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by Jay Gallagher

Friday, May 28, 2010

Good-bye Jay Gallagher, League friend and blogger

Barbara Bartoletti

Not often in one's professional life, especially in politics, do you work with someone who epitomizes integrity and professionalism. Over the past 26 years I have had the privilege of working with Jay Gallagher, former Gannett Albany Bureau Chief and recent League blogger who died peacefully Monday night after an 11 month battle with pancreatic cancer.

Jay was not just a reporter to me but a friend and a mentor. Early on in my tenure as the League's Legislator Director, Jay taught me the in's and out's of dealing with the press, such things as "off the record" and "background." We had a symbiotic work relationship as his paper was read in places where the League had many, many members and I needed to show League visibility in the places where we had many, many members. It worked well for us both and along the way we became good friends. He used to call me a "good quote" and I knew he would always get it right. Jay and I also shared a love for raw Albany politics, and sports (I was the dreaded Yankee fan and he was the ardent Red Sox fan). We had children the same age and so shared family stories as our children grew up and went out into life. He was one of the people I could turn to in the legislature during those awful years when my son was in Iraq.

After Jay was diagnosed and his treatment permitted, he came to me and asked if perhaps the League could use a blogger. I said yes immediately and after conversations with the board, Jay put his rare talent to work for the League. It was so important for him to be involved again in state politics and it was so wonderful for the League to have this "Albany institution" bogging for us. It was also very special for me to be able to work with this good man in the last months of his life.

Our thoughts and love are with his wife and daughters. And from me, thank you, dear friend, travel well down this new road.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The best laid schemes of mice and men…

Tomorrow night was supposed to be the night when we had quite a gala - a Gannett Albany celebration! We were going to mark my retirement, Joe Specter's elevation to Bureau Chief, Cara Matthews' outstanding contributions over the last six years, and the hiring of Nick Reisman.

Instead, I'm going to be spending the night in the St. Peter's Hospital ICU with nurses watching over me closely to make sure most of my current systems continue to perform adequately.

The cause of this pivot in plans: the rough night I had last night throwing up blood, despite the fact that numerous tests had discovered no problem in recent exams. That's cancer for you.

Doctors tend to take such things seriously, since rapid blood loss is a major cause of death. So this morning we called 911, had the neighborhood deluged with emergency trucks, and got transported to St. Peter's hospital.

Best news is that they found some minor tears in the region of the stomach and esophagus that could have been caused by the deep retching I did. And the very clever gastroenterologists do have a way to stop the bleeding and heal the tears. Of course, it could also be that the tumor is causing the bleeding, which presents a whole new set of problems.

Meanwhile, we are hoping for the simpler explanation and cure.

Monday, May 17, 2010

You might want to vote tomorrow

Most people don't know who is running in school-board elections tomorrow. In fact, probably many of us don't even know anyone who is VOTING in the elections, although arguably they are the most important local balloting held all year.

According to an analysis done by the state School Boards Association, only about 10 percent of eligible voters (district residents who are 18 and U.S. citizens) will cast ballots tomorrow, when voters will decide whether to approve school spending plans as well as elect new members to school boards.

And yet this is the time when voters get to decide directly how big their school property-tax bills will be as well as who will set educational policy.

Part of the reason is undoubtedly that since the posts don't pay anything in most instances, they don't attract a lot of candidates to what seems like a totally thankless job.

Maybe it will be different this year when there is an unusually high level of voter anger at school property taxes. The trouble with that, of course, is that the property taxes for all intents and purposes are set when the school board signs a contract with its unions, not at the budget vote. The process of ratifying new contracts by long tradition is kept secret in most districts until the teacher union OKs the deal.

But tomorrow is the best shots voters have - and if they ever elected board members in large numbers who insist on letting taxpayers know what they're getting into before a contract is signed, the first tremors of a long-anticipated taxpayer revolt might be heard.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New weapon for gov in budget fight

Lawmakers left town today until Monday, guaranteeing that the
budget will be more than six weeks late and furthering speculation
that it may well be after November’s elections before a spending plan
is in place.

The rationale here is when faced with the decision of
delivering a budget calling for painful spending cuts and/or tax hikes
or just not doing anything, lawmakers may well opt for the latter.

They might think they can get away with this, League
legislative director Barbara Bartoletti speculates, because so little
pressure is being put on them by Gov. David Paterson to abide by a new
state law that is supposed to prevent long delays.

“There have been no open leaders’ meetings held in the last
several months,’’ she pointed out, and conference committees haven’t
progressed beyond “planning’’ for them. And she said rank-and-file
members have been reduced to asking lobbyists about the status of
budget talks.

All of these developments fly in the face of a 2007 reform law
that was supposed to open up the process, but has been mostly ignored
this year.

On the other hand, Paterson has used a new weapon to try to get
action: inserting policies that lawmakers don’t like in the weekly
emergency-spending bills needed to keep the state operating while no
budget is in place.

They included first a freeze on pay raises due state workers April 1
and then this week a plan to furlough 100,000 state workers for one
day a week, effectively cutting their pay by 20 percent. (State
workers went to court today to try to have that nullified). If
lawmakers had failed to act, most state agencies, like motor vehicles,
transportation and tax and finance, would have been shut down. What’s
next? Might he try to ram through a tax on soda and other sugary
drinks the same way?

Paterson seems to be trying to enlist some powerful enemies of
his budget initiatives into the fight to get lawmakers to vote for a
spending plan, piece by piece. Until and unless courts intervene,
Paterson may have come up with a powerful new weapon in his budget
brawl with lawmakers.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lawmakers can't wiggle out of furlough vote

How can you vote for a bill on the one hand but express displeasure with it on the other?

The state Senate took a shot at it today.

Without dissent, it approved a resolution asking Gov. David Paterson to withdraw a bill that would pay for the operations of state government for the next week and replace it with another one that would do almost the same thing as the bill that is now before them.

The key difference: the existing bill calls for a one-day-a-week unpaid furlough for 100,000 state workers until a new state budget (which was supposed to be adopted by April 1) is finally passed. The new bill, the senators hope, would delete the furlough provision.

The senators made this maneuver because they are between a rock - approving the furlough - and a hard place - shutting down state government.

“No one expects us to close down state government,’’ said Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Delmar, who represents Albany County, which has the thickest concentration of public workers in New York. He sponsored the amendment. “It would cause chaos.’’

That means that both the Assembly and Senate will adopt some time this evening the budget bill with the furloughs included, which Paterson says will save $30 million a week and help the state close its $9.2 billion budget hole.

But Breslin and the other senators will be able to tell the state workers that they at least tried a new way for another solution that didn’t include a furlough.

Paterson had no immediate comment, but has said he has no intention of withdrawing his furlough plan.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

League members want answers on reform proposals

More than 200 League members from as far away as Suffolk County and Buffalo were part of a crowd of greater than 300 people who gathered today in Albany to hear what legislative leaders and statewide elected officials plan to do to clean up state government.

Much of the discussion focused on redistricting, which will take place in time for 2012 elections. The process has been oft-criticized by the League and other reform groups because they see it as a tool to increase majority-party chances of winning more seats.

The heads of the Assembly and Senate majority legislative parties, Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan and Majority Leader John Sampson, D-Brooklyn, said they would look at any bills calling for a change in the process, which divides the Legislature and Congress into new districts based on the most recent census data. But they made no commitments.

Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, said he would back nonpartisan redistricting, even if his party wins back the majority in November.

Silver insisted that his party enjoys such a large majority in the Assembly (106-42) because there are so many more enrolled Democrats than Republicans in the state. He also said Democrats are better at attracting voters who aren’t enrolled in a party.

“Lassie could win a race in my district’’ if the canine of filmdom was a Democrat, he joked.

Gov. David Paterson, whose term expires at the end of the year and is not on the ballot for another one, said he hopes to negotiate an agreement on a new ethics bill before he leaves office.

Earlier this year he vetoed one passed by both houses because he said the enforcement powers weren’t strict enough. The League had urged him to sign it, on the theory it represented an advance over the status quo.

Besides Sampson, Silver and Skelos, Minority Leader Assemblyman Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, also attended, and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli gave an address and answered questions via a television link to New York City.

That left Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the presumptive Democratic candidate for governor this year, as the only legislative leader or statewide elected official not to attend. A staff member said he had a scheduling conflict.

The meeting, which was streamed live statewide over the Internet, was sponsored by Reinvent Albany, a new York York City-based reform group.