we are asking our members to voice their opinions below. All opinions matter and we ask all to state the reasons why they do or do not support the deal. We also ask everyone to use their true names, not pseudonyms, so we know who you are. If you are uncomfortable posting information on this site you may e-mail the Coalition at wnyprog@wnyprogress.org.

All opinions will be taken into consideration, but they will not be determinative to the final choice. Ultimately the board will make a decision based on members' opinions, review of the proposed transaction and the impact other similar projects had on other communities.

Therefore, please comment with your opinions below.

Mark Poloncarz, President
WNY Coalition for Progress

Next General Meeting 3-24-05

Coming off of the successful and fun fundraiser held last weekend, the WNY Coalition for Progress will be holding its next general meeting on Thursday March 24th at 7:00 pm at the Fireside Lounge, 2nd Floor of the Student Center at Buffalo State College.

We will be going over quite a number of items and hope you all will make it.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Reminder - Fundraiser This Saturday March 12th!!

The First Annual WNY Coalition for Progress Fundraiser.

WHEN: Saturday March 12th, 6:00 - 10:00 PM

WHERE: American Serbian Club, 1200 Tonawanda Steet (Corner of Tonawanda & Roswell Streets just off of the Vulcan Street Exit on the I-190, Buffalo

WHO WILL BE THERE: Everybody!! including Mark Green, former NYC Mayoral Candidate and the founder and president of the New Democracy Project which is a New York City-based national/urban affairs public policy institute that seeks to provide policymakers and the public with thoughtful solutions that promote democratic participation, economic fairness and social justice.

WHY ARE WE HAVING IT: To have a Great Time (and just like every other not-for-profit today because we need $).

COST: $20 or $15 for students with valid ID gets you in the door for food, beverages (beer for those 21 or older, cash bar for the hard stuff) and music from some of WNY finest musicians including Coalition members Bob Farmer and Joni Russ (others to play as well).

As the Fonz used to say "Be There or Be Square!"

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Please Note a Change in the Location of the March 8th Healthcare & Social Security Working Group Meeting.

March 8, 2005, 7:00 PM
Higher Grounds Coffeehouse
3622 Sheridan Drive, Amherst NY

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The war against AARP

The Bush Administration is out to change social security. It'll cost trillions, it'll decrease benefits for younger people, and it'll enrich Wall Street. There are lots of good ways that Social Security could be strengthened, but drawing money out of it doesn't seem like the best one.

AARP opposes Bush's plan. If you were over 50, and someone was discussing gutting a program on which you're relying, you'd be pissed, (or at least cautious) too.

Bushies can't tolerate disagreement with their policies, so they wage war on the dissenters. They literally hired the Swift Boat liars to smear AARP, and (like good little sheep) the disingenuous cretins at NRO join in on the fun. And so will Hindrocket and Big Trunk and other right-wing bloggers - those with and without homoerotic pseudonyms.

As I briefly discussed previously, USA Next is wholly owned by the (mostly foreign-owned) pharmaceutical industry. It is supposedly the "conservative" answer to AARP, which is non-partisan. USA Next is also a dishonest and deceptive organization.

AARP took a big political risk supporting Bush's medicare drug plan, and this is the thanks they get. What's so weird is that USA Next; a group no one had heard of a month ago, decides to call AARP "liberal", and the right wing just plays along. Not one critical question is raised.

And why, pray, do I call NRO disingenuous cretins? Why, because they are!

Another sign that the AARP is driven by politics is that it has stumbled into that common pitfall of partisan advocates — hypocrisy. In one of its ads it has a couple saying of investing in the stock market: "If we feel like gambling, we'll play the slots." This from an organization that offers its members the opportunity to invest in 38 separate mutual funds. To date, the AARP doesn't encourage its members to play Internet poker or slots on its website, a sign that it doesn't truly consider investing equivalent to gambling.
Puhleeeese. Give. Me. A. Break. Rich Lowry must either be stupid, or he must think his readers are stupid.

It is not hypocrisy for AARP on the one hand to offer its members discount stock market/mutual fund sales & services, and to oppose privatization of Social Security on the other. One is discretionary. The other would be mandatory. Big difference.

And what of USA Next's horrible attack ad?
[It's] riding a wave of publicity from its (rather ham-fisted) attack on the AARP on the issue of gay marriage (an AARP affiliate in Ohio opposed an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment in the state).
And, I guess, therein lies AARP's liberal agenda?

I mean, seriously, can someone explain to me AARP's supposed "liberal agenda" beyond its opposition to SocSec privatization and the preceding paragraph? I didn't think so. It's all made up. Unless 10% off at Comfort Inn is "liberal". It's a consumer advocacy group where the consumers are all over 50.

An AARP chapter in Ohio opposed the anti-marriage amendment in Ohio, because they thought the wording of the measure was too vague, and might affect heterosexual relationships.

The Bush attack machine is all about lying, manipulation, paid propaganda, a complete divorce from facts and reality, and getting the right-wing echo chamber to parrot it all.

So go ahead, dittohead seniors, and join USA Next. Their agenda is directed from Washington, and paid for by big pharma. Sounds like they're really looking out for you. What does the treasonous AARP get its ideas, you ask? AARP's policies are determined not by the staff in Washington, D.C., but by AARP members.

George W. Bush predicted the insolvency of Social Security by 1988. He was wrong then, and he's wrong now.

Glad they've changed the tone.

March 3rd Youth Caucus & Media & Communications Working Group Meetings

The Working groups are just moving along. The latest to set a meeting is the newest working group:

The Youth Caucus of the WNY Coalition for Progress. They will be meeting on

Thursday March 3rd at 7:30 PM at

Higher Grounds Coffeehouse (Sheridan and Millersport in Amherst).

For more information please contact Dan Elkan at delkan2002@yahoo.com.

Also Meeting on Thursday March 3rd at 7:30 PM at the

Higher Grounds Coffeehouse will be the

Media & Communications Working Group.

For more information on that group please contact Cliff Parks at cparks1138@msn.com

IT'S COMING: THE BIG WNY COALITION FUNDRAISER!!

Prepare to get your party on at the next BIG event in WNY: the First Annual WNY Coalition for Progress FUNDRAISER.

WHEN: Saturday March 12th, 6:00 - 10:00 PM

WHERE: American Serbian Club, 1200 Tonawanda Steet (Corner of Tonawanda & Roswell Streets just off of the Vulcan Street Exit on the I-190, Buffalo

WHO WILL BE THERE: Everybody!! including Mark Green, former NYC Mayoral Candidate and the founder and president of the New Democracy Project which is a New York City-based national/urban affairs public policy institute that seeks to provide policymakers and the public with thoughtful solutions that promote democratic participation, economic fairness and social justice.

WHY ARE WE HAVING IT: To have a Great Time (and just like every other not-for-profit today because we need $).

COST: $20 or $15 for students with valid ID gets you in the door for food, beverages (beer for those 21 or older, cash bar for the hard stuff) and music from some of WNY finest musicians.

For more information or to volunteer please contact event Co-Chair Jeremy Zellner at yankeeone21@msn.com

Hope to See You There!!!

New Forum is Up: http://wnyprogress.org/forum/index.php

After having problems with the old forum the new forum is up. Its address is

http://wnyprogress.org/forum/index.php

We are still having some problems with our host (which caused the transfer from the other forum). Depending on when you try to log in you should be able to access the forum. If you are having problems please add a comment to this thread and let me know what problem you had (couldn't get to forum, couldn't log on). It is important I have this information to take back to server host to detail any issues. Thanks,

Mark Poloncarz

March 15th Foreign Policy Working Group

The next meeting of the Foreign Policy/Federal Trade Working Group will be held on

Tuesday March 15, 2005 @ 7:00 PM at

Cafe Allegro
1374 Hertel Avenue(corner of Saranac Avenue)
Buffalo, New York

The working group will discuss formulation of the group's mission statement and research conducted on a specific set of issues by members of the organization. To find out more please e-mail Elise Garvey at garveye@canisius.edu.

March 8, 2005: Healthcare Working Group Meeting

Please note a location change for this meeting!!!!

The Healthcare & Social Security Working Group will hold its next meeting on

Tuesday March 8th at 7:00 PM at:

Higher Grounds Coffeehouse
3622 Sheridan Drive, Amherst NY

For more information please contact Ayesha Nariman Social Security Group Chair at ayesha@localnet.com or Renata Kowalczuk Health Care Group Chairr at kowalczuk@yahoo.com