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Fortune smiles on Schenectady casino proposal

Albany Times/Union - 13 min 31 sec ago


A $300 million casino and resort planned for an old industrial site along the Mohawk River in Schenectady got the initial green light on Wednesday as one of three gambling centers to be licensed by New York state.

The Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor, proposed by real estate developers Galesi Group of Rotterdam and Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming, prevailed over competing plans in Rensselaer, East Greenbush and Schoharie County to win a recommendation from the state's Gaming Facility Location Board for the Capital Region/Hudson Valley section.

"This is not just a Schenectady but a Capital Region project, and we want to reach out to the rest of the Capital Region to make sure they have access to our city and our river," said David Buicko, Galesi Group's chief operating officer.

Galesi and Rush Street must still be vetted by the state. Buicko said once the infrastructure work — roads, water, sewer — is done, apartments will be built, along with a Marriott hotel and townhouses. Galesi is still awaiting approval from the Army Corps of Engineers for its work on the proposed marinas.

Licenses were also recommended for the two other upstate casino zones: In the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes region, the nod went to the Lago Resort & Casino in Tyre, Seneca County; in the Catskills/Hudson Valley zone, the pick was the Montreign Resort Casino in Thompson, Sullivan County, near the old Concord resort.

The committee could have recommended up to four licenses, but the panel determined that there wasn't enough demand for locating two casinos in the southernmost zone.

The Rivers casino is planned to be part of a larger hotel and housing complex on the old American Locomotive Co. site on the Mohawk River.

After the announcement was made to a packed room at Empire State Plaza on Wednesday afternoon, members of the location board said the project's riverfront location was a plus because it is likely to appeal to boaters as well as visitors who travel by land or air.

Also, "It supports the revitalization of the city of Schenectady by replacing one of the country's oldest brownfield sites," said location board member Bill Thompson.

He also said the Galesi/Rush Street consortium has the capability to raise institutional capital and a willingness to sink its own cash into the project as needed.

Thompson said "strong local support" and a commitment to hiring local residents had also contributed to the outcome.

The Rivers project bested three other competitors in the greater Capital Region: Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Rensselaer, spearheaded by Orlando, Fla.-based Hard Rock International, Rochester's Flaum Management and Capital District Off-Track Betting Corp.; Capital View Casino and Resort in East Greenbush, proposed by Churchill Downs and Saratoga Harness Racing; and Howe Caverns Resort & Casino in Schoharie County, proposed by local businessman Emil Galasso and Las Vegas-based Full House Resorts.

Wednesday's recommendations are not the final hurdle in building the casinos. The location board's recommendations must now be acted on by the state's Gaming Commission, which will do extensive background checks on the principals and, once completed, issue the licenses. After that, the casinos are supposed to be up and running within two years.

Wednesday's decisions end what for some gambling proponents has been decades of work to allow Las Vegas-style casinos upstate to boost the region's struggling economy.

Those efforts went into high gear in 2013 when voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing casino gambling on non-Indian lands. (Several New York tribes already operate casinos in their territory, mostly in western or northern New York.) The amendment allowed up to seven casinos, but legislators and Gov. Andrew Cuomo wanted the initial group to be licensed upstate, where the need for economic renewal is the most pressing.

The Schenectady project, like all the proposals, promises new jobs and added tax revenue to the community.

According to the location board, the project is expected to generate $8.2 million in tax revenue for Schenectady County and the city, as well as $65.7 million in statewide school aid or property tax relief.

The developers estimate that the project will generate 877 full-time jobs and 193 part-time positions. Like the other applicants, the developers have agreed to employ unionized workers.

Schenectady area officials, in a news conference after the announcement, said they were thrilled that their plan had been chosen.

Selection of the site is a "game-changer,'' said County Legislature Chairman Anthony Jasenski. Reaction from those in Rensselaer and East Greenbush ranged from disappointment to resignation.

"I can't believe it," Rensselaer Mayor Dan Dwyer said at City Hall, where Hard Rock T-shirts were ready to be handed out if that proposal had won.

"I am disappointed that Rensselaer County was not chosen as the home for this region's casino," said County Executive Kathy Jimino. "Now that the site has been identified, we will begin working with the host community to identify job opportunities for our residents and to limit any negative impacts a casino in this region may have,"

"Although there are residents on both sides of the issue, it is now time to come together and focus on future progress for our town,'' said Town Supervisor Keith Langley of East Greenbush, where the proposed Riverview casino had supporters and opponents.

About two dozen anti-casino activists, many bearing signs saying "Save East Greenbush," attended the announcement and burst into cheers when Thompson said the Capital Region casino would go to Schenectady.

"I'm ecstatic," said Joanne Kathleen Farrell, one of the activists. The Rensselaer city resident opposed both local proposals. "I did not want it down the street from my house," she said of the Hard Rock plan.

Following the announcement, Kevin Law, who chaired the location board, said support or opposition in a given community was an important factor. But members also took a hard look at the financial viability of the proposals.

"At the end of the day, we had to do what made financial success," said Law.

Schenectady resident Denen Blackmon lives on Front Street, near the Rivers casino site.

"I am emphatic about it, that's going to be another job for me," she said, smiling broadly. "I think it's more jobs not only for people in my neighborhood, but for people in other communities." She also dismissed claims that the casino will bring more problems to Schenectady.

Her friend Yvette Wood, who has lived in the city for the past 25 years, is also in favor of the casino.

"If you look around, the whole town has changed. It's beautiful, they're trying to make it better, so they're not going to allow it to bring the community down," Wood said.


Categories: State/Local

No lift for Cuomo in drill decision

Albany Times/Union - 13 min 31 sec ago


Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a deft politician; he's not a scientist.

So when he finally received the Department of Health's recommendations on hydraulic fracturing Wednesday, the governor said he would continue to let science guide the decision to ban the practice.

"If I put it out before the election, you would have asked that question: Was it political because it was just before an election?" Cuomo told reporters. "Now it's after the election. ... It can't be political — it's after the election."

Political or not, overall it would appear that little is changing in the way the moderate governor is viewed. Throughout much of Wednesday, he was either lauded by those (mostly) on the left for making a decision rooted in science, or slammed by those (mostly) on the right for, as Republican state Sen. Cathy Young put it, delivering "a punch in the gut to the Southern Tier."

In a statement, Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos disputed Cuomo's contention: "Despite protests to the contrary, it appears that politics, not science, shaped this decision," he said.

Since taking office, Cuomo has been able to inoculate himself on the issue by publicly leaning on his agency underlings to make the decision — an atypical move for a governor who has been seen as exceedingly hands-on.

The decision also appears to follow public sentiment. A July Time Warner Cable News/Siena College poll of registered voters in the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes and Catskills/Hudson Valley showed that 51 percent opposed the approval of hydrofracking, while 35 percent were for it.

"(Given) the fact that the governor's health commissioner ... said there's a lot of questions we can't answer ... therefore we're erring on the side of caution and saying no, there will not be an angry reaction from voters — not only across the state but upstate as well," political consultant and University at Albany political science professor Bruce Gyory said.

On Wednesday, anger flowed from the business community. The state Business Council, which endorsed Cuomo this year, said it was "troubled that today New York embraces half-truths and fear while ignoring the economic and environmental benefits" of hydrofracking. (The statement did not mention Cuomo by name.)

Even if business had won, the time it took to make a decision may have left pro-fracking forces boiling.

"Delay is a classic problem in New York used as a technique by people who want to stop things," SUNY New Paltz political science professor Gerald Benjamin said. "It makes them more expensive to do because the opportunity costs for business or developers (increase). Here, what was interesting was the delay was in the context of, at the end, a cataclysmic drop in energy prices. So the exploitation of the resource became economically much more challenging — so the investment became less valuable and useful for the people who wanted to make it."

The question that future polls will answer is if the decision improves the governor's image among those on his left — including Democrats who opted for Zephyr Teachout in her bid for the gubernatorial nomination.

Gyory pointed out that an anti-fracking decision and a larger green agenda can help the governor with Democratic and independent voters. The more hard-core members of the left are going to simply move on to the next issue, Benjamin said.

In an interview, Teachout seemed to echo those sentiments.

"It's a great decision, but Andrew Cuomo has a long way to go before he shows that he's a traditional Democrat," Teachout said. "He has a long a way to go on school funding, on tax policy, on just the basics of infrastructure spending. I'm thrilled with the decision, and I'm thrilled that he listened to science or politics or whatever he listened to — in this case the science and politics were aligned. ... But I don't think this is going to fundamentally change how people see Andrew Cuomo." • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Around NY

Albany Times/Union - 13 min 31 sec ago

Open house at mansion set for New Year's Eve

ALBANY — Still don't have a date for New Year's Eve? How about spending some of it with a governor winding up his first term?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo invites New Yorkers to an open house at the Executive Mansion from noon to 2 p.m. Dec. 31.

Those wishing to attend should visit to enter the lottery for a ticket, which will enable the winner, one adult guest and any underage children from the ticket-holder's household to attend.

The registration period is Thursday through 5 p.m. Dec. 26. Guests will be notified of their selection via email on Dec. 29.

Tickets are non-transferable. Photography and videography devices will not be allowed on the premises, and leave those large bags and packages at home.

The open house is traditionally held on New Year's Day, though Cuomo will be occupied for at least part of Jan. 1 with his second swearing-in.

— Casey Seiler

New health enrollees near 195,000

ALBANY — The number of new enrollees in the state's online health insurance market, NY State of Health, rose to almost 195,000 by the end of Tuesday, according to Donna Frescatore, the market's executive director. That's up 40,000 since Friday.

About 60 percent of new enrollees have signed up for Medicaid, Frescatore said. The numbers do not include New Yorkers who have renewed coverage after enrolling in a health plan in the market's first season.

In a national conference call hosted by consumer advocate Families USA, Frescatore said New York plans to follow the lead of other states with their own health exchanges, which have had success enrolling people in shopping malls and other public places. The new outreach will begin next month, she said. NY State of Health has already scheduled some outreach events in CVS pharmacies throughout the state.

The deadline for individuals to sign up for coverage that begins Jan. 1 is Saturday. Open enrollment continues through Feb. 15 for coverage that begins later.

— Claire Hughes

Categories: State/Local

Vermont drops move to single-payer care

Albany Times/Union - 13 min 31 sec ago

Montpelier, Vt.

Calling it the biggest disappointment of his career, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Wednesday he was abandoning plans to make Vermont the first state in the country with a universal, publicly funded health care system.

Going forward with a project four years in the making would require tax increases too big for the state to absorb, Shumlin said. The measure had been the centerpiece of the Democratic governor's agenda and was watched and rooted for by single-payer health care supporters around the country.

"I am not going (to) undermine the hope of achieving critically important health care reforms for this state by pushing prematurely for single payer when it is not the right time for Vermont," Shumlin said to reporters and two advisory boards.

Legislation Shumlin signed in 2011 put the state on a path to move beyond the federal Affordable Care Act by 2017 to a system more similar to that in Canada. Shumlin adopted the mantra that access to quality health care should be "a right and not a privilege."

The legislation called for the administration to produce a plan for financing the Green Mountain Care system by 2013 but it wasn't completed until the last several days. Shumlin said it showed the plan would require an 11.5 percent payroll tax on businesses and an income tax separate from the one the state already has of up to 9.5 percent.

Shumlin said small business owners would be hit with both, and he repeatedly expressed concern about whether those businesses, many of which now don't offer health insurance or offer much less costly insurance, could cover the new expense.

The governor said he had asked his team for alternative designs, but no one could come up with an affordable plan.

"The bottom line is that, as we completed the financing modeling in the last several days, it became clear that the risk of economic shock is too high at this time to offer a plan I can responsibly support for passage in the Legislature," he said.

Categories: State/Local

Settlement asked in Garner death

Albany Times/Union - 13 min 31 sec ago

New York

The city said Wednesday that it is trying to negotiate a settlement with Eric Garner's family as scores of defense attorneys protested the criminal justice system's handling of police killings of unarmed black men by participating in marches and die-ins.

Officials in Comptroller Scott Stringer's office said the push to reach a settlement of the $75 million civil rights claim brought forth by Garner's family is part of Stringer's strategy to settle major civil rights claims before lawsuits are filed.

In Brooklyn on Wednesday, public defenders and other lawyers marched at courthouses and a prosecutor's office and staged a die-in outside a city jail. They later stood in front of a criminal court, chanting, "Black lives matter" and "I can't breathe," a reference to Garner's last words.

In Philadelphia, a group of lawyers participated in a die-in at the Criminal Justice Center.

Decisions by grand juries to not bring charges against police officers in the cases of Garner and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., exposed flaws and reflect racism in the system, the lawyers in Brooklyn said.

Both Garner and Brown were black. The officers involved are white.

"We wanted to lend or voices to protest what's been going on for decades, not only in this courthouse but in courthouses across the five boroughs and across the United States in terms of a really unequal criminal justice system," Deborah Wright, president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, said afterward.

Said another attorney, Nora Carroll: "We know that when a prosecutor wants an indictment, they can get one."

Garner, a 43-year-old from Staten Island, was killed in July after an NYPD officer put him in a chokehold during an arrest on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes. The grand jury's failure to indict has touched off a wave of protests, including one in Manhattan last week that drew tens of thousands of people.

If a deal is struck with the city in the Garner case, it would avoid a long trial in federal court — and would keep Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration out of the process.

It is not clear that a settlement would be reached. The move to seek a settlement appears to suggest that his office feels the city could be found liable at a trial and be forced to pay a significant amount in damages, though the comptroller in interviews Wednesday said he did not imply wrongdoing.

Categories: State/Local

Transit riders with limited English sue for help

Albany Times/Union - 13 min 31 sec ago

New York

The New York City Transit Authority was accused in a lawsuit Wednesday of discriminating against people with limited English who try to use a program providing transportation to those with disabilities.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Manhattan by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, a civil rights advocacy group.

It seeks class-action status to end what it says is a discriminatory policy and practice involving the city's Access-A-Ride program. Access-A-Ride provides vans for tens of thousands of people as a substitute for subways and buses.

Five named plaintiffs maintain they've encountered barriers, delays, denials and discrimination when they apply to the program and suffered emotional harm when they were denied equal access to public transportation.

The lawsuit said the policy violates federal and local laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New York City Human Rights Law.

The lawsuit seeks a comprehensive system to provide language services to individuals seeking to use Access-A-Ride.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokeswoman Judie Glave said the agency does not comment on litigation.

In a news release, attorney Aditi Shah said New York City Transit's policy was "not only unfair, it's illegal."

Shah added: "Federal law requires that New Yorkers with disabilities have equal access to public transportation. Yet New York City Transit explicitly excludes people who need Access-A-Ride services, merely because they do not speak English well."

Categories: State/Local

Citing perils, state bans fracking

Albany Times/Union - 13 min 31 sec ago

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of New York state's health commissioner. He is Howard Zucker. The article also suggested New York was the first state to ban hydrofracking. Vermont outlawed the practice in 2012.


New York banned hydraulic fracturing Wednesday, after its top health official said he wouldn't let his family live where the technique was permitted.

Acting State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, quoting studies that showed potential risks to human health and the environment, capped a contentious six-year state review on whether to allow hydrofracking, which turned into a political firestorm.

A lawyer who has represented the drilling industry said it is unlikely to challenge the state. "It is clear now that we have a permanent ban in New York," said Thomas West, an Albany attorney who represented the industry in its unsuccessful legal effort to prevent local governments from enacting zoning-based fracking bans. "The industry has already written off New York as being influenced by a bunch of extremists.'"

He said drillers will focus on states where they can drill. "You will not see the industry put up money for litigation to fight this bizarre decision," West said.

Zucker cast his decision in personal terms.

"Would I live in a community with (fracking) based on the facts that I have now? Would I let my child play in a school field nearby? After looking at the plethora of reports behind me ... my answer is no," said Zucker, during a packed meeting of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Cabinet in the Red Room at the Capitol. Cuomo called Zucker's findings "powerful ... and I would agree with your conclusion that if your children should not live (near fracking,) then no one's child should live there."

Cuomo said Zucker's report was free of any political influence. "We did not rush anything and we took our time," the governor said. But, he added, "There will be a ton of lawsuits, I am sure."

Vermont outlawed hydrofracking two years ago, but New York is the first state with a significant deposit of underground gas to ban the practice.

Two years in the making, a 176-page health study released by Zucker concluded there were "significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with (fracking), the likelihood of the occurrence of adverse health outcomes and the effectiveness of some of the mitigation measures in reducing or preventing environmental impacts which could adversely impact public health."

His findings included studies that show:

Methane from gas wells has been found to have leaked into the atmosphere and into groundwater. Other dangerous gases, like benzene and other volatile organic compounds, also are found in air near fracking wells.

Children born in areas with fracking are more likely to be underweight, and have congenital defects of the heart and neural tube.

Communities with fracking experience overburdened roads, more accidents, and greater crime and other social problems.

Methane leaking from gas wells contributes to ongoing, man-made climate change.

Fracking can induce local, small-scale earthquakes.

After the announcement, a chorus of environmental and public health groups roundly applauded, praising the governor's political wisdom, while disappointed supporters called the decision politically motivated and warned landowners might deluge the state with lawsuits alleging the state unfairly blocked them from profiting from their property.

"Gov.Cuomo repeatedly stated that he would follow the science when making a decision on fracking, and today he has been proven a man of his word by making a conclusive decision based on scientific facts and clear evidence. Gov. Cuomo chose public need over corporate greed," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director for Albany-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Support also came from American Lung Association of the Northeast, Center for Environmental Health, Environment New York, Concerned Health Professionals of New York, Environmental Advocates of New York, Sierra Club, Scenic Hudson and the Environmental Working Group.

Others criticized the ban. "For the time-honored natural gas industry, 'the new New York' is not open for business," said Brad Gill, director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York.

Thousands of families just had their property rights extinguished," said Karen Moreau, head of the New York State Petroleum Council. "There is millions of dollars in wealth that they might not be able to touch."

Moreau said Zucker "cited anecdotes that the activists have been touting, but there are a number of other studies that would have suggested otherwise."

She said New York is telling states that already allow fracking, as well as the administration of President Barack Obama, which has supported fracking, that "they don't know what they are talking about."

This spring, the Binghamton-based Joint Landowners Coalition of New York unsuccessfully sued the Cuomo administration in a bid to force a favorable ruling on fracking.

Cuomo said fracking supporters tell him they don't see any economic alternative in the Southern Tier. "It is our responsibility to develop an alternative for that community," he said.

Fracking is already being done in neighboring Pennsylvania, Ohio and 30 other states. It has fueled an increasing glut of inexpensive natural gas and oil, including a surge of oil trains bringing North Dakota crude into the Port of Albany. The drilling technique relies on a high-pressure blend of chemicals, sand and water pumped deep underground to break up gas-bearing rock formations.

Zucker said about 20 Health Department "senior research scientists, public health specialists and radiological health specialists" spent about 4,500 hours preparing the report. "The data out there is very disturbing," he said.

Most of the scientific studies on potential fracking risks have been published within the last two years, and pointed to "red flags" that "give me reason to pause," said Zucker. Allowing fracking in the face of such uncertainty would be "negligent on my part," he added.

Science on fracking risks to air and water are "limited, only just beginning to emerge, and largely suggests only hypotheses about potential public health impacts that need further evaluation," said Zucker. He said there is a need for long-term studies on people who live near fracking before a clear picture can emerge about potential health impacts that could happen years after exposure to chemicals and other pollution linked to fracking.

Accordingly, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which in 2008 began studying a potential environmental road map to allow such drilling, will issue its final report "early next year" that will bar the practice, said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. The department has received more than 250,000 public comments on fracking since it started its review.

Martens said there will be no further public comment taken before the final report is issued.

Deborah Goldberg, a lawyer for the Washington, D.C.-based environmental law firm, Earthjustice, that defeated lawsuits to destroy local zoning bans, said the "governor earned a place in history. Never before has a state with proven gas reserves banned fracking. I believe that future generations will point to this day and say 'This is when the tide began to turn against the dirty, dangerous and destructive fossil fuel industry.'"

About 80 communities in New York have such bans and more are considering it, said Martens, who said potential economic benefits to the state were likely not as great as had been portrayed six years ago. Since then a glut of fracked gas from other states has driven the price to historic lows.

Also, said Martens, about two-thirds of the potential 12 million acres containing natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, which covers much of the southern part of the state from the Catskills west to Buffalo, would be off-limits because of local bans, being part of the watersheds of New York City or Syracuse, being part of an aquifer, or having gas that was located within 2,000 feet of the surface, which DEC had proposed in an earlier round of regulations.

Given all these "uncertainties," said Martens, the economic prospects for natural gas development were "uncertain at best."

The question of whether to allow hydrofracking has been on the state's plate since 2008, when then-Gov. David Paterson charged DEC with completing a report on the technique before it could issue permits for drilling.

By 2009, DEC had issued a draft report recommending fracking could be allowed with extensive safeguards in place. But amid increasing environmental protests, Paterson in 2010 ordered DEC to complete a second draft of its report, setting a deadline of June 2011.

After Gov. Andrew Cuomo stepped into office in January 2011, DEC's second draft again recommended hydrofracking with safeguards in place. But before a final product was released, Martens in September 2012 asked the Department of Health, then led by Commissioner Nirav Shah, to review the key chapter on human health impacts.

The issue has polarized much of the state. The Southern Tier, where gas companies have eyed potentially lucrative wells, has been divided.

A July Time Warner Cable News/Siena College poll of registered voters in the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes and Catskills/Hudson Valley showed that 51 percent oppose DEC approving hydrofracking, while 35 percent said they want the practice to move forward. Sixty percent of voters in the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes said they thought hydrofracking would be an economy booster, and 65 percent thought it would be a job generator.


Categories: State/Local

Cuomo vetoes bill for M/C pay increase panel

Albany Times/Union - 13 min 31 sec ago


For the second year in a row, Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that would establish a commission to recommend periodic pay increases for non-unionized "management/confidential" state employees.

The veto was issued late Wednesday night among actions taken on a pile of bills that had reached their deadlines on the governor's desk. In his veto message, Cuomo noted he had approved 2 percent broad-based raises for M/Cs earlier this year and said other increases were being planned for "the near future."

M/C workers have for years complained that their pay has lagged behind that of their unionized colleagues, leading some to turn down promotions rather than be booted from a unionized post.

Asked at Wednesday's Cabinet meeting about the measure's fate, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he didn't know much about the issue. After receiving a capsule briefing from Budget Director Robert Megna and a reporter, Cuomo expressed surprise that one category of workers should have their pay set by a commission.

Director Bob Megna recently sent a letter to the Organization of Management-Confidential Employees saying that the administration was aware of M/Cs' salary grievances and hoped to find a solution in the budget process. Cuomo made a similar declaration when he vetoed the pay bill in 2013.

The governor said he was not well-acquainted with the controversy over the administration's move earlier this week to reclassify as M/Cs about 1,000 unionized workers, most of whom are represented by the Public Employees Federation.

Secretary Larry Schwartz said the PEF employees should not be unionized because their jobs involve the sort of decision-making that categorizes workers as M/Cs.


Categories: State/Local

More New Yorkers get health insurance, further outreach planned

Albany Times/Union - 13 min 31 sec ago


The number of new enrollees in the state's online health insurance market, NY State of Health, rose to almost 195,000 by the end of Tuesday, according to Donna Frescatore, the market's executive director. That's up 40,000 since Friday.

About 60 percent of new enrollees have signed up for Medicaid, Frescatore said. The numbers do not include New Yorkers who have renewed coverage after enrolling in a health plan in the market's first season.

In a national conference call hosted by consumer advocate Families USA, Frescatore said New York plans to follow the lead of other states with their own health exchanges, which have had success enrolling people in shopping malls and other public places. The new outreach will begin next month, she said. NY State of Health has already scheduled some outreach events in CVS pharmacies throughout the state.

The deadline for individuals to sign up for coverage that begins Jan. 1 is Saturday. Open enrollment continues through Feb. 15 for coverage that begins later.

— Claire Hughes

Categories: State/Local

Local ethics laws said to need improvement

Albany Times/Union - 13 min 31 sec ago


Small local governments in New York require stronger ethics and lobbying disclosure laws, the New York Public Interest Research Group said in a new report.

Titled "Drilling Down," the analysis concludes that local decisions in favor of allowing the controversial natural gas drilling technique known as hydrofracking expose gaps in ethics and transparency laws for municipalities with 50,000 or fewer residents.

NYPIRG says those areas should be addressed before the state makes key decisions on issues such as fracking and casino siting.

"There are huge holes in the ethical safety net in New York state when it comes to local government," NYPIRG's legislative director, Blair Horner, said. "We believe it leads to a Wild West system where ... the public should not have confidence in the integrity of, too often, local government decisions."

NYPIRG Legislative Counsel Russ Haven pointed to the town of Sanford ,in Broome County, which he called the poster child for problems with ethical disclosure and open government. There, records show that the town supervisor had gas development leases, as did other officials. The town itself holds a gas lease, according to the report.

NYPIRG couldn't find a public notice that the town was considering a pro-drilling resolution posted before the measure was approved.

"This could be the tip of the iceberg," Haven said. "We just don't know. You're not required to disclose this because of the loopholes in state ethics law. Because these were resolutions, arguably they did not fit the definition of legislation at the local level. ...(It's) another potential loophole that would allow them to say, 'We're not required to disclose.'"

NYPIRG is opposed to fracking, but Horner and Haven denied a conflict of interest. They said the report shows the need for local government changes, and fracking is a top issue they chose to spotlight.

Asked why they looked at towns that have passed resolutions in support of fracking and not those that ban the practice, Horner said NYPIRG's resources are limited.

However, he said all the disclosure recommendations would apply to both sides of the debate, for anyone lobbying at the local level — including NYPIRG. • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Around NY

Albany Times/Union - 13 min 31 sec ago

Upstate health worker in Ebola quarantine

ALBANY — An upstate health worker who agreed to be voluntarily quarantined at home was expected to return home Tuesday after treating Ebola patients in Liberia, according to the state Health Department.

The health worker and another upstate resident who returned on Dec. 7 have no symptoms of Ebola virus. They have agreed to stay home for 21 days, the longest time it can take Ebola symptoms to develop after exposure to the virus.

The Health Department would not say where the upstate workers live, citing privacy concerns.

The state has had only one patient with Ebola, a doctor who recovered from the disease at Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan.

— Claire Hughes

Cuomo: 2nd inaugural will be low-key event

ALBANY — Don't expect a lot of glitz and glamor for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's second inauguration.

The Democrat said on public radio's "Capitol Pressroom" Monday that he plans to keep the pomp and circumstance to a minimum when he is sworn in to a second term early next month.

Cuomo says he's not one for extravagant balls, and that he wants to have a serious ceremony that reflects the state's serious challenges.

A date for the governor's inauguration hasn't been announced.

Cuomo beat Republican Rob Astorino last month to win a second term. Lawmakers will kick off their 2015 session in early January.

— Associated Press

Silos collapse at plant near new bridge

TARRYTOWN — Builders say three silos have failed or collapsed on a floating concrete plant at the site of the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

A spokeswoman for Tappan Zee Constructors, Carla Julian, says in an email that there were no injuries in the accident Tuesday on the Hudson River.

Concrete is made at the construction site to save the time and cost of trucking. The silos hold raw materials such as crushed stone.

She said the state Thruway Authority and Department of Environmental Conservation were investigating.

The new bridge is a $3.9 billion project in the New York City suburbs.

— Associated Press

Judge won't drop case against police officer

MINEOLA — A state judge has declined to dismiss charges against a police officer accused of assaulting a driver in an incident captured on a store surveillance camera.

Newsday says supervising Nassau County Judge Christopher Quinn ruled Monday that grand jury evidence against Vincent LoGiudice is "legally sufficient" for an indictment.

LoGiudice pleaded not guilty in June to three assault counts.

Prosecutors say he punched and kicked a 21-year-old motorist during an April traffic stop. Authorities dropped the initial assault, resisting arrest and drug charges against the driver, Kyle Howell.

Police said Howell tried to eat a bag of marijuana and a violent struggle ensued.

Howell's attorney claims the incident was racially motivated. Howell is black; the officer is white.

LoGuidice's attorney denies those accusations.

— Associated Press

Categories: State/Local

New York Regents launch effort to educate undocumented kids

Albany Times/Union - 13 min 31 sec ago


For the second year in a row, New York state's teachers and principals are markedly outperforming their students.

Released Tuesday, the Board of Regents' preliminary results for the second year of teacher evaluations once again showed the vast majority of teachers — almost 96 percent — were rated "effective" (53.7 percent) or "highly effective" (41.9 percent) during the 2013-14 school year.

Outside New York City, 39.3 percent of teachers and 61.3 percent of principals were rated "effective," and 58.2 percent of teachers and 33.1 percent of principals were earned the top marks of "highly effective."

At the same time, less than 40 percent of students in grades three to eight scored a "proficient" level or higher on standardized state tests.

Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch acknowledged that disconnect.

"The ratings show there's much more work to do to strengthen the evaluation system," she said in a statement. "There's a real contrast between how our students are performing and how their teachers and principals are evaluated."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed, with his communications director, Melissa DeRosa, saying in a statement that "as the governor previously stated, stronger (and) more competitive teacher evaluation standards will be a priority" in the legislative session that begins in January.

Outgoing state Education Commissioner John King, headed to a top position at the federal Department of Education, said the evaluations were "a work in progress."

"I'm concerned that in some districts, there's a tendency to blanket everyone with the same rating," he said. "That defeats the purpose of the observations and the evaluations, and we have to work to fix that."

Under the teacher evaluation system, 60 percent of a rating is based on classroom and other locally developed measures; 20 percent is derived from student performance measures that are locally agreed upon; and the remaining 20 percent is based on student state test scores in grades four to eight.

Responding to vocal criticisms of the implementation of the Common Core educational standards, Cuomo and lawmakers have eased the rigor of the evaluations somewhat by protecting teachers whose scores drop into "ineffective" territory due to Common Core-related student tests from career consequences for several years.

Also Tuesday, the Board of Regents and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched a joint effort to ensure undocumented children from Central America aren't kept out of schools when they arrive in New York state.

The effort comes as youngsters escaping gang violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala continue to arrive and be united with relatives here.

More than 5,000 such children have come, often crossing the border illegally after being sent here by parents who fear for their safety. Many are apprehended by federal authorities at the Southwestern border who try to get them to relatives or other guardians in the U.S.

These children are then supposed to attend school in their new hometowns, but there have been problems on that front.

Earlier this year, several news reports described how the Hempstead, Nassau County, school district was turning away some of the children, or at least not enrolling them. They've since set up a transitional school for the students, many of whom don't speak English.

The Regents, who oversee education policy in the state, instituted emergency regulations that make it harder for schools to say no to these newcomers. Those new rules, for instance, prevent districts from inquiring about a student's immigration status, or his or her parents' or guardians' status as a precondition for enrolling in a school.

Schneiderman's Civil Rights Bureau and state Education Department will also continue to conduct a joint review of enrollment policies in schools.

The students so far have been concentrated downstate and on Long Island. • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

State looks to pull 1,000 employees out of PEF

Albany Times/Union - 13 min 31 sec ago


In a move that has sent shock waves through the state's unionized workforce, the Cuomo administration on Monday sent notices to about 1,000 members of the Public Employees Federation telling them the state is seeking to reclassify the recipients as non-union workers.

The notices went to people in more than three dozen state agencies, including the departments of Environmental Conservation, Labor, Health, Housing and Motor Vehicles, the Office of General Services, the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities and more.

Affected job titles range from attorneys to auditors, program specialists, parole hearing officers and tax law judges.

The notices said that the state has filed with the Public Employment Relations Board to reclassify the jobs as managerial/confidential rather than unionized positions.

Employees who were handed the notices were asked to sign them on the spot to acknowledge that they received them, although not everyone complied.

"We were just handed this," one union member said of the notices.

PEF officials later in the day emailed members saying they will resist the attempt to pull the workers out of the union.

"Be assured we will be fighting this," union President Susan Kent told members in an email.

Under state Civil Service law, the state can seek to reclassify unionized workers but needs permission of the appointed Public Employment Relations Board to do so.

"The state has determined, upon review of the titles contained in its petition and the job duties that these positions perform, that they meet the criteria for designation as management confidential," said Edward Walsh, spokesman for the Department of Civil Service, in an email.

Such reclassifications aren't unknown, especially as a union's contract draws to a close. State officials are supposed to seek reclassifications within eight months of an expiring contract. PEF's current contract expires at the end of March.

The scope and number of positions that would be affected by this request was unusually large. It also comes weeks after an Albany County State Supreme Court ruled that 250 managerial-confidential jobs should fall under union protection.

The Cuomo administration and PEF had been disputing the status of those jobs since March 2013, and PERB eventually ruled for unionization. The state then sued but lost in trial court. The state could appeal and if that happens the status of those employees may not be decided until next year. Some on Monday wondered if the move was in retaliation for that battle.

Another theory about the latest move centered on whether the state is simply trying to weaken PEF by reducing the union's approximately 54,000 members by 1,000.

Others wondered if the governor is angry at PEF's endorsement in September of Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham Law school professor who challenged Cuomo in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.


Categories: State/Local

Mother discusses her son's shooting

Albany Times/Union - 13 min 31 sec ago

New York

The mother of a 12-year-old Ohio boy fatally shot by police who believed he was carrying a gun said Monday he was never given a chance to follow officers' orders.

Samaria Rice said in an interview at The Associated Press offices in New York that her son, Tamir Rice, was shot before he could comply with police who pulled up next to him on a Cleveland playground. A rookie officer fired within two seconds.

Tamir had an airsoft gun, which shoots nonlethal plastic pellets.

Rice said she wants the officer charged with murder.

Police say officers were responding to a call Nov. 22 about someone possibly carrying a gun. They say Tamir didn't respond to commands to raise his hands before Officer Timothy Loehmann fired his weapon. The officers also meant to stop the patrol car farther from Tamir but the vehicle slid on the grass, the Cleveland police union has said.

Rice said she found out later that Tamir was handed the fake weapon by a girl at the playground. She said police put Tamir's 14-year-old sister in handcuffs as she rushed to help her brother.

Rice's attorney, Benjamin Crump, said the two officers could have defused the situation — by talking to the boy from a distance.

A Cleveland police investigation is under way and results will be turned over to the local prosecutor, who will present them to a grand jury. The encounter was caught on surveillance video.

Rice, who is black, said she long ago had "The Talk" with her children — as black parents call warnings to their children to comply with police or risk danger.

"My kids already know that they are supposed to cooperate with authority, period," she said.

She said her son was talented in sports and the arts and was loved in their community as someone who helped others.

"All lives matter. I don't see any color. I see boys," she said.

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo bans tattoos and piercings for pets

Albany Times/Union - 13 min 31 sec ago

Don't pierce your poodle or tattoo your terrier — it could land you in legal trouble.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law Monday a bill that prohibits piercing and tattooing of any pet for purely cosmetic purposes.

A violation could bring up to 15 days in jail and/or an up to $250 fine.

The new law goes into effect in April.

"This is animal abuse, pure and simple," Cuomo said in a statement. "I'm proud to sign this common-sense legislation and end these cruel and unacceptable practices in New York once and for all."

The new law, which was co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal and state Sen. Tom Libous, does allow piercings and tattoos in limited circumstances, such as ear tags for rabbits, tattoos for identification purposes or a piercing that provides a medical benefit to the animal and is performed by or under the supervision of a veterinarian, according to a release.

Categories: State/Local

Regents seek a $2 billion school funding increase

Albany Times/Union - 16 hours 13 min ago

Add the state Board of Regents to the list of people who want a chunk of the $5.1 billion windfall in next year's state budget thanks to a series of bank settlements.

The Regents want more than $330 million to go to one-shot items that would include eliminating a funding lag in pre-K programs, helping school boards buy new electronic voting machines and help for about 10 school districts that have seen an influx of children from Latin America.

That's on top of the record operating request from the Regents who want an additional $2 billion more next year.

New York currently spends about $22.3 billion on state aid to schools, aside from the money raised from local taxes. State per-pupil spending is the nation's highest at a median $22,552 per head by one estimate.

The $2 billion request is higher than the $1.9 billion that a group of education industry groups ranging from the teachers unions to school boards association earlier said they wanted.

Despite that, Regent James Tallon, a former Assembly majority leader, urged people to look ''beyond the headline'' and consider all the changes that the state is trying to institute in the education field.

The biggest part of the increase would be a $1.2 billion rise in basic "foundation aid'' which would include an effort to catch up from the reductions instituted after the 2008 recession. Tallon stressed that he hoped that increase would be configured to help poor or needy districts that were hit particularly hard.

Other components included a $251 million increase for universal prekindergarten, with the bulk, $180 million, going to upstate and pre-K districts.

This year's budget includes $340 million for pre-K but $300 million of that goes to New York City, which early on was pushing for such programs which were a priority with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Other requests include $80 million to backfill the $700 million, five-year Race to the Top federal grant which runs out in June.

To get Race to the Top dollars, the state had to agree to implement a teacher evaluation program, which is still being finalized.

Tallon stressed that the final sum is ultimately up to the governor and legislature. "We don't have a role in that final decision," he said after the Board of Regents approved his request.

State aid in the current budget rose $1.1 billion from the year before.

The Regents request would be in addition to the $2 billion in school technology and building funds that voters in the form of a bond issue in November.


Categories: State/Local

Campaign finance investigators OK'd

Albany Times/Union - 16 hours 13 min ago


The state Board of Elections on Monday speedily approved a resolution conferring "special investigator" status on Chief Enforcement Counsel Risa Sugarman and three former law enforcement officers who have been hired to handle campaign finance probes.

Sugarman's office, an independent unit within the board's operation, was created in the spring in the ethics deal that brought about the end of the Moreland Commission panel on public corruption. The special investigator status is needed to allow her and the three staffers to conduct searches in the state Department of Criminal Justice Services' databanks.

In November, the four commissioners — two Democrats, two Republicans — balked at the resolution as written, and instead gave the designation to Sugarman alone, effective only through the board's next meeting.

An hour into Monday's session, the commissioners turned to new business. Sugarman was asked if she wanted to comment on the resolution's return.

"We discussed it at two prior meetings," she said, "so I would just, uh — "

"So moved," said Republican Commissioner Greg Peterson, whose concerns about the newly designated investigators carrying weapons derailed the initial consideration of the resolution in October.

The resolution was approved with no further discussion.

"Thank you," Sugarman said.

Democratic Commissioner Douglas Kellner expressed concern that the enforcement office, which according to statute couldn't begin operations until September, was building up a backlog of cases of alleged noncompliance with the filing requirements of election law.

Sugarman assured him that the new process would ultimately result in a higher level of compliance, and told the commissioners that her next order of business would be addressing the boxes full of past uncollected court judgments levied against violators.


Categories: State/Local

Bus trips planned to bring downstaters to New York ski areas

Albany Times/Union - 16 hours 13 min ago


A visitor to Whiteface ski center from, say, New York City, Long Island or New Jersey can get quite a surprise when coming upon the mountain for the first time.

It looks like a bit of Switzerland or maybe the Rockies has been moved to upstate New York, with steep craggy ski trails jutting skyward in a dramatic fashion.

Indeed, with a vertical rise of 3,216 feet, Whiteface is the tallest ski area east of the Rocky Mountains.

In strictly top-to-bottom terms, it's taller than places like Vail, Colo., which has 3,041 feet, not to mention storied Vermont resorts like Stowe at 2,132 feet.

The trouble is, Whiteface's location, some five hours from New York City, has been a barrier when one considers that the Catskills, southern Vermont or the Berkshires of Massachusetts are closer to the state's population centers.

At two hours away, even Montreal is closer to Whiteface than New York City is — and it's not uncommon to hear French spoken in the Whiteface lodge or on the ski lift lines.

The folks at New York state's Regional Olympic Development Authority, which operates the state-owed Whiteface as well as the Gore Mountain and Bellyeare ski areas, have long been aware of that distance.

And while nothing can shrink the mileage, the state this year is launching charter bus packages to northern areas like Whiteface and their southerly cousins at Gore in North Creek and West Mountain in Queensbury, Catamount in Hillsdale, Greek Peak near Cortland, as well as Catskill resorts like Hunter, Windham and Plattekill.

It's part of an effort to develop more package bus tours year-round.

The Whiteface effort is starting slowly, with just one package trip Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 ferrying skiers from downstate.

But tourism operators say they see potential.

"The appetite is there,'' Andrew Lynch, vice president of Hampton Jitney, the Long Island charter firm that is running the I Love NY trips, said of the desire for bus trips to the mountains.

Looking at bus trips also makes sense demographically, given the aversion of millennials, or those born starting in the early 1980s, to driving or even owning cars, organizers said.

A lot has been written about how this generation is more urbanized and prefers mass transit to cars. But members of this group still seek adventure, which is where the buses come in.

"If you look at the younger customers, the millennials, many of them don't have cars,'' observed Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, a trade group. "They definitely have an interest in getting out, so these charter trips have sweet spots.''

"A lot of people don't own cars," said Scott Brandi, president of the Ski Areas of New York, who agrees that millennials represent an untapped market.

ORDA officials also note that for drivers, much of the trip to Whiteface from points south is along I-87, a well-maintained divided highway that also serves as a major New York City-to-Montreal thoroughfare.

"It's an easy, one-shot route," said Lauren Garfield, Whiteface's sales and marketing manager.

"It's actually a lot easier," Brandi added, comparing the trip to Whiteface with trips to resorts in northern Vermont.

Whiteface is about a half-hour from Northway Exit 30.

Distance or not, there's no shortage of enthusiasts who make their way to Whiteface or other slopes, especially when the snow is flying.

There is an interesting phenomenon at work here, too.

A winter storm can trigger a "snow day'' in which schools cancel classes, presumably due to travel difficulties, but skiers make it to the slopes regardless.

That was the case Wednesday, when about 1,000 people, including lots of local high school kids, converged on Whiteface.

The fresh blanket of snow, atop a good layer of machine-blown base, was in keeping with the kind of cold, snowy weather that has hit much of the Northeast so far and which has made ski operators and enthusiasts smile.

Not even a power outage dissuaded skiers at this rugged mountain.

Around noon, the local power company, New York State Electric and Gas, had to shut off the electricity for repairs in a nearby location, but that didn't stop the skiing.

Staffers with flashlights and cellphones lit the way to the lodge's basement restrooms and lockers while lift operators outside fired up the backup diesel motor to run the mountain's Face Lift.

After all, no one wants to stop skiing on a powder day, regardless of whether they came from the next town over or spent a few hours on I-87. • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Police ponder their tactics

Albany Times/Union - 16 hours 13 min ago

New York

In the days after a grand jury declined to bring charges against a New York City police officer in the death of Eric Garner, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said he expected the large-scale protests that followed would eventually "peter out."

The police department, reflecting that view, has taken a hands-off approach, monitoring the marchers as they block roadways and bridges but making few arrests. The tactic has brought praise from Mayor Bill de Blasio.

But instead of fading away, the demonstrations have grown, with largest yet on Saturday drawing more than 25,000 people to the streets of Manhattan. And, in a worrying sign for the police, they have grown more confrontational during the past week.

At least five officers have been assaulted by protesters — including two lieutenants on Saturday during a nighttime melee on the Brooklyn Bridge. Earlier on Saturday, on Madison Avenue and 28th Street, a group of protesters surrounded a pair of traffic agents in a marked New York City Police Department car and smashed the rear window and a side window.

De Blasio called the eruption of violence "beneath the dignity of New York City."

Now, it has the police department facing an "operational dilemma" in its laissez-faire handling of the demonstrators, the majority of whom are nonviolent, said Stephen P. Davis, the deputy police commissioner for public information. Top police commanders are to meet Monday.

"How do you allow the larger group to continue while at the same time prevent the instigators from getting what they want?" he said Sunday. "Last night is going to have to require some re-evaluation of how we're doing it."

On Sunday, police arrested a 29-year-old adjunct instructor at the City University of New York on felony charges in the assault of the two lieutenants during demonstrations about police killings of Garner and other unarmed black men in New York City and elsewhere.

The police said the man, Eric Linsker, had been at the center of a clash on the bridge Saturday evening as protesters began throwing objects from the walkway onto the officers who were escorting marchers in the roadway below.

Police said the lieutenants observed Linsker attempting to throw a trash bin over the side of the walkway and moved to arrest him. But a group of protesters prevented the arrest, police said.

"The two lieutenants were assaulted by numerous protesters, resulting in injuries to both of them," said James P. O'Neill, the chief of department.

None of the alleged assailants were arrested on the bridge, but police said the lieutenants were able to hold onto a backpack that one of the assailants was carrying. From that backpack, detectives were able track down Linsker early Sunday, the police said.

In addition to two counts of assaulting a police officer, Linsker was charged with misdemeanor reckless endangerment, riot, resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration and possession of a small amount of marijuana, a violation. He was also charged with attempted robbery because several protesters tried to strip the officers of their police radios, authorities said.

Categories: State/Local

Upstate-downstate divisions put to the test

Albany Times/Union - 16 hours 13 min ago


Is New York state hopelessly divided between big city dwellers swilling coconut water after yoga class and rural upstaters kicking cow patties off their work boots?

Not at all.

But behind the silly stereotypes about New York City and upstate lie real demographic, political and cultural differences. The contrasts have played out recently on controversies over gun control and whether to allow "fracking" for natural gas, as well as in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's geographically imbalanced re-election margin. The differences have given rise to complaints up north that upstate taxpayers are subsidizing New York City's poor or that upstate voices are not heard in Capitol corridors dominated by downstate politicians.

It has even fueled secession movements.

"The state of New York really should be two separate states," reads a web site, run by advocates of creating an autonomous region called "New Amsterdam" north of Westchester County. "The views of people who live in the upstate and downstate areas are very different."

The rifts are real, but not all the stereotypes stand up to scrutiny. Here's a look at some long-standing upstate-downstate issues.

One state, two votes

The split between upstate and downstate seemed as wide as ever on Election Day.

Cuomo last month racked up about three-quarters of the New York City vote in his re-election, but was outpolled over most of upstate by Republican challenger Rob Astorino, according to unofficial results.

The dynamic is nothing new. Democrats running statewide in the past have depended on New York City and its suburbs to make up for Republican-leaning areas upstate.

But analysts caution against seeing a monolithic upstate conservative vote. The largest upstate cities have Democratic mayors, and Cuomo won the counties that are home to Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany.

Even if you sawed off New York City, there would still be more registered Democrats than Republicans in New York state.

Bright lights, big money

Upstate secessionists take note: New York City is more sugar daddy than sponge when it comes to state coffers.

State personal income tax payments from New York City and the downstate suburbs account for a share of statewide collections above their percentage of the population, according to a 2011 study by the Rockefeller Institute of Government. Business tax revenue also tends to come disproportionately from the downstate area, according to the report.

This is less a case of hardworking city folk subsidizing upstate residents and more about the concentration of wealth around the city combined with the state's progressive income tax structure. There's also more business activity downstate.

New York City does have a higher share of poor people and so takes a disproportionate share of Medicaid money. But overall, the percentage of state expenditures to the city is less than its share of population.

Without city money, an independent upstate would have tighter purse strings.

"On balance, it would have to spend less," said Donald Boyd, co-author of the study.

A voice in Albany

New York's budget and major state policies are negotiated behind closed doors by the governor and the leaders of the state Senate and Assembly. All of them are from downstate, fueling the old complaint about upstate interests are ignored in Albany.

New York City is home to 43 percent of the state's population and it can be the 800-pound gorilla at the Capitol — like when budget talks this year were dominated by the city's successful quest for pre-K funding.

But it's not like other areas are ignored.

Governors have been sensitive to the needs of their constituents statewide at least since the days of the old Erie Canal up to today's "Buffalo Billion" economic development plan.

In the Legislature, no measure gets through without the backing of the Republicans, who will hold a slim majority in the state Senate next year. And the Senate's Republican conference consists mostly of upstate lawmakers. The GOP even picked up some upstate Senate seats in November.

Whither upstate

New York state is home to more than 19.6 million people. Currently, a little more than a third live north of Westchester and Rockland counties.

But the state's slow population growth has been driven by New York City. Many upstate cities and rural areas with struggling economies have had stagnant or diminishing populations. There are some growth areas, like Saratoga County. The area benefits from a mix of economic engines that includes horse racing, Skidmore College, manufacturing and a computer chip manufacturer.

The trick for New York's leaders is to replicate that mix in other upstate areas.

Categories: State/Local
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