in an Unfinished Sort of Way
New York state lawmakers really delivered the budget on time—or
is it just their little April Fool’s Day joke?
Has an On-Time Bud- get,” proclaimed the front page of one
local newspaper on the morning of April 1, claiming that lawmakers
“beat the clock” by reaching agreement on the upcoming year’s
budget before their end-of-month deadline. Variations on this
same announcement crowded the front pages of nearly every
newspaper in the state, their stories using such descriptors
as “historic” and “startling” to describe the event.
In most states, meeting such a deadline is little cause for
celebration—let alone front-page headlines—but in New York,
legislators have treated deadlines in the budget process as
midpoints rather than finish lines for more than 20 years.
And despite this longstanding disregard for the state’s financial
guideposts, there have been few complaints from the constituents
of the state’s elected officials—at least not the sort registered
in voting booths, where dissatisfaction tends to receive the
most attention. Each year, for more than two decades, the
deadline has passed with a shrug of the shoulders from lawmakers
and constituents alike. By the time the next election loomed,
the sins of the past were forgotten and most incumbents were
Then came 2004, a year featuring the release of highly publicized
studies on state government effectiveness (in which New York
faired very poorly), a slew of reform-centered campaigns and
sudden media attention on the state government’s dysfunction.
Though most incumbents still retained their seats in last
year’s elections, a chorus of closer-than-anticipated races
and several unexpected upsets echoed throughout the Capitol.
So, with another election year looming in 2006, lawmakers
buckled down and gave their constituents what they wanted:
an agreement (with time to spare) between the Republican Senate
and the Democrat Assembly on the state’s spending practices.
Or did they?
have a complete budget,” announced Senate Majority Leader
Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick) last Friday, only to add later
on that, “some discussions are ongoing.”
Among those “ongoing” discussions are many of the funding
issues that have repeatedly stalled budget negotiations in
the past, allowing New York to attain the longest streak of
late budgets in the nation. While the Senate and the Assembly
were able to reach an agreement on around $105 billion of
spending for the upcoming year, some of the most hotly contested
funding issues, to the tune of around $1.5 billion, remain
In the past, such issues were determining factors in completion
of the state budget, with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver
(D-Manhattan) notoriously avoiding discussion of other parts
of the budget until the two halves of the Legislature had
reached agreement on the most controversial aspects of their
spending plans. Once these differences had been overcome,
the rest of the budget often fell into place quickly. This
year the routine was turned on its head, however, as lawmakers
prioritized negotiation of many of the issues they were close
on from the beginning and postponed their more formidable
These areas of early agreement include more than $180 million
in increased fees for motor vehicle owners—such as hikes in
title fees and all-terrain-vehicle registration—and continued
taxation of clothing items costing less than $110. Such clothing
had once been exempted from the state sales tax, but this
tax break was suspended “temporarily” in 2003 and has yet
to return. The Legislature’s budget proposal also raises taxes
on mortgages and increases the state’s spending on education
by more than $800 million.
Early agreement on this aspect of the Legislature’s spending
plan—$322 million more than Gov. George E. Pataki had initially
proposed for education in his executive budget—likely will
be a pleasant surprise for schools, as late state budgets
force schools to calculate their own budgets without the benefit
of knowing how much funding they’ll receive from the state.
Homeowners’ minds might be eased by this early agreement,
too, as a definitive level of state funding will allow schools
to better gauge how much funding they’ll have to draw from
local homeowners for the coming year.
The Legislature also rejected several aspects of the governor’s
spending proposal outright, including a $500 tuition increase
for state and city colleges, cuts in the Tuition Assistance
Program and a schedule of annual tuition increases for future
students. A higher tax on wine sales also was rejected, as
well as the governor’s proposal to eliminate sales tax on
energy-efficient appliances—a move that has angered some environmental
groups. Differences between the governor’s spending perspective
and that of the Legislature were most apparent in the area
of health-care funding, as the two entities remained far apart
in their approaches toward handling the local costs associated
with Medicaid and nursing homes.
The governor has until April 12 to veto portions of the Legislature’s
budget proposal and send lawmakers back to the bargaining
table—an option that only adds further doubt to the “finished”
classification of the budget.
Also among the hanging uncertainties is that pesky $1.5 billion
that the Legislature couldn’t find agreement on and decided
to put off. This piece includes $1.1 billion in federal welfare
funding for children, $150 million in funding for the state’s
Environmental Protection Fund and more than $200 million in
federal funding for election-system reform. The money for
election reform is in significant jeopardy, as this is the
second straight year that lawmakers have been unable to move
past their party lines and find agreement on reforms to the
state’s voting system, and New York stands to lose this chunk
of federal money if the impasse remains [“Mired in the Machines,”
Newsfront, March 17].
Additionally, a recent court decision that requires an increase
in funding for New York City schools by $5.6 billion each
year was also ignored in the Legislature’s budget, as the
order is currently being appealed by Pataki.
Still, according to Bruno, the Legislature’s pseudo-budget—in
all of its unfinished, negotiable glory—represents the best
efforts of state lawmakers at living up to the responsibilities
of their positions. This budget, he said during a recent appearance,
is a “testament” to the state Legislature.
And in that, the local lawmaker may have uttered one of the
most honest statements of this April Fool’s Day.
Pays Off, But Not for You
Supporters of Terri Schiavo’s parents can expect
to see their e-mail inboxes filling up with offers
for hotels and prescription drugs, requests for
donations to anti- abortion campaigns, and other
spam messages in the near future now that the
parents’ long list of financial supporters has
become the property of Response Unlimited, a direct-
marketing firm. Bob Schindler, Schiavo’s father,
agreed to let the conservative marketing agency
rent out the list of donors’ e-mail addresses
to other mass-mailing agencies after Schiavo’s
death as part of a previously arranged deal to
send out pleas for monetary support on Schindler’s
No Need for Lights When You’re Glowing
A disturbing discovery has several nuclear watchdog
groups petitioning the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
regarding New York’s Indian Point Nuclear Power
Plant and other nuclear facilities around the
nation. According to the groups, a loss of power
at Indian Point and other plants will also disengage
the facilities’ emergency sirens, causing drastic
results if a power loss occurs simultaneously
with a radiation- related emergency. The groups
contend that the NRC is both unaware of vulnerable
sites and too lax in enforcing the required improvements.
The problem could be solved, they say, by setting
up “off the grid” backup power systems.
It’s That Time Again
Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings kicked off his campaign
for reelection last week, describing himself as
a ”tough-minded fighter” for the city. Among the
groups that turned out to offer their support
for Jennings were a number of local real-estate
and development firms—groups that have benefited
significantly from the constant state of construction
around the city. Amid chants of “four more years,”
Jennings described his critics—which include the
grassroots, multicultural coalition that played
a major role in community-minded District Attorney
David Soares’ recent election—as “those that reach
out to divide this city for their own political
purposes.” Jennings’ announcement came just days
after four local residents claim to have witnessed
him driving around Albany while chatting on a
cell phone—a charge which his aide, Joe Rabito,
High Water and There’s High Water
much of the state, and even nearby neighbors in Rensselaer
County, suffered from serious flooding this weekend, other
areas were barely touched. This stretch of the swollen Hudson,
taken Sunday, may not look flooded at first glance, though
it has covered the entirety of the boat launch in the Corning
in Our Cities
Rev. Craig French, president of ACTSyracuse, weilds a ketchup
bottle symbolizing New York’s 57 counties, 56 of which are
losing population density in their metropolitan centers. ACTSyracuse
was one five regional organizations sponsored by the Gamaliel
Foundation that gathered in Albany on Tuesday (April 5) to
announce a statewide network focused on improving the economic
future of core cities and population centers.
The groups, including the Capital Region’s ARISE, have congregations
as members and focus on regional economic justice [“Tech City,”
Newsfront, Nov. 26, 2003]. The statewide effort will focus
on “the interdependence of urban centers, main streets, suburbs,
rural areas and open spaces” and takes as a core principle
that “fiscal responsibility requires that development should
first occur within established urban and suburban population
centers where essential infrastructure already exists.” They
also want to make sure the poor, minorities, and residents
of distressed neighborhoods are at the table.
So some organized congregations have come to the sprawl issue
(though without calling it that). What might they recommend,
policywise? The group has been working with author David Rusk
[“Think Regionally” in “Schenectady Outside the Box,” Jan.
6], and his criticisms of fragmented, “little box” government
were echoed by Deb Baumes, president of ARISE, at the press
conference. Expect to hear the terms “regional” and possibly
“tax-sharing” a fair amount in the near future.
a lot more to this than money. If it’s money I
wanted I could take a bottle of valium and sell
pills on the street corner. That’s not what I
got a license for.”
pharmacist on the phone with a customer who was
apparently trying to offer “something extra” to
get a prescription filled without his doctor’s
out: Dennis Karius.
of Whose Domain?
radio host falls prey to copyright hysteria—without ever violating
Karius, a former host of The Portside on WRPI public
radio, recently found out just what sort of a climate of fear
the recent media and legal attention to copyright violations
has spawned. Earlier this year, he lost his radio show as
a result of airing audio that he recorded off his television
The WRPI Executive Committee, which does much of the decision
making for WRPI, heard from someone (not C-SPAN) who heard
Karius’ Jan.19 show, saying that he improperly used material
from C-SPAN. At a meeting of the E-Comm about a week later,
the committee voted for his permanent removal as a result
of “gross violation of federal copyright law and consequently
Feb. 1, Karius was informed of E-Comm’s decision via an e-mail
message from the president of WRPI, Jeremy Kaufman. Kaufman
made it clear that Karius was physically banned from the WRPI
station and that neither the cancellation of The Portside
nor his banishment would be under review. Karius would be
allowed to explain his actions after the fact, but did not
get a chance to present a defense before his removal. Until
the day he was informed, he did not realize that any problem
Immediately, Karius began contacting his scheduled guests.
Then he set to researching copyright law. He is convinced
he did not commit any offense by airing the excerpt. National
copyright experts, and even C-SPAN’s own policies, say the
Anything with a government representative speaking is considered
public domain, especially anything that comes from the Congressional
press gallery. Since the audio Karius used was a clip of Condoleeza
Rice’s nomination questioning, featuring Senator Barbara Boxer
of California, it was public domain. Public domain refers
to something that lacks copyright or patent, and can be used
by anyone however they wish.
Taxpayers pay for the House and Senate to be wired. The audio
is sent to a radio-television gallery, where it is available
for the press to record and transmit. The process is coordinated
so that the members of the press may plug into this audio
and essentially share the same information, thus keeping the
floors of Congress open to the people. Journalists, radio
hosts, even academics, often use public-domain material in
a big difference between airing the words of our members of
congress and airing, say, a Michael Jackson concert at Pepsi
arena,” Karius said. Rice’s speech on the floor of the House
and Senate is in essence owned by the people.
C-SPAN does not dispute this. “The audio of the House and
Senate is obtained from the House and Senate. We do not make
a copyright claim on this audio,” C-SPAN representatives said
in an e-mail message to Metroland. What is protected
is their process of distributing. “C-SPAN’s transmission of
this signal is protected by law and cannot be intercepted
for the purposes of retransmission.”
Siva Vaidhyanathan, assistant professor of Culture and Communication
at New York University and author of Copyrights and Copywrongs,
also said there is no problem with recording the audio and
airing it. “The legal restriction has to do with stealing
cable service—tapping into a direct stream,” said Vaidhyanathan.
“It’s a very different restriction than copyright.”
As long as the material Karius recorded and aired is within
the public domain, he is free to use it as a radio host. “He
did what any citizen can and may do. C-SPAN is our only source
of the sounds of Congress, so we should feel free to use it
for reporting and commentary,” Vaidhyanathan said.
E-Comm claimed at the time that Karius used the C-SPAN webstream
to air the audio. When asked to comment later, Kaufman said
he thought it may have been recorded from television, but
he couldn’t be sure. Karius was never given a chance to tell
E-Comm where the material came from, something he said he’d
have been happy to do.
On March 15, the New York Civil Liberties Union Capital Region
Chapter sent a letter to the president of RPI, Shirley Ann
Jackson, with a copy sent to WRPI, with its concerns about
Karius’ lack of due process in the matter. Though RPI is a
private institution and WRPI has the right to cancel Karius’
show at any time, the NYCLU would like the school to show
the same respect to its radio hosts that an individual would
receive under the laws of this country. As executive director
Melanie Trimble stated, “[Karius’ removal] lacked any procedural
due process, which an educational institute should certainly
President Jackson is currently out of the country leading
a delegation to Asia, and has not yet responded to the letter.
Much of the WRPI Executive Committee is composed of RPI students
who are not necessarily experts in the field of Federal Copyright
Law. Indeed, Kaufman seemed confused about what was specifically
violated and how, but said, “It is our interpretation, as
well as the interpretation of RPI’s legal counsel and a lawyer
specializing in communication, that the material aired by
Dennis was a violation of C-SPAN’s intellectual property rights
even though we are a public radio station.”
Karius said he understands why E-Comm was hypervigiliant.
He said he did not want to damage WRPI’s reputation, and is
still a supporter of the station. In Karius’ opinion, the
reaction to his show was perhaps caused by the ever-increasing
sensitivity of information and copyright issues. “I feel they
overreacted, but I don’t fault these students. E-Comm reacted
like any board of trustees who were just entrusted with a
precious institution,” said Karius.
Karius isn’t just going to let the issue drop, however. He
sought advice from an attorney with the National Lawyer’s
Guild who, like Vaidhyanathan—and C-SPAN—disputes WRPI’s legal
claims. He said it’s less about getting his show back, and
more about pointing out the climate of paranoia these issues
The value of public speech on our airwaves and the importance
of keeping our government branches in check can’t be overlooked,
said Karius. He said that since most Americans cannot listen
to all of C-SPAN’s “gavel to gavel” coverage, someone has
to pick out and present to people important segments of interest.
Being able to make people aware of what the government is
up to by means of media is a constitutional right, said Karius,
and he doesn’t want to see it dissolve. “I think I can do
more good by empowering others to do what I did.”
Over the Falls?
years after its license expired, a Cohoes hydro plant has
its first public hearing, as a latecomer struggles to have
its more ambitious alternative considered
hydropower plant at School Street in Cohoes is nearly 100
years old. When its current federal license expired, George
H.W. Bush was president and the plant was owned by Niagara
Mohawk. Its license wasn’t renewed because a coalition of
environmental groups filed suit to block it, and several other
plants, from receiving the needed state water-quality permit.
Among their concerns: The current dam leaves a mile of the
Mohawk river and the historically significant Cohoes Falls
dry most of the year, and the plant’s turbines chew up unacceptable
amounts of fish, especially migrating blue-back herring.
Since 1991, the plant has kept operating on one-year extensions
while the groups that filed suit went through settlement processes
to come to acceptable relicensing terms for the projects “basin
by basin.” The projects were done one by one because of limited
resources to conduct the necessary studies, and so there would
be no horse-trading between improvements on different rivers,
said Bruce Carpenter, executive director of New York Rivers
United, a party to the original suit.
By the time the process got around to Cohoes—one of the last
to be addressed—the plant had changed hands several times,
most recently to a Canadian company, Brascan, which owns 72
hydro plants in New York state. No changes or improvements
had been made to the plant’s environmental functioning.
A lengthy settlement process involving the original parties
to the lawsuit—New York Rivers, several state agencies, other
environmental groups—came to a conclusion in December. The
settlement calls for 100 to 250 cubic feet per second to be
released over the falls, increasing to 500 cfs during the
day on summer weekends and holidays. (Free flowing, the river
would send around 800 cfs over the falls in the middle of
the summer and tens of thousands in the spring.) The settlement
involves some improved fish diversion measures, creation of
cultural amenities around the falls, and cleanup of PCBs in
the diversion canal within five years.
settlement discussions have done more to restore rivers in
New York state than any other program in the last decade,”
said Carpenter, adding that the Cohoes settlement agreement
is a “good proposal” that he fully supports.
But something else also had happened since 1991. Another power
producer had taken interest: Green Island Power Authority
recently developed an alternative plan for a new plant at
the site and hopes to win the license from Brascan. GIPA’s
plan calls for more water over the falls (the settlement agreement’s
maximum flow is GIPA’s minimum, and it promises to go through
a public process to determine how much is needed to “make
the falls look like falls again”); what the authority’s engineer
claims is a 100-percent successful fish-exclusion screen;
its own set of cultural amenities; and immediate PCB cleanup.
The new plant would be built underground, and would produce
more than twice as much power as the existing plant. GIPA
promises to sell 50 percent of that power to local governments
and nonprofits in long-term fixed-rate contracts to help them
control energy costs. A new dam would be built closer to the
falls, so much of the currently dry stretch would be underwater.
think there’s a very clear choice here,” said Congressman
Mike McNulty (D-Green Island). “The plan sponsored by GIPA
creates more power, creates more jobs, saves more fish, enhances
the beauty of the falls, and would be operated by a public-benefit
corporation based locally.” Such disparate politicians as
Rep. John Sweeney and Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton,
Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon
Silver have expressed their support for the Green Island proposal.
But for now, it may never get a chance to compete, since under
federal regulations competing proposals needed to be filed
in 1988, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has
declined to look at its plans. Unless Brascan is turned down
outright for its water permit, it would take more complex
measures—McNulty is talking lawsuits and Schumer is discussing
legislation—to allow GIPA’s plan to be considered.
For his part, Carpenter said it would be better if the Brascan
plan just went ahead because a good plan in the hand is worth
a potentially better one that may not qualify, hasn’t been
studied, and could be delayed for years or even decades by
lawsuits from Brascan.
The first public hearing on the Brascan settlement agreement
and state water-quality permit will be held by the Department
of Environmental Conservation, next Wednesday (April 13) at
7 PM at the Ukrainian Hall, 1 Pulaski St., Cohoes.
residents can register their approval—or condemnation—of
charter schools’ reliance on public school
funds next month, thanks to a recent resolution
introduced by school board member Bill Barnette.
When residents vote on the school district’s budget
May 17, they also will be asked whether $10 million
of the district’s $155.6 million budget should
be routed to charter schools in accordance with
state law. While the survey’s results have no
legal effect upon local education funding, Barnette
has said he simply wants to provide lawmakers
with their constituents’ opinions on using public
funds for the privately owned schools [“Old School
vs. New School,” Newsfront, Dec. 16, 2004]. Charter-school
supporters argue that the inclusion of such a
question is illegal, and hope to see it removed
by voting time.