the Harriman State Office Building campus be the perfect spot
for Albany’s new middle school? Taxpayers may never find out.
in New York state government has big plans for development
at the W. Averill Harriman State Office Building Campus in
Albany. Why else would the state have commissioned a $271,000
study of land-use possibilities for the site? Whatever the
state has in mind, the plans apparently don’t include Albany’s
third middle school, as some residents had hoped. Beyond that,
no one besides a few state officials knows what’s in store
for the campus—because the state adamantly refuses to release
the results of the study.
report was paid for with public money, regarding public land,”
said Albany Alderman Michael O’Brien [Ward 12]. “But the public
is being told that it cannot look at it.”
New York state contracted with consulting firm Hamilton, Rabinovitz
& Alschuler Inc. in February 2000 to conduct a land-use
and disposition plan for the land and buildings at Harriman
campus. The final price paid to the consulting company for
the study was more than $271,000.
O’Brien, who is involved with Friends of Westland Hills Park,
a city group opposed to the Albany City School District’s
plan to construct a much-needed third middle school in Westland
Hills Park off of Colvin Avenue, said the Harriman campus
would be an ideal spot to build a school. Unlike the park
location the city is currently working with, the Harriman
campus has plenty of available space for a new school with
room for future expansion. In addition, the school could be
built without cutting into city park space.
Westland Hills Park], the land surrounding the middle school
would be fenced off, like the park’s wading pool, community
garden and Little League fields, which middle school children
don’t use,” said O’Brien. “They will have a middle school
without the really useful land for middle school purposes.”
Lisa Stratton, spokeswoman for the school district, said that
originally, talk was circulating of utilizing the Harriman
campus as part of Albany’s $175 million school-facilities
plan, which Albany residents passed in December. In fact,
just last year, Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings had proposed
the campus as a location in which to build a new high school.
But Stratton said the school board couldn’t get any information
from the state about its plans for the campus.
were still in the midst of studying it when we were investigating
a spot for our schools,” said Stratton. “We were under a tight
deadline to get these schools built and refurbished, and we
wanted to get the plan to the voters, so we went with an alternate
plan, which was a third middle school at Westland Hills Park.”
Tight deadline or not, O’Brien is convinced that Harriman
campus would be a better location for the school, and he thinks
that the state’s land-use study would support his notion—however,
no one will let him or anyone else look at it.
thing is, if they were to release it [the study], I think
they know it would give a lot more momentum to our argument
that Harriman campus is a good site for our school,” said
O’Brien. “The Harriman campus could afford the new school
a site that would rival the suburbs.”
O’Brien is not the only one who would like to get his hands
on that report. Denyce Duncan Lacy, director of public relations
for the Public Employees Federation, a union that represents
state workers, said that her organization is interested as
well. She said that the study is likely to hold information
about the future use of property where thousands of PEF employees
decision that they make about that land will greatly affect
our workers,” said Lacy. “We paid for it, but we can’t see
what’s in it. . . . [The study] should be available to the
people who will potentially be affected by it.”
In June 2001, PEF filed a Freedom of Information Law request
for the report, which was turned down by the state Office
of General Services. PEF was told that the information in
the study was exempt from disclosure because it was considered
“interagency material,” and the report was only a draft plan
and not a final report. Just last month, PEF filed a lawsuit
against the state seeking access to the information.
Randall Sawyer, spokesman for the Office of General Services,
said he could not comment on the report because of the pending
pointed out that under the public officers law, section 87(2)(G),
which discusses interagency materials, if an interagency document
contains statistical or factual information, at least that
part is subject to disclosure under the law.
She explained that the state proved it is already using information
from the study when it told state employees that they had
to stop parking in one of the lots on the campus.
said that a recent study indicated that that lot was soon
to be closed,” said Lacy. “Well, that was the only report
that has been done. This indicates to us that they are using
the study to make final decisions about that land.”
While many are left to speculate about the contents of the
report, others, like O’Brien, have a hunch as to why the study
is not being released.
think [Gov.] George [Pataki] wants to make a grand, glorious
announcement in the middle of his campaign from a podium in
the middle of the Harriman campus,” said O’Brien, “announcing
how he has got this great incentive going to privatize the
Harriman campus, and everyone will applaud him, even myself.
The problem is that the state office campus has about 100
acres, and I can’t believe that they can’t spare 20 of them
for a public purpose.”
kids participate in bake sale to make a point about the state
of campaign financing in New York
schools don’t have enough money for anything,” said Samantha
Iacabucci, a seventh grader at South Colonie Middle School.
“Some people have to work really hard for funding from the
government, but others, like banks, just have to ask for it.”
This was Iacabucci’s response when asked why she was on the
steps of the Capitol building in Albany last Thursday, selling
cookies. Iacabucci was one of a group of students and activists
from the Capital Region who took part in a bake sale to promote
Citizen Action of New York’s clean-money report. The money
raised from the event will be donated to Gov. George Pataki
and other elected officials to make a point about campaign
financing in New York. While important programs in education
and health care languish, participants noted, the state doles
out huge amounts of money in the form of tax breaks and exemptions
to major campaign contributors.
an advocate for education, it’s regrettable that we have to
go out here and symbolically raise money for campaign contributions,
when the state should fund education programs because it’s
the right thing to do,” said Bob Cohen, the upstate/suburban
coordinator for the Alliance for Quality Education.
Citizen Action’s Capitol Investment Capitol Returns report,
released last week, found that New York state legislators
received more than $13 million in corporate campaign contributions
from 1999-2000. It also showed that those same corporations
were awarded $3 billion in tax breaks.
John Bartholomew, clean money/clean elections coordinator
for Citizen Action, said that private organizations receive
huge breaks because the business lobby, as a whole, has a
greater voice in getting tax breaks through legislation.
is not that there is a law that says if you give a certain
amount in campaign contributions then you don’t have to pay
taxes,” said Bartholomew. “But legislators know that if they
vote in favor of corporate interests, which would include
tax breaks, tax exemptions and lower tax rates, this will
result in larger campaign contributions the following year.”
In the past four years, Bartholomew pointed out, the New York
state Legislature has voted for a number of measures that
would reduce income taxes paid by corporations, banks and
Frank Mauro, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute,
said that a lot of these tax breaks don’t make sense.
worst one is cutting the alternative minimum tax, which is
the floor under the tax to make sure you don’t use loopholes
to pay too little,” said Mauro. “There have been an awful
lot of tax breaks that don’t make much sense from a tax-policy
perspective or a public-interest perspective.”
Mark Hansen, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Joseph
L. Bruno (R-C-Brunswick), said that in the past Citizen Action
has released reports that inflated numbers to further its
cause. Therefore, he declined to comment on the report’s findings.
several occasions,” said Hansen, “Citizen Action issued reports
that were erroneous and included numerous mistakes. They have
admitted to putting out reports that were inaccurate, and
they have no credibility on the subject.”
Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action, admitted
that last April, a report titled Wealth Primary: Spending
in the 2000 Elections, contained an error in the data. But
she says that it was clearly a mistake.
we realized our mistake, we reissued the report with the correct
data,” said Scharff. “We issue two to three reports a year,
and only once has there been a mistake.”
Dan Weiller, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver
(D-L-Manhattan), said that campaign-finance legislation passed
last week by the Assembly addresses many of the concerns raised
by Citizen Action.
the second time we passed it this session,” he said. “We feel
very strongly about this issue, and the speaker himself debated
this issue on the floor a year ago.”
Gov. Pataki’s office did not return calls for comment.
Bartholomew said he is critical of the legislation passed
in the Assembly because it allows for too many loopholes,
making it possible for corporations to continue to donate
to political campaigns. His organization is calling for a
stop to corporate tax cuts to provide more funding for essential
services like schools and after-school programs.
our schools are in trouble and health-care systems are in
trouble, this is just not the time to be giving a $3 billon
tax break to corporations,” Bartholomew said. “We have been
hearing there is no money for education, we have been hearing
that there is no money for after-school programs, but there
is $3 billion to give to corporations? That begs the question: