February 28, 2014

Hell Hath No Fury...(Part 3)

...like an economic development project scorned.

In the first two parts, I discussed the reactions of Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney and former Syracuse City Auditor Minch Lewis to a column by SU professor David Rubin, who had a few words to say about how it appears Syracuse is being treated by our Sonova Governor Andrew Cuomo when it comes to economic development cash.  Compared to Buffalo, and to Albany, it seems we're getting a different kind of attention. Rubin feels we're getting short shrift, and wasn't shy about saying so.

Assemblyman William Magnarelli (who happens to be my guy in Albany) represents Syracuse's Northside, Valley, West Side and Eastwood, as well as the towns of Geddes and VanBuren.  He's been in Albany for over a dozen years; he was also on the Syracuse Common Council.  Basically, he's a hometown guy who's devoted much of his life to public service.

He too took exception to Rubin's column, noting that he
was startled to read the column...which painted a misleading, inaccurate and distorted picture of Syracuse and Central New York's economy.
We have cranes in the sky, Magnarelli noted, and shovels in the ground.  He also specifically called out the CNY Biotech Accelerator at Loguen's Crossing, which opened early last year.  So far, that's the only development that's happened at the Loguen's Crossing site, although, according to Magnarelli
In addition to the accelerator, the Kennedy Square neighborhood now has new life, supported by state funds, as it is to be redeveloped with office buildings, residential and retail space...
Some of that remains to be seen -- we still don't know what COR Development and Upstate have planned for the site; we now know that at least for the near term, there won't be a stadium there.

Magnarelli pointed out that under the Cuomo administration, Central New York has received over $264 million, through the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council (REDC):
  • In 2011, our region received $103.7 million, including $3M for the Inner Harbor, $3M for the Syracuse Center of Excellence, $1.95M for the Biotech Center, and smaller amounts for 71 other projects across the region.
  • In 2012, we got $93.8 million; big winners were an expansion of the Syracuse Community Health Center ($3.1M), development of the Sibley's building, a key property connecting Armory Square and Salina Street ($2.5M); LeMoyne College medical product development labs ($2M), the Inner Harbor (another $1.5M), and Kennedy Square/Loguen's Crossing (another $1M).
  • In 2013, the award was $66.9 million. Among the larger projects are new facilities for Inficon ($3M), renovations of the vacant NYNEX building across from City Hall ($2.5M), the Inner Harbor ($1.3M), an expansion for GA Braun ($1.5M), the Inland Port project ($1M), a warehouse on the Near West Side ($1M), expanded facilities for Hanford Manufacturing ($1M). There were also a number of smaller awards. 
In the overall scheme of things, 264 million bucks is a lot of money to get in a short period of time, and it's a good thing that we're getting it.  Being a top performer two years out of three, some key opportunities for local businesses, and additional funding for some of our better known project like the Inner Harbor and, again, Loguen's Crossing, the proposed home for our no-longer-likely stadium project -- these are all good things. 

But Rubin's point was about the apparent disparity between what we're getting here and what the other areas are getting.  In that regard, here's how Buffalo and Albany did over the past three years:
  • In 2011, $100.3M to Buffalo, and $62.7M went to Albany
  • In 2012, $52.8M to Buffalo, $50.3M to Albany
  • In 2013, $60.8M to Buffalo, $82.8M to Albany

So, $213.9M to Buffalo, and $195.8M to Albany -- looks like were the big winner right?  Well, no.  The REDC money is in addition to to the Buffalo Billion and the Albany nanotech investments which are in the same billion-dollar neighborhood. Doesn't that look like a disparity?

Magnarelli went on to talk about the Lakefront plan, calling it "visionary" when it's really not. It's not completely without benefit -- there's a lot of money for infrastructure to help attract new businesses to the area -- but it does allocate about half of the money on a seasonal concert arena (think OnPAC, like CMAC or SPAC).  That, too was one of Rubin's points. Is a new concert venue (and a fair-weather one at that) going to help drive our economy forward, given the current state of our cultural affairs? It's a valid question.

We are making some progress, to Magnarelli's point - but like Minch Lewis before him, and Joanie Mahoney before him, he faults Rubin for not being a joyous go-along.
There are cranes in the Syracuse skyline, shovels in the ground in the Inner Harbor and a new energy. And for much of this, we can thank the state for its focus on this region. Instead of complaining and distorting the facts, we should be working together to build on the progress and continue to bring vital investments to Syracuse and Central New York. 
It's good to celebrate opportunities that are coming our way, but it's also good to maintain a healthy skepticism when politicians start throwing around tax dollars. It's good to get the dollars, but it's also good to challenge our leaders to make sure we're getting the most bang for those bucks.

The underlying theme that ran through all three parts of this series was the criticism that Rubin took for offering an opposing and, admittedly somewhat sarcastic, view on economic development in our area. He brought no shame or harm to our community by saying what he said, but instead got people talking, the dissenters and champions alike. I'd hazard a guess that more people heard of Loguen's Crossing in the past two months than at any time other than the first couple of days after the project was announced a few years back.

But in the final analysis, doesn't if feel a little like our politicians are afraid that Rubin's column may have had the potential to shut off the tap for Syracuse and Central New York, to damage our chances for future projects funded by Albany's largess?

I hope that's not the case -- because if it is, we are in much worse shape than Rubin ever imagined.

February 26, 2014

Brewer Just Says No

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed SB1062, the 'religious freedom' bill that made its way to her desk earlier this week.  The bill would have codified the right to discriminate against people on the basis of a deeply held religious belief.

In her comments, Brewer mentioned she's not heard of a single case in Arizona of a business owner's religious liberty being violated, making it seem the danger being addressed by the bill was neither clear nor present.  She also chastised the legislature for sending up this bill as the first policy bill of the session, when she made it clear her priorities were different.

She noted further that the bill was
broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences. To the supporters of this legislation I want you to know that I understand that long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before. Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes. However - I sincerely believe that SB1062 has the potential to create more problems that it purports to solve. And it could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want. Religious freedom is a core American and Arizonan value. So is non-discrimination. Going forward let's turn the ugliness of the debate of SB1062 into a renewed search for greater respect and understanding among all Arizonans and Americans. 
Hopefully, those who hold the extreme belief that government sanctioned discrimination is the umbrella they want to live under can see the error of their ways, and stop putting this type of legislation up for a vote.

At the same time, I'd like to think that there would be a reasonable consideration on the part of those most likely to have been discriminated against had this passed to stop and think about how they choose to make a stand.

The two examples of violation of religious liberty - a baker and a photographer, in two different states, who didn't want to participate in a gay wedding or a lesbian commitment ceremony - sort of got me thinking, and as usual, I suspect some folks will be mad at me for saying this, but I'm going to say it anyway.

I don't know about you, but I can't imagine wanting to spend a lot of time as I prepare to embark on happily wedded bliss trying to convince someone who has no interest in me to take an interest in me. Frankly, I would much rather spend my money with someone that appreciates me and my business than with someone who doesn't.

If you're Abercrombie and Fitch you don't want me as a customer, because you're right - I'm not one on of the cool 20-somethings you're catering to.  I can see that and I understand that and you'll never find me in that store.

I won't shop at Hobby Lobby either, for a couple of reasons. First, I don't like their merchandise; I also don't believe that employers should be expect that all of their employees subscribe to the same beliefs as the company does, and limit their benefits as a result. Further, they don't have a problem taking my money, without even asking if I subscribe to their beliefs - so they seem a little fickle on that, I think.

Truth be told, I'm currently engaged in one of those 'belief' conversations with my own employer right now, so I'm not afraid to fight the good fight. I'm also not afraid to walk away, and in the case of the baker and photographer, I really think I would have found someone else to help me with the wedding of my dreams.

Kudos to Jan Brewer for making the right decision, and to her point about searching for respect and understanding.  We can learn from both.

February 25, 2014

Yes, I'd Be Happy To Serve You

But first, do you mind if I ask you a few questions first?
  1. Are you single or married?
  2. If you're single, why aren't you married? 
  3. If you're married, are you married to a man or a woman?
  4. If you're not married, please describe your living arrangements. Do you live alone? With a roommate?  A friend? A friend with benefits? Life partner? Other? Is the roommate/friend/friend with benefits/life partner a man or a woman? If Other, please describe.
  5. Do you have any children? If yes, how many and what are their ages? If you do not have any children, why not?
  6. Are you employed? If yes, please provide verification of employment. If not employed, what do you do all day? 
  7. Have you ever had sexual intercourse for non-procreative purposes? Please describe.
  8. Did you vote in the last election? Do you typically Republican? Democratic?
  9. Are you currently wearing makeup?  If yes, why? 
  10. Have you ever had any surgical procedure? Was the procedure elective? Was the procedure cosmetic?
  11. Do you believe in vaccinating children?
  12. Please describe your views on abortion. In detail. Include specifics about vaginal ultrasound procedures, how long the grass can be at an abortion clinic, parental notification, number of abortionists that can be allowed within a 100-square mile area, number of protesters that can be allowed within six inches of a prospective abortion patient, how many visits a prospective abortion patient must have before having the procedure, and so on.  Leave no stone unturned on this one.
  13. Do you believe that infertility treatment is medically necessary? How about erectile dysfunction drugs?
  14. Do you believe that the government has the right to order parents or guardians to obtain medical treatment in any circumstance? If yes, please describe.
  15. Do you believe that the government can order artificial life support for a brain-dead patient, for any reason, against the wishes of the patient and/or the patient's family?
  16. Do you believe that the government can order artificial life support removed from a brain-dead patient, for any reason, under any circumstances?
  17. Do you own any guns? How many? What kind? Have you had a background check? If yes, when? Do you have a concealed carry permit?  Are you carrying right now? 
  18. When was the last time you attend worship services? Where? Describe your religion in 140 characters or less.
  19. If your faith includes confession, what was the last sin you confessed, and when?
  20. Have you ever received food stamps, welfare, housing assistance, Medicaid or any other unearned governmental benefit? Please explain. 
  21. Do you believe that women are subservient to men? Explain.
  22. Do you believe the government should subsidize faith-based schools, directly or through tax credits to parents of children attending the schools? If yes, at what grade level would this be appropriate?
  23. Do you believe that only a creche and a Christmas tree should be displayed on government property, and that Christmas is the only legitimate holiday celebrated in the month of December?
  24. Do you believe in the spiritual benefits of psychotropic drugs such as marijuana, peyote, psilocybin, and related substances? Have you ever used any such drug for spiritual or other purposes? Explain. 
  25. Do you believe in capital punishment? If yes, under what circumstances? If no, why not?
Please feel free to browse the store while I review you responses. Assuming all goes well,  I should be right with you. Oh wait, you have some questions for me too, before you decide if you want to do business with me?  Well, I guess that would be OK...

I'm not trying to make a mockery of anyone's religion, I'm making a mockery of government supported discrimination.  I'm making a mockery of laws the SB 1062 in Arizona, which as of this writing is pending a signature or a veto from Governor Jan Brewer.  I'm making a mockery of politicians like Steve Pierce, who voted for the bill before calling for a veto or repeal, because, like so many Republicans who denounce equality noted
I have friends that are gay, and I wouldn't do anything to hurt them.
This bill and others like it are being tagged with the rainbow flag, but they really would allow anyone to discriminate against anyone else for any reason they were able to describe as a deeply held religious belief.  Wiccans could discriminate against Jews who could discriminate against Catholics who could discriminate against Baptists who could discriminate against Mormons who could discriminate against Christian Scientists who could discriminate against atheists who could discriminate against Lutherans who could discriminate against deists, any of who could discriminate against me for living in sin with My Sweet Baboo, if they so chose, or against him for being divorced, if they so chose or for whatever reason they chose.

This fight is not about gays,  it's about PEOPLE.

It's about not making laws that say it's OK to discriminate against people, whether they're in a protected class or not.

It's about remembering that before we had protected classes, we had government-sanctioned discrimination.

It's about remembering that those days were not our brightest, most shining moment.

It's about not going backward in the name of  freedom.

Tuesday's Number: $326,975

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes the weekly business section. In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

Each week, I track health care related filings. I include anything that is clearly a debt owed to a hospital, nursing home, physician or physician group, medical supplier, and so on; I do not include filings by insurance companies, many of which are so diversified it would not be a fair assumption that the filing is related to medical care or health insurance.

·         This week, there were seventeen new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $317,824.

·         There was one satisfied judgments listed, for $9,151.

·         And, there were no health care related bankruptcies.

New this year, I’m tracking filings for each of the four Syracuse hospitals. Here’s the breakdown for this week:

·         Crouse had six, totaling $50,103
·         St Joe’s had none
·         SUNY Upstate had eleven, totaling $263,359
·         Community General, a part of Upstate, had none   

The paper publishes only those accounts of at least $5,000.

February 24, 2014

The Update Desk 2/24/14: Five Questions for Tom Dadey

Last week, I published a post with five questions for Tom Dadey, the chair of the Onondaga County Republican Committee.  I asked the questions after reading how Dadey had seemingly waffled on the issue of Donald Trump running for governor of New York.

Last fall, Dadey had made some comments about Trump just getting involved to stroke his own ego, or to sell shirts and ties, and how Rob Astorino was the real deal for Republicans.

Tonight, however, the State of Politics blog reports this statement from Dadey about Trump's upcoming visit to Syracuse:
I am thrilled to announce that Donald Trump has agreed to come to Syracuse and headline an event for the Onondaga Republican Committee.
Nick Reisman/State of Politics

 Donald Trump is an entrepreneur, business leader, and television personality - the three qualities needed to beat Andrew Cuomo in November but more importantly they are needed to turn around New York State. It is not secret that New York has been hemorrhaging jobs and losing families to other states because Andrew Cuomo would rather worry about his next election instead of worrying about a recent college graduate who can't find a job. We need a bold leader who will take on the status quo and get New York back on track - and Donald trump has all of the right qualities to do just that."
I have to admit, I'm struggling to understand how being a television personality is one of the qualities needed to turn around New York State; and struggling to believe for a moment that Donald Trump would set aside all of his business ventures including his strangely successful Celebrity Apprentice TV show (which, according to Trump's twitter feed, starts shooting in a couple weeks) to be our governor; and struggling to figure out how the R's are going to make it up to Rob Astorino when The Donald pulls his inevitable Emily Latella and says so long to the Republicans.

As for Tom Dadey, I guess he's answered my questions.

February 23, 2014

Hell Hath No Fury... (Part 2)

...like an economic development project scorned.

In Part 1, I talked about Joanie Mahoney's response (referred to as "fire-breathing" by the local paper) to SU professor David Rubin's commentary on how economic development dollars are being shared with Buffalo, Albany, and Syracuse. Rubin included a sharp rebuke to our Sonova Governor, Mahoney, and several Syracuse Common Councilors about the wisdom of the stadium project and/or  the Onondaga Lakefront development plans.

The second person to chime in on Rubin's column was Minch Lewis, our former City Auditor, who rose to the defense of Mahoney, the stadium plan, and the difficulty of doing economic development.

First, on Rubin's criticism of the stadium plan:
...Rubin refers to economic development from stadiums as "mindless pieties." He claims that there is evidence that economic benefits do not flow from stadium development. There are several studies related to public funding for sports facilities.They are concerned with financing for professional sports. But they do not apply to Syracuse where the goal is to support a nationally recognized collegiate athletic program. 
Notice anything? While faulting Rubin for using the 'wrong' studies, Lewis presents no 'right' studies supporting public funding for nationally recognized collegiate athletic programs. Absent any facts to the contrary, wouldn't the studies Rubin references be the current data on which our analysis should be based?

Here's the conclusion from one study I found after a quick search; to Lewis's point, it's not specific to college stadiums, but
There is little evidence of large increases in income or employment associated with the introduction of professional sports or the construction of new stadiums.
Rubin further noted that "it won't take long" to assess the value of the stadium project, pointing out that increased ticket prices for the same number of events played by the same two teams that currently play in the Carrier Dome is not really economic development.

Lewis counters with
In actuality, it would take a long time and is beyond Rubin's and my expertise. Such an evaluation would involve many inter-related economic factors. Simplifying it to "25 events" and an "increased in ticket and concession prices" is a disservice to the community dialogue. 
Again, are we to ignore what's happened on the North Side since the stadium was built?  The Regional Market is booming but NOT during ballgame hours, and NOT because of the stadium. The mall is doing well, but NOT because of the stadium. The community was promised use of the stadium for a number of days a year, for instance for concerts -- and THAT hasn't happened either. No hotels, no restaurants, no cool housing or funky retail, all the promised development and growth from that project? THAT hasn't happened either.

Maybe being downtown would make a difference and give us the opportunity to benefit from all of the spin-off development. That's what everyone thought all those years ago when the Chiefs stadium was discussed and the decision not to build downtown was made.

Maybe COR Development, who is already supposed to be turning the Kennedy Square area in to a mixed-use development in cooperation with SUNY Upstate, really would have built the other stuff that was to go along with the new project. There certainly hasn't been much of anything going on in that area since the announcement of the partnership with Upstate in December 2011.
Upstate and COR do not have specific plans for the site yet, nor a firm estimate of what it will cost to redevelop it...an office building will probably the first project built within the next two years. That would allow Upstate to reduce the amount of office space it leases.  (Dr. David) Smith said he expects the redevelopment to be paid for almost entirely with private funding.  The project will pay property taxes.
Ah - there's the rub.  Private funding and property taxes -- two things that are anathema to developers. Maybe COR will come forward and ask for public money and actually get something moving on that site now?

The second report I found on stadium development offers up a very nice summary of what the pro-funding and anti-funding sides claim about this type of project, and concludes with these cautions:
In negotiating whether or not to subsidize construction of a new stadium, it is important to consider whether or not the proposed stadium is sited and designed in a fashion that integrates the interest of the team, the neighbors, and the city at large. It is also important to ask whether or not this facility might be able to share in some of the infrastructure costs that the city might be ready to spend on projects, and how expenditures on stadium subsidies might integrate with other public interests. With these issues properly addressed, one will be better equipped at deciding whether or not subsidizing sports stadium construction in your locale fits within the greater interests of the constituents at play. 
I get the sense from everything I've read on the proposed deal that the conversations that did occur did not seem to include all of the "constituents at play." Certainly, not bringing in Mayor Stephanie Miner until the conversations were at least fairly well along seems ill-advised from a consensus-building perspective, if not politically incorrect. As I noted previously, I wonder how Joanie Mahoney would have felt had her neighbors all gotten together with a plan to re-landscape her backyard, without engaging her in the discussion.

 If you read this column by Sean Kirst from last June (perhaps he knew more than he let on at the time), you'll see he recommends bringing all of the constituents together, by way of a civic arena panel, to start a long-term discussion on how to more forward. Rubin pointed out that this didn't happen, and he was right.

Lewis went on to blast Rubin for exposing our region's truth: we have infrastructure issues, we have a struggling arts community, we have a number of facilities in need of repair already in our inventory.

Here's Lewis:
Further, statements about the deficiencies of our community's facilities are not smart marketing if we are trying to compete for more external business. The venues that Rubin refers to were state-of-the-art in their design. Along with Symphoria and all our cultural programs, they need additional resources. And state funding should be pursued. But the funds that would support the stadium or concern pavilion would come from a different source . Both should be pursued, not one at the expense of the other. (emphasis added)
Three comments on this:
  1. When did it become wrong for citizens to speak openly about our issues? Is that something that only politicians, former politicians or reporters can do?  Are we taxpayers not allowed to comment on the good, the bad and the ugly?
  2. Is 'smart marketing' pretending that the customers we're talking to are not paying attention? That they can't read? There's nothing that Rubin put forward that hasn't been said already, many times, by many people, including our own elected officials. 
  3. All government funding comes from the same source - taxpayer dollars. You can call them fees, or taxes, or surcharges, or tolls, or special assessments - but they're dollars that people and businesses pay. What bucket they come out of once they get to Albany or Washington doesn't really matter - the 'source' is still us. And we need elected officials, at every level, to be reasonable when spending them. Sometimes that means investing in old things instead of new; sometimes it'll go the other way.
Minch Lewis is a strong supporter of our region - that's clear based on his many contributions to the dialogue  over time. But he's also pointed out Syracuse's economic woes  and those of our regional economy in print.  Is David Rubin not allowed the same privilege?

Here are the final thoughts from our former City Auditor:
In conclusion, there are two lessons in this exercise. The first is that economic development is an extremely difficult task...many economic development projects have been funded in our area. But we still need more... In pursuing those resources our community's dedicated economic development specialists are facing the competitive challenges from other regions that have the same needs we do. Their efforts should be celebrated. Secondly, the community dialogue should be solidly rooted in analysis that is balanced and accurate. Then decisions that determine our future can be made through our official procedures and elected representatives. 
He's right. Economic development is hard, and we are all competing against each other, and we have gotten some projects, and we need to pursue more of them that will promote increased tax revenue (property tax or sales tax), encourage people to live and raise families here, and truly generate or enable additional economic development.

While it certainly bears noting that Mahoney and her team bounced back with the plans for opening up development on the west side of Onondaga Lake, now it will be up to a different set of elected officials - the ones in Albany, not the ones sitting in downtown Syracuse -- to put the proposal through our official procedures and reach a decision on  whether the funding will be approved.

One can only hope that their analysis will be balanced and accurate, and that they at least support those parts of the Onondaga Lake plan that offer the best opportunity for our future:  the $20 million for infrastructure improvements, $2 million for demolishing blighted properties, $1.8 million for road improvements, and the money for waste water treatment. Those are things that will make that part of the county ripe for development in ways that a seasonal amphitheater and water taxis can't.

February 22, 2014

Hell Hath No Fury... (Part 1)

...like an economic development project scorned.

There's been a flurry of public hand-slapping in response to the opinion expressed by SU professor David Rubin that Syracuse is getting the short end of the stick when it comes to Governor Cuomo's economic development handouts.  County Executive Joanie Mahoney (in part 1), former City Auditor Minch Lewis (in part 2), and State Assemblyman William Magnarelli (in part 3) have all chimed in.

Now I'm going to.

Rubin noted in his column, A Tale of Three Cities, that there seems to be quite a difference in what's happening in Buffalo and Albany compared to what's going on here in Syracuse and Onondaga County. Personally I didn't think the column was negative (although it did have a bit of sting). I agree with Rubin, looking at the Buffalo Billion particularly, that it seems we're not being offered (or else we're not taking advantage of) similar opportunities.

Rubin chastised Mahoney and Cuomo, as well as some members of the Common Council, for the stadium plan, and supported Mayor Stephanie Miner in her decision to say no. He also had some thoughts about the 'replacement plans' for the development along the west side of Onondaga Lake, with the amphitheater being the centerpiece of the project.

All of Rubin's attempted wit or sarcasm aside, even if  Mahoney disagrees with him, which she does, strongly, is this really the reaction you'd expect from someone in her position?
Public service is not easy...I think I speak for many when I say the abuse we take when we put ourselves out there to help our communities is annoying. The negativity is loud and you are just one of the many naysayers who stand back and throw stones from afar. Instead, why don't you pitch in to help? If you think you have ideas worth considering, why don't you throw your hat in the ring and get involved? Your column has caused real harm, not only to Syracuse University but to our entire community. I think you owe an apology to the members of the City council you insulted, to the Governor, to your employer and our entire region for your irresponsible words...
Those comments came at the end of her scathing reply to Rubin; here's the end of his response to Mahoney:
I am a columnist. Columnists and journalists "get involved" by asking questions, stimulating debate, and adding to the marketplace of ideas.  That is our role in a democracy. I would of course serve Onondaga County and the City of Syracuse in other ways if asked. I have never been asked (and I guess that option is now pretty much dead)...
I'm hoping that she at least cracked a smile at that last part. At the same time, I wonder what wrath might rain down upon my head for being a citizen with an opinion?

How exactly did Rubin's column cause real harm?  His words did not bring about the end of the stadium deal; nor did they cause any businesses to pack up and leave, nor did they likely scare any businesses away from coming here. In his commentary,I don't think he exposed a single fact or opinion that can't be found in a casual review of comments in any local media outlet's discussion forums. Truth be told, he was much kinder and gentler than many of those who comment anonymously.

His words will not have any impact on the proposed project for development on the west side of Onondaga Lake.  Those plans, considered visionary by some, are actually reflective of all of the ideas that have been tossed around since the 1920s. I'd suggest that the inability of government, businesses, and civic leaders to get a plan implemented over the past eight or nine decades, as well as changing winds of fortune, the global economy, free trade, climate change, rock and roll, and Miley Cyrus have done far more real harm here and elsewhere than Rubin's words earlier this month.

And those words certainly haven't damaged SU's reputation in any way. As the home of the Newhouse School,  SU should support not only Rubin's right to express his opinion, but also understand that not all of their 1,100 or so full- and part-time faculty would agree with the plan to move out of the Carrier Dome and into a challenged area of the city. I suspect many of the 21,000+ students and thousands of alumni - or current ticket holders for that matter - also weren't consulted and might also express disapproval, if given the forum Rubin has.

We can't all be politicians, but we are all entitled to our opinions. And in my opinion, throwing stones at someone for throwing stones is, well, kind of silly. I'm glad Rubin didn't apologize; had he, I wouldn't have accepted it.

I wish that Joanie Mahoney - someone I've supported in every election where I've had the opportunity - might consider apologizing to him and the rest of the people in this community who, like Joanie, have staked a claim here and who, like Joanie, want to make this a better place to live.

February 19, 2014

Consensus Commission Gets a Pass

There's a whole lot of government going on, going on -- if not a whole lot of governing -- in New York State, that's for sure.  At last count, there were around 10,500 separate jurisdictions, according to Governor Cuomo in his State of the State address. That includes counties, cities, towns, villages, fire districts, water districts, sewer districts, district districts...

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney mentioned consolidation in a live chat on Syracuse.com last week. Here's what she said.
Consolidation is a hot topic and we are talking on many fronts. Parks is part of that discussion. County parks are one of the things we do best in county government and if we can help the city or towns and villages, we want to. The discussion has been about an inter-municipal agreement and we are in the early stages. Ryan McMahon and Bob Dougherty are the two leads at this point.  Food for thought: We have (State Senator) John DeFrancisco, (Assemblyman) Bill Magnarelli, Ryan McMahon, Stephanie Miner and myself as former city councilors. It seems like as good a time as any to talk about how to do this in a way that protects everyone.
A state senator, a state assemblyman, the mayor, the county executive, the leaders of the county legislature - seems like they could figure something out, doesn't it? So then, why do we need the Consensus CNY group, which I learned about reading an editorial in The Post-Standard?

Here's what caught my eye:
The commissioners visited with the Editorial Board last week. We intend to hold them to their promises of real results. We urge them to be bold. Listen to the naysayers, but ignore the ones who put their self-interests above the community's. We urge them to include new voices in the discussion, not just the same old arguments from the usual suspects. 
Consensus commission? Are you wondering what the heck that is? Here's the explanation in a recent article.
So local government officials are teaming up with leaders from business, labor, schools, and neighborhood groups to figure out how to shrink the layers of public bureaucracy in Onondaga County. The group, called Consensus, plans to use the bulk of the money to hire a consultant. They plan to meet once a month and report their findings within the next 12 to 18 months.
The group, which was announced towards the end of January, already has a slick website, which identifies  the members (many of the names are familiar ones) and also the partner organizations, including Syracuse 20/20, CenterStateCEO, Focus Greater Syracuse, the local chapter of the League of Women Voters,  the Onondaga Citizens League, and the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of CNY.

Right off the bat, I'm confused. Why on earth would these high-powered civic leaders, wise businessmen and women, all these community organizations need to spend 'the bulk of" the $250,000 state grant that Senator DeFrancisco helped get, on a consultant to try and figure out what to do?  Isn't 'figuring out what to do' pretty much the mission of these organizations, some of which have been around since the 1990s, or even earlier?

And CenterStateCEO?  Heck, this organization itself was born from a consolidation: the merger of the Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce and the Metropolitan Development Association. When I see that they're part of a group that is going to spend a quarter-million dollars on a consultant, I'm left scratching my head, because I think they already know where to get the analysis done. Check out this snippet from the Message from the President on their website.
In a knowledge economy, smart regions prosper. CenterState New York is rich in intellectual resources, with the third highest concentration of colleges and universities in the nation.  In this region, there are 35 campuses educating more than 138,000 college students and conducting more than $2 billion in research and development annually.  
Uh, how about we tap into those colleges and universities, where we have people with no particular skin in the game, and send their best and brightest out across the county to come up with ways to solve our problems, as part of their course work?  Maxwell School anyone?

You don't have to go too far to find examples of where what we have today doesn't work well. For example, to the west, we find one fire department that has filed suit against, well, pretty much everyone: the town, the town board, the village where the fire department is located, the village trustees, the neighboring village, those village trustees, their volunteer fire department, their village fire department, another neighboring fire district, that board of fire commissioners, and their fire company, the second village's ambulance company, and Onondaga County. Had there been any reasonable consolidation in this neck of the woods, there likely would not even be a lawsuit.

And to the east, we have another village that, in the face of an almost 22% tax hike, is again trying to garner enough support to abolish the village police department and sign on with the town police. This was defeated a couple of years back, but that was before the tax hike. In the same village, on the other hand, the fire department is hoping to split off from the village, and - wait for it -- form their own district, which is the exact opposite of what's needed.  But imagine how this could look, if village residents were willing to consolidate or share police services with the town,and be better positioned to make a decision on their fire department.

Something's got to give, somewhere, somehow. Because, as the editorial noted, Onondaga County has 15 villages, 19 towns, 16 police departments and 55 fire departments. We have more heavy rescue trucks (40) than New York City (5), when we have 7.5 million fewer residents. This is no way to run a rodeo.

Frankly, I think the editorial board went easy on the Consensus commission; I'm surprised they're satisfied with it taking another 18 months or so to come up with a plan - and that's just the first step. Instead, I would have loved to see some encouragement to get this figured out faster, using readily available resources from within our knowledge community, and make something happen quickly.  Because either we figure out a way to consolidate and share services, or some of our Rubik's cube of jurisdictions may have to stop offering services all together.

When it gets to that point, will people look back and say, boy, I wish we had worked slower on this, and hired more consultants?

February 18, 2014

Tuesday's Number: $396,982

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes the weekly business section. In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

Each week, I track health care related filings. I include anything that is clearly a debt owed to a hospital, nursing home, physician or physician group, medical supplier, and so on; I do not include filings by insurance companies, many of which are so diversified it would not be a fair assumption that the filing is related to medical care or health insurance.

·         This week, there were twelve new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $377,996.

·         There were no satisfied judgments listed.

·         And, there was one health care related bankruptcy, for $18,986.

New this year, I’m tracking filings for each of the four Syracuse hospitals. Here’s the breakdown for this week:

·         Crouse had one, totaling $23,374
·         St Joe’s had one, for $5,462
·         SUNY Upstate had eleven, totaling $368,146
·         Community General, a part of Upstate, had none   

The paper publishes only those accounts of at least $5,000.

February 17, 2014

Here Comes Progressive Andrew Again

Well, I guess our Sonova Governor Andrew Cuomo must have worn his red pajamas again on Saturday night.

For a while there, he's been wearing his blue ones: balancing the budget, pushing for lower taxes, more jobs, smaller government, and the like - you know, those traditional Republican jammies. But rest assured, he's swung the balance back sharply to the left, with his proposal to provide a free college education to convicts at ten prisons, spread geographically across the state. (Seeing a theme here?  Regional economic development, regional casinos, regional prison college degrees -- at least you can't accuse him of keeping his head in New York City.)

Cuomo made his announcement yesterday, apparently hoping that everyone would be watching the Olympics or college basketball or golf or something, and not paying attention to pronouncements from on high (Albany) or down low (NYC).  Here's the opening couple of paragraphs of the press release, the second of which is Cuomo's quote:
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a new statewide initiative to give incarcerated individuals the opportunity to earn a college degree through funding college classes in prisons across New York.  Studies have shown that investing in college education for prisoners dramatically decreased recidivism rates while saving tax dollars on incarceration costs.  Those who earn a college degree while in prison are less likely to end up behind bars again, therefore decreasing the number of inmates in New York state prisons. 
"Giving men and women in prison the opportunity to earn a college degree costs our state less and benefits our society more. New York State currently spends $60,000 per year on every prisoner in our system, and those who leave have a 40 percent chance of ending back up behind bars. Existing programs show that providing a college education in our prisons is much cheaper for the state and delivers far better results.  Someone who leaves prison with a college degree has a real shot at a second lease on life because their education gives them the opportunity to get a job and avoid falling back into a cycle of crime."
Got that?

Paying $60,000 per year now, and adding another $10,000 to $15,000 for the two-and-a-half or three years it's going to take to earn the associates or bachelors degree, for folks who have done something criminal against another person (and by person I mean of course the breathing kind and the non-breathing kind like corporations, churches, charitable organizations and the like), OR has done something criminal against the government, such as cheating on their taxes and stuff, Or they've managed to get arrested for recreational drug use or texting or some other kind of distracted driving, or drinking too big a soda, or having too many bullets in their ammo clip. And before you yell at me, I know those aren't all Cuomo initiatives, but they fit into the theme of things.

So, how is this all going to work?

Well, we're going to ask for proposals from 'educational associations that provide college professors and classes in an accredited program' so the inmates can earn their degrees, which will help reduce our 40% recidivism rate and employ these bad guys and make them productive members of society and have them be better prepared for 'life after jail' as the Governor noted.

And to a certain extent it IS important that these folks are better prepared for life after jail. And there's probably some residual effect on you and me, the folks who live or work in a city, who like to frequent cultural activities, who like to go shopping at the mall, -- anyone who lives in an area where crime is common. It WOULD be nice if the ex-convicts in our midst were better prepared to coexist with us, and not look at my purse or My Sweet Baboo's back pocket as a target, our car as a shopping mall of small electronics, my bank as a smorgasbord, or any number of other things that criminals look at for whatever purpose.

And yes, I get that we're talking a very high percentage of minorities (49.2% African American, 24% Hispanic, 2.7% other, and 24.1% white making up our prison population, according to the Gov's press release). And I get that those communities are underachieving from an employment perspective generally compared to whites.  All of that is good data, and makes for a nice 'progressive' case that we need to do something to help.

BUT --  I maintain the following:
  • If you don't want to be a recidivist criminal, don't be a criminal -- the best way to not have to go back to prison is to not go there in the first place. 
  • If you don't want to be a criminal, spare no effort on, let nothing get in the way of, you becoming a high school graduate. Not only will staying in school help prepare you for life outside of prison, it'll help prepare you for that college education that people believe you'd deserve - if you were a prisoner.
  • If you're from a horrible background, or a horrible upbringing, or a horrible neighborhood, and you manage to get yourself to school every day, and graduate, YOU deserve money for a college education significantly more than the felon from down the block. 
  • And, not for nothing, if you're from a loving family, that nurtures you and your desire to learn, and makes you act respectably and responsibly and makes you do your chores and your homework and be nice to animals and old people and young people, YOU deserve the opportunity for a college education significantly more than the felon from down the block. 
We in New York spend an inordinate amount of time and effort and money trying to figure out how to pay for universal pre-K, because there's nothing more important than getting a good start. 

We spend an inordinate amount of time and effort and money trying to figure out why we are not performing as well as the rest of the world in providing an education to our young people. We trail in math, in science, in languages - pretty much across the board. We are the leader of the free world, and at least according to some statistics, we don't hold a candle to other countries when it comes to education.  That's sad, even if (as some have noted) the statistics aren't fair, or don't add up.

We complain ad nauseum about teacher salaries and benefits and how horrible it is that we pay them almost as much as customer service reps for the local utility company -- but less than what we pay someone to paint a car in a factory. We complain about curriculum, and test scores, and Race to the Top, and No Child Left Behind, all the while doing exactly what we cannot afford to do -- leaving children behind.

Here's a number for you, and it's a huge success story: in an article last December, former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the city's 2013 high school graduation rate had hit an all time high --  66% of students graduated, a 20% increase in only eight years. Good news -- we should be so lucky in the city of Syracuse -- but here's the crushing blow to the record high: only 46% of those who graduated were college ready.

And so I'm left wondering, if the majority of kids (or even any significant percentage of them) graduating from high school are not college ready, what the heck makes the governor think that our prison population is going to be college ready? How about we give them a cheap GED instead?

I may be crazy -- and I admit, I'm not a college graduate  -- but doesn't it make more sense to invest in our high school kids and prepare them for a life outside of jail, than it does to spend money on people who have already shown that they don't understand the rules or refuse to play by them?

Cuomo's press release includes this very important paragraph,which will probably get the least amount of attention:
Since the discontinuance of PELL and TAP grants in 1994 and 1995, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) has supported using private funds for post-secondary education for incarcerated individuals. To further enhance the college program, DOCCS developed a model in 2007 that established working partnerships between a correctional facility, a collegiate institution in the same geographic region, and an outside, private funding source. 
Um, what they said -- partnerships, private funds, all that thousand-points-of-light kind of stuff. NOT taking more taxpayer money and paying it forward to people who have shown they don't deserve it.

And while you're at it, do something about that $60K per prisoner annual cost. Heck, for that amount of money, we could get all of our prisoners an Ivy League education.  Maybe we should lower the bar there?

February 16, 2014

Five Questions for Tom Dadey

john tummino photo
Tom Dadey is the chair of the Onondaga County Republican Committee and is also the second highest Republican officer in the state.  As such, he's got some pull, even if he's not been able to accomplish much on behalf of his party here in the City of Syracuse, where I think we now have a total of zero city-wide elected officials who wear the Republican red.

While it's better in Onondaga County for the Republicans (County Executive Joanie Mahoney, DA-for-life Bill Fitzpatrick, and 13 of 17 legislators, for starters), Dadey notes that the Republicans struggle statewide, not having won anything in about a dozen years. He pointed this out the other day when talking with Teri Weaver, a state government reporter The Post-Standard.

The topic of Weaver's story was a meeting between Donald Trump and several county Republican chairs from across the state. Dadey pointed out that,
I believe the consensus in that room would be that if Donald Trump chose to run for governor, not only would it be a game-changer for the Republican Party, but he would be our nominee. I could see the Republican Party getting behind him.
He noted that Trump didn't ask for any endorsements, and there was no count to see if the chairs, who control the majority of the votes needed to get someone the nomination, would support him. And when asked if he would endorse Trump, Dadey was cagey more than anything else.
It's fair to say that I want the strongest candidate to run against Andrew Cuomo, the strongest candidate that the Republican Party can put forward. 
Spoken like a true politician, don't you think?

In addition to not asking for endorsements, the ever-blustery Trump also did not declare his candidacy; apparently what he's interested in (this week) is a united front against Cuomo. He has mentioned previously that he would only run if everyone was behind his candidacy, and he made that clear again at a fundraiser in Erie County on Friday.
You can't have people going in, knocking the hell out of each other in a primary, spending millions of dollars and then someone comes out wounded and limping... If they can't unify, I have other things to do.
Apparently echoing that sentiment, here's what Dadey said:
Because the focus needs to be on beating Andrew Cuomo. We don't need a primary. We haven't won a statewide rate since 2002.... There was a lot of support for Trump's candidacy today. 
However, not all that long ago, Dadey was expressing a different view of a Trump candidacy.  Back in October 2013, these were his comments, as reported on the State of Politics blog.
I like the idea of putting in a very successful businessperson to be our candidate. My fear with Donald Trump is he's doing this just to stroke his ego and make his TV show go higher. 
And,  even as recently as last December, Dadey was making statements like this, regarding Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, the most likely 'traditional' opponent to Cuomo:
Rob Astorino is the real deal and I believe he would be a formidable challenge for Governor Cuomo if he runs for governor. 
And when asked about Trump in that interview, he offered this, with a laugh:
Who? Now, is that the guy who throws his name out there so he can sell shirts and ties and always throws his name out there as a political opportunist? 
Now, as a party bigwig Dadey might get stuck supporting a Trump candidacy (pretending for a moment that The Donald is actually not just jerking people around), or maybe Dadey's being as cagey as Trump himself, I'm not sure. But it does seems he's changed his mind quite a bit from October expressing 'fear' and then December referring to an actual Republican politician as 'the real deal' to now.

So, here are five questions for Tom Dadey:
  1. Do you still believe that Rob Astorino is 'the real deal'?
  2. What do you know now about a potential Trump governorship that would alleviate the fear you expressed in October?
  3. If we were a few weeks past the new season premier of the Celebrity Apprentice, instead of a few weeks before it, do you think you'd even be talking about Trump giving up his ridiculously lavish lifestyle to become Governor?
  4. Andrew Cuomo has managed to balance New York's budget, reduce taxes, and devote billions of dollars in economic development across New York, most notably in Buffalo and Albany. He's also put forth a plan for tax-free job creation. Why, specifically, does the focus need to be on defeating him?
  5. Finally, the obligatory stupid and irrelevant question (remember Bill Clinton's boxers or briefs moment on MTV?): do you own any Trump shirts and ties?
I"ll share any response I receive. 

February 11, 2014

Tuesday's Number: $539,777

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes the weekly business section. In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

Each week, I track health care related filings. I include anything that is clearly a debt owed to a hospital, nursing home, physician or physician group, medical supplier, and so on; I do not include filings by insurance companies, many of which are so diversified it would not be a fair assumption that the filing is related to medical care or health insurance.

·         This week, there were eighteen new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $452,249.

·         There were two satisfied judgments listed, for $45,460.

·         And, there were two health care related bankruptcies, for $42,068.

New this year, I’m tracking filings for each of the four Syracuse hospitals. Here’s the breakdown for this week:

·         Crouse had three, totaling $31,579
·         St Joe’s had one, for $27,000
·         SUNY Upstate had eighteen, totaling $481,198
·         Community General, a part of Upstate, had none  

The paper publishes only those accounts of at least $5,000.

February 8, 2014

Channeling Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney
Did you ever wonder...

...if the Hobby Lobby folks (who are suing because having to provide certain contraceptive medicines as required under the Affordable Care Act violates their religious beliefs) should interview potential customers to see what the customer's beliefs are before allowing them to spend money in the store?

Because I'm kinda thinking that if the religious beliefs of the company's owner by extension also apply to all of the company's employees, I would think that they would also extend to the customers.

And there certainly would be no reason for a moral business to accept money from people who don't subscribe to the same beliefs, right?  I mean, if I don't agree with the business, why would they want my money?

Here's what that interaction would look like if I was the customer:
HL employee:  Thank you for coming to our store today.  Before I give you this shopping basket, I'd like to ask you a few questions, is that OK?
Me: Uh, sure, go ahead, but I really just wanted to pick up a couple of cheesy picture frames.
HL employee: No problem, we have lots of those.  But first, do you believe that it's OK for a woman to receive the morning after pill if she needs it?
Me:  I don't really think it's any of your business, and I'm not sure what that has to do with me getting a couple of cheesy picture frames from your store?
HL employee: Well, our owners believe that those medications are morally wrong, and we want to make sure that we don't take money from anyone who doesn't share the same beliefs. So to make it possible for our company owners to sleep at night, we need to ask this question of all our customers. Your money is important, of course, and we'd love to take it, but our company owners' beliefs are more important. 
Me: No problem, I completely understand.  I'll go get my cheesy picture frames from the Christmas Tree Shops. I think I remember seeing them right near the Christmas tampons and Christmas toothpaste. You have a nice day.
HL employee: Thanks for almost shopping at our store. You have a nice day too.
Yeah, that would be fun to do, wouldn't it? Or maybe instead of asking customers the question, the store could just post a sign on the window?  Let me know if that's happening at HL now, will you? I went to the store once, long before this whole 'my religion is your religion' issue came up, and finding nothing to buy, haven't gone back.  Although I certainly would give them credit for honesty if they did something like this.

Speaking of honesty, remember the wing-flapping over Chik-fil-A and their support of anti-gay programs and charities over the years? Here's a compilation of issues if you're interested. There's been a lot of noise about these folks, particularly when the head of the company tweeted his thoughts last summer after the SCOTUS released its decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California's Proposition 8.

In a refreshing burst of of honesty, here's what the company said about the (now-deleted) tweet:
Yesterday, President and COO of Chik-fil-A Dan Cathy tweeted a personal comment upon hearing the Supreme Court decisions on DOMA and Prop 8.  Dan recognizes his views do not necessarily represent the views of all Chik-fil-A customers, restaurant owners, and employees so he removed the tweet to eliminate any confusion. At Chik-fil-A, we are focused on providing great-tasting food and genuine hospitality to everyone. 
Good for Chik-fil-A for appreciating the difference between the owner, the people who work there, and the customers who eat there.

And, did you ever wonder...

...why so many of us, particularly those who scream and shout about getting government out of business, and letting the free market rule the world (with corporate welfare contributions, of course) get so up in arms when a business does what it wants without a lot of interference from the government?

We all know about the Duck Dynasty case, where the A and E Network decided to put the main Duck Dude on suspension because of his intolerant comments about gays and happy black people in the deep south. Suspension, while the show was on hiatus. Which is kinda like the fraternity on Animal House being on double secret probation or something. Or, as I noted previously, like a baseball pitcher being suspended and having games they were officially scheduled not to pitch count towards their suspension.

I'm guessing you've heard the news from CVS/pharmacy, the nation's second-largest well-stocked corner store that happens to have a pharmacy in the back. Like any good corner store, they have all the stuff we need -- sunglasses, sugary and salty/crunchy treats, personal hygiene items for folks of all ages, beer, cigarettes and what not.

Oh yeah, and they have that pharmacy, and they also do flu shots and the like, which in their business model qualifies them as a health care provider. And if you're a health care provider, it doesn't make sense to sell cigarettes. So, CVS  has announced plans to phase out tobacco products by October of this year. Let the games begin, folks.

A classic 'you can't win for losing', they are getting hammered as much as they're being supported, in some cases by the same subset of the population: doctors, business experts, college students, and of course the anonymous chatterboxes on social media.
  • You've got the "I'll never shop there again, the bastages, since they took my cigarettes away" theme, as if there weren't a gazillion places to get smokes if you need them. Some 90% of all cigarette sales happen at convenience stores, people, not at CVS and Walgreen's.  And probably some 90% of CVS customers don't get their cigs at CVS.
  • Then there's the "what about beer and junk food?" contingent, as if a person (and by person I mean corporation, of course) who makes one positive step deserves to be chastised for not making a million positive steps at the same time.  Can you even imagine the audacity of them, the bastages, not emptying their shelves EVERYTHING? Right NOW?!
  • Then there's the 'Nanny state' group, those who believe this is some kind of black-helicopter, NSA-type plot, part of the government take-over our lives. As if this was done by law, edict or fiat, by some Obaman stroke of the pen. This was a business decision, not a government regulation. This was a company decision, not a Bloomberg big gulp chomp out of your personal freedom.
  • And that of course leads to the next contingent, the people who question the real motive of CVS in making the decision. Some folks don't believe that this has anything to do with 'health care' and totally has to do with marketing and trying to be more competitive.  
Um, does it really matter why they're doing it?  I mean, if they had come out and said, "after much soul-searching, we bastages at CVS have decided to change our business model and stop selling cigarettes so we would look more like Target" would that make you happy?

If you think they're bastages for stopping selling tobacco, you have the right to stop shopping there, just as a person has the right to stop buying lunch at Chik-fil-A or shopping at JC Pennney or Abercrombie or  watching the Duck Dudes or stop buying knick-knacks at Hobby Lobby.

And that leads me to wonder about the deafening silence from the folks who are always Right There in support of businesses making changes on their own, without being forced to make them, without the government getting involved. Where the heck is Sarah Palin on this?  I checked her Facebook page, but she's pretty busy promoting her new TV show and wishing Ronald Reagan happy birthday, so she probably doesn't have time to jump in here in favor of free enterprise.

Where's John Boehner, chest-thumping and sobbing his eyes out, championing the 'certainty' that CVS has put out there in the market? That's what the Republicans in the House have been crying about for the past five years, isn't it?  The 'lack of certainty' that Democrats made happen?  Well, Crying John is focused on immigration, and the IRS, and the Keystone extra-large pipeline, not on free-market business certainty, apparently.

And Mitch McConnell? He supports "insurance policies tailored to those with preexisting conditions, promoting wellness and reigning in junk lawsuits" in this post on his website. I think the CVS move hits all three of those right on the head, don't you? Smokers with lung disease, cardiovascular disease and other smoking-related health issues fall right in his first bucket, and stopping cigarette sales is in the second bucket, and everyone knows that tobacco lawsuits are junk, right?  This is right up his alley, but he's a little busy focusing on getting the IRS to stop investigating 501(3)(c) organizations and on getting support for hemp-growing in Kentucky to pay attention to CVS right now, I guess.

Did you ever wonder if some of these folks are really just self-serving opportunists? Here's a thought: if CVS had made even the remotest connection to religion in their decision, these three would be all over this.

Let me know what's got you doing the Andy Rooney thing these days.

February 4, 2014

Tuesday's Number: $219,236

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes the weekly business section. In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

Each week, I track health care related filings. I include anything that is clearly a debt owed to a hospital, nursing home, physician or physician group, medical supplier, and so on; I do not include filings by insurance companies, many of which are so diversified it would not be a fair assumption that the filing is related to medical care or health insurance.

·         This week, there were twelve new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $182,276.

·         There were two satisfied judgments listed, for $36,960.

·         And, there were no health care related bankruptcies.

New this year, I’m tracking filings for each of the four Syracuse hospitals. Here’s the breakdown for this week:

·         Crouse had six, totaling $86,206
·         St Joe’s had none
·         SUNY Upstate had seven, totaling $128,000
·         Community General, a part of Upstate, had none  

The paper publishes only those accounts of at least $5,000.

February 2, 2014

Onondaga Lake: All Our Old Ideas are New Again

D. Lassman/syracuse.com photo
Is your head still spinning from the Sonofa Governor Bus Tour through Solvay and Geddes last week?

Do you wonder what on earth is going on with plans for 'economic development' in the CNY area,  now that Andrew Cuomo and Joanie Mahoney are BFFs, or at least BFFAW (best friends for a while)?

I can assure you I'm afflicted by both the spinning and the wondering. I mean, how do we go from a half-a-billion downtown stadium project to a tenth-of-a-billion outside-the-city lakefront development project so quickly?

To a certain extent, it's because JoAndrew (like Brangelina, get it?) are people of vision, who are not afraid of bold ideas, and who like to work quickly. And we've learned they also share an affinity of talking first to the people who they're sure will agree with them (or can be cajoled into agreeing with them), and sometime after that, talking to other people must of us would to be key stakeholders.

You know, like Andrew did getting the SAFE Act pushed through (with many perfectly acceptable provisions, I might add), but without the support of most law enforcement officials in the state, or many of the politicians who are charged with being the voice for their constituents. And like Joanie almost did when she tried to put a huge project in Stephanie Miner's backyard without talking to her about it.

I remain supportive of the mayor's position that anything worth doing is worth doing right -- and I believe that's true for the lake project as well.

Here's what JoAndrew have proposed:
  • $50 million for a 17,000 seat amphitheater overlooking the lake
  • $20 million to develop 'future business sites', including brownfield cleanup
  • $10 million for senior housing and encouragement of other housing in Solvay
  • $14 million ($7 million each) for improvements to Bridge Street and 'main street' work in Solvay
  • $3 million to complete the mixed-use trail around the lake
  • $1.8 million for roadwork at Milton Ave and Bridge Street, and street-scaping on Cogswell Ave
  • $1 million grant money for new business development in a targeted area
There's also some money for water taxis to go from the Inner Harbor to the newly developed area. Those would likely see use quickly, assuming someone jumps at the chance, because Mahoney believes the amphitheater will completed in the fall of 2015 (apparently after the summer concert season, and assuming no delays).

The county is already on board for $500,000 for studying the plan, coming up with a design contest or something, and for $2.5M in annual contributions from our anticipated gambling deliverance (another deal done the Cuomo way, vis a vis the negotiations with New York's casino-owning Indian tribes.) And Cuomo included $30 million of the total plan in his 2014 budget, part of over $5B in borrowing he's proposing.

I haven't seen anything on who will manage the amphitheater, and think it's more than a bit murky as to how this will impact the State Fair across the street, and it's 17,000-seat, grossly-underused and poorly-managed grandstand. Here's Cuomo on that question; it'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out.
I don't know if it will replace the Grandstand. But this project, the amphitheater component of it, will no doubt enhance the State Fair. And it'll be another venue for the State Fair and it'll make the State Fair much more competitive on entertainment events.
Uh huh.

So, how do these plans stack up against some of the other stuff that was dreamed up in the past? Well, back in November 2012, there was a fantastic article written by Paul Riede that recapped some of the ideas that have been proposed over the years for Onondaga Lake.

And by "over the years" I mean going back to the 1920's, folks.  We've been at this a LONG time. Take a look:

  • Bathing beaches, fishing and canoeing; horse trails; playing fields and crew races; an aerodrome and aviation school at Lakeview Point (proposed home of the amphitheater), and a seamless connection between the Fairgrounds and the lake, all of which would draw "thousands of Onondagans and hundreds of thousands of tourists". ~ Joseph A Griffin, chairman of the Boulevard-Parkway Committee, 1928.
  • An 18-hole golf course, restaurant, and recreation area at Lakeview Point; an aquatic stadium and theater (for watching sports and other events)' a botanical garden; parade grounds; baseball and football fields, and more development on the north end, including beach, bathhouse, playing fields, etc. ~Madigan-Hyland engineering company report, 1952.
  • A seasonal performing arts center (again at Lakeview Point), along with a floating natural history and environmental center, a water-sport training and activity center (capable of accommodating US Olympic teams!), and access to these venues by water taxi. ~Onondaga Lake Development Plan, a joint effort of the MDA Foundation, the State's Urban Development Corp., the county Industrial Development and the City of Syracuse, 1991.
  • A 150,000 square foot expo center, complete with indoor waterfall; a hotel; a restaurant tower rising 400 feet above the lake (the OnTower, like the Oncenter?), and room for more cool stuff (waterpark, 'Agriworld', which I'm guessing is some sort of farming/amusement thing, and a rodeo), all predicated on getting rid of the wastebeds at, you guessed it, Lakeview Point, so that the Fairgrounds and lakefront could be better connected. ~Michael Nowak, late local architect, 2000. 
  • Re-routing I-690 to the other side of the Fairgrounds, or depressing it (similar to I-81 on the north side) and using overpasses to connect the Fairgrounds to the lake, making room for parks, a hotel and  restaurant, and a year-round mini-amusement and theme park.~ Syracuse Waterfront Revitalization Plan, 2000.
  • A world-class 18-hole golf course on the southern shore of the lake. ~Bob Congel, Syracuse developer and master of the economic development money game,  2002.
  • Hotel, theme restaurants, marina, parking and office buildings on Lakeview Point; offices in the Harbor Brook area (also on the west side of the lake) and a wind farm and vineyard on some of the other wastebeds. ~O'Brien & Gere, 2005. 
  • A $450M giant hotel -- 640 feet tall, over 1,300 rooms - designed to be the tallest building outside of New York City. ~Congel again, in 2007. 
  • A 600-foot wide strip of land across the lake at the southern end, with a shop- and restaurant-lined road down the center, which would form an area for fishing and boating piers; a 200-foot extension of the lake on the southeastern side for the loop trail and residential development, and a Haudenosaunee museum. ~David Ashley, retired founder of Ashley-McGraw Architects, 2012. 

I'm not sure about you, but does all this "extraordinary" and "visionary" stuff sound familiar? 

Onondaga Lake/sue drummond photo
Seems we have a consistent problem, going back three generations or so: we have lots of ideas (or, it appears, the same handful of ideas over and over again), but we apparently don't have the money (or the stomach) for bringing those ideas to fruition. 

We've had citizens' groups and governmental agencies individually or collectively, we've had private developers and heck, even private citizens come up with plans.  And yet... here we sit, bold ideas in hand, all these years later, even as the sun shines down on the projected area of development, as it did in my picture from New Year's Day 2012.

Will JoAndrew be successful, where so many have failed?  Stay tuned.