York state legislators struggle to balance a budget as the
Assembly passes tax relief for some New Yorkers
In a special session this week, the New York State Assembly
agreed to cut $400 to 500 million from this years’ state budget,
falling short of Gov. David Paterson’s goal of at least $600
million. This cut is part of Paterson’s plan to close the
$6.4 billion deficit the state faces next year. Additional
reductions over the next two fiscal years are estimated to
be in the $1 billion range.
The Assembly approved the 6-percent across-the-board cuts
and, as of press time, the Senate was scheduled to vote on
the cuts late Wednesday.
Some of the areas affected by the cuts include homeless shelters,
hospitals, mental-health services, nursing homes, “pork-barrel”
spending, Medicaid reimbursements in hospitals, library aid,
and a delay in the statewide wireless network. Although public
schools will not be affected by the cuts, the City University
of New York system is slated to lose an estimated $50 million.
While the Assembly and Senate met, much of the time behind
closed doors, several hundred disability-rights advocates
voiced their distress in the Hall of Flags inside the Capitol
building. Most of the advocates, some wearing yellow flyers
with red targets on their backs, chanted, “Don’t target us!”
throughout much of the day; their mantra echoed through the
halls of the Capitol.
Some of the protestors, a few in wheelchairs, managed to block
the governor’s chambers during the protest. Much of the protest
comprised members of the Western New York Independent Living
Project. Advocates with the organization are concerned that
a 6-percent cut to independent living centers will force people
with disabilities into costly nursing homes and other institutions.
The Assembly also passed a “circuit-breaker” bill in a 118
to 24 vote late Tuesday. This law would give tax relief to
those making less than $250,000 a year, said Assembly Majority
Leader Ron Canestrari (D-Cohoes), during debate. The bill
essentially would be funded by New York millionaires, raising
income taxes on the 77,000 New Yorkers—only 35,000 of who
actually live in New York—making $1 million dollars or more
annually, Canestrari said.
This legislation is aimed at helping middle-class New Yorkers,
saving them an estimated $1.7 billion in property tax relief,
Although the bill easily passed in the Assembly, it’s extremely
unlikely the Republican-led Senate will consider it. The Senate
passed a different bill earlier this month, during another
special session called by Paterson to deal with the state’s
worsening fiscal crisis. The bill—passed by the Senate and
proposed by Paterson—would put a 4-percent annual limit on
property tax increases.
Although she supported the millionaire’s tax, Assemblywoman
Nancy Calhoun (R-Blooming Grove) urged the Assembly to “please
go back and look.” Calhoun said she believes the tax would
be more effective in conjunction with the Senate’s 4-percent
first U.S. war crimes trial in half a century
came to an end this week with mixed results. The
man on trial, Osama bin Laden’s former driver
Salim Ahmed Hamdan, was found guilty of supporting
Al Qaeda but found not guilty of conspiring with
bin Laden to commit terrorist attacks. Hamdan’s
trial was the first in what will likely be a series
of military trials of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
Although he was partially acquitted, Hamdan still
faces up to life in prison. Representatives of
the American Civil Liberties Union have criticized
the Bush administration for starting the military
trials with “a marginal figure” such as Hamdan.
Hilton returned fire on the presumptive Republican
presidential nominee John McCain this week by
releasing a YouTube video mocking a McCain campaign
TV spot. Last week the McCain campaign launched
an ad that compared Barack Obama to Paris Hilton
and Britney Spears. Not only did McCain’s ad anger
Hilton’s parents, who are large donors to the
McCain campaign, it garnered a video response
from Paris herself. The video features—in mock
campaign-spot style—Hilton lounging in a pool
chair, offering her solution to the energy crisis.
And frighteningly, taking herself seriously for
two minutes before gleefully spouting the line,
“I’ll see you at the debate, bitches!”
perhaps one of the most off-color campaign stops
ever, John McCain paid a visit to the Sturgis
Buffalo Chip biker gathering in North Dakota this
week. The event, which featured Foghat, Kid Rock
and Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Hawaiian Tropic girls,
and women’s oil wrestling, also plays host to
the “Miss Buffalo Chip” pageant. While addressing
the rowdy crowd, McCain suggested he might have
a late entrant. “You know I was looking at the
Sturgis schedule and saw that you have a beauty
pageant and so I urged Cindy to compete,” announced
McCain to catcalls and hoots. “I told her with
a little luck she could be the only woman ever
to serve as the first lady and Ms. Buffalo
Employee Free Choice Act has large companies like Wal-Mart
trying to influence the next election
On Feb. 10, 2005, in Jonquiere, Quebec, a Wal-Mart was closed
for good. And it just so happened that the closure occurred
days before an arbitrator was set to impose a union contract
at the Wal-Mart store.
This month, a Wal-Mart in Gatineau, Quebec, became the first
Wal-Mart in North America to become unionized. Only eight
of the store’s employees, technicians who install tires, fill
propane tanks, and change oil were able to join the union.
The other 200 employees were not affected.
The technicians won more vacation time and periodic increases
to their salary. Wal-Mart representatives have stated they
are “reviewing the implications” of the unionization and have
not decided whether or not to close the store. Meanwhile,
this week Wal-Mart has come under fire in the United States
for what critics are calling anti-labor electioneering.
Wall Street Journal reported that supervisors and managers
in Wal-Mart stores around the country are lecturing employees
about the dangers of a Democratic win during the November
What is so frightening for Wal-Mart higher-ups about the possibility
of Sen. Barack Obama wining the presidency? Obama has promised
to make the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act one of
his priorities. Obama was a co-sponsor of the bill, which
would make it easier for unions to organize and deliver stricter
penalties for companies who interfere with unionization. The
bill was filibustered in the Senate and faced almost certain
veto if it reached the White House. Eventually, it was tabled.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain is
staunchly opposed to the bill.
The EFCA likely would streamline and hasten the ability of
workers to unionize by doing away with the mandatory secret
ballot and replacing it with a system by which employees could
unionize if 50 percent of workers simply signed a card. Normally,
secret-ballot elections are preceded with large pressure campaigns
by labor unions and the employers. Under the EFCA, an employee
could make up their mind at anytime and just sign the card.
According to the Journal, Wal-Mart human-resource managers,
who have been trained by Wal-Mart on the negative implications
on the bill, have been leading labor meetings at individual
Labor unions have responded to the report by demanding the
Federal Election Commission look into what they call Wal-Mart’s
“electioneering.” Representatives of Wal-Mart have said that
labor meetings have been taking place but insist that they
are not “telling associates how to vote.”
However, a Wal-Mart employee told the Journal: “The
meeting leader said, ‘I am not telling you how to vote, but
if the Democrats win, this bill will pass and you won’t have
a vote on whether you want a union.”
the Challenger . . .
Roger Cusick looks to rematch Soares in the race for Albany
County district attorney
Roger Cusick submitted 2,157 signatures to the Albany Board
of Elections this week, almost guaranteeing he will be on
the November ballot on the Integrity Party line, running as
the sole challenger of Albany County District Attorney David
Cusick entered the race on the third-party line because the
Albany GOP did not nominate a candidate to run by the July
deadline. Some have characterized Cusick’s run as “reluctant.”
Cusick disagreed. “It was not about reluctance, but really,
the Democratic organization is kind of tough to run against.
The Republicans took a pass and a group of people approached
me about an independent candidacy. I said, ‘I will do it if
you get the signatures,’ and you know, I participated in it
and we managed to do it.”
Cusick ran on the Republican line four years ago when Soares
successfully defeated incumbent Paul Clyne in the Democratic
primary. Clyne stayed in the race as a third-party candidate
until the last minute when he threw his support behind Cusick.
will be one-on-one this time,” said Cusick. “He comes in with
a certain manifest advantage of incumbency combined with that
of the Democratic party. On the other hand, I felt the only
reason I lost last time is we ran out of time.”
Cusick said he feels he will be on more even footing now that
Soares has served as district attorney for four years. “He
managed to slip through the system because no one knew anything
about him,” said Cusick. “Now we have had four years of experience
with him, and a lot of what we predicted came true. I will
run on his record, definitely.”
gun violence task force public forum sparks passionate commentary
and calls for unity
With a November deadline looming to present their recommendations
to Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, the Albany Gun Violence Task
Force met at the Philip Schuyler Achievement Academy on Clinton
Avenue Tuesday to receive input from the public.
A consensus seemed to build among a number of public commenters
that violence will solve violence. Speaker after speaker complained
that, as parents, they are limited because they are quickly
accused of abuse if they employ corporal punishment.
That message was just the highlight of a public-comment period
that was a mix of self-promotion, performance art, finger
pointing, and genuine concern that highlighted the confusion,
anger, and hopelessness that surrounds the issue of gun violence
A number of task force members were not present for the public-comment
period. Around 80 people attended the forum.
The members of the community who did not focus on the usefulness
of corporal punishment made some stark points.
Shawntell Mills, who works in the field of child welfare,
told the audience that “child welfare is not your enemy.”
Mills told the crowd that the workers who ensure that children
are not being abused also make sure parents do not do drugs
around the children and try to keep the children from winding
up on the street.
Common Councilwoman Barbara Smith (Ward 4), who serves as
the liaison between the task force and the council, told Metroland,
“I know that there is a widely held belief in the black community
that restrictions on corporal punishment have affected the
capacity of families to establish disciplinary boundaries
for their children. My perspective is that it is absolutely
not necessary to rely upon physical discipline to get children
on the right path.”
Yusuf Burgess and Ron “Cook” Barrett, who run youth activities
in the city designed to keep children out of gangs, seemed
almost lost in a sea of discontentment spilling from the rest
of the commenters. Barrett clearly was exasperated that so
many people have found the time to speak out about the issue,
but do not come out and volunteer to help at his programs.
He called them “spectators” and challenged instead of “writing
editorials” that people volunteer.
Another speaker, who said he worked with Barrett, said the
meeting should be called “getting funny with the money” because
he felt spending money on gun-buyback programs is a waste.
He said real gang members would not turn in their weapons
and that programs like Barrett’s who help give kids a place
to go need more funding. He then told the crowd that he needed
to be paid to “volunteer” his time.
Burgess commented that he found it troubling that a representative
from the school district was not on the task force. He added
that Albany children are left to their own devices after school
Albany Common Council President Shawn Morris agreed with Burgess
and called the lack of a school board member on the task force
an “oversight” on the part of the council. Morris also pointed
out that she and other members of the council and the community
are working with a technical-assistance grant from the National
League of Cities to compile a functioning list of after-school
and off-time activities that currently exist in Albany, and
to make those activities more available.
Smith said that although community members and task-force
members all have separate ideas about how to approach Albany’s
gun-violence problem, she is confident that the task force
will present a coherent and thorough recommendation to the
mayor. And with only six task-force meetings left, it has
yet to be decided if there will be another public forum.
If Smith gets her way there would be plenty of chance for
the public to speak on the issue in the future. “One thing
I hope will come out of the final report;” said Smith, “is
that there will be an ongoing entity. A city-sponsored entity
that continues to focus on the ongoing issue of gun violence.
I think there should be an exploration of making it regional.”
Albany Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1), who
originally championed the idea of a gun- violence task force,
said that he has been approached by some members of the task
force who inquired about extending the time they had to make
a recommendation. “I think if they feel they need some more
time, I wouldn’t mind extending it,” said Calsolaro. “Hopefully
they can finish the task by November, but I don’t think the
task force should be permanent. However, I did ask that one
of the recommendations be that we create a regional gun-violence
loose ends this week-