Here’s that salmon joke President Obama made during the SOTU last night.

“The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater,” Obama said. “I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.”

Still unsure what that was all about – a subtle shout-out to Brooklyn and New York’s senior senator, maybe?

Whatever the case, it was fairly amusing. So much so, that it became one of the top three words used to describe the president’s speech by (go figure) NPR listeners.

Nassau County Finances Under State Control (Updated)

In the fall of 2009, Ed Mangano was on top of the world after coming from behind to oust a Democratic rising star, then-Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, in a win that shocked the New York politerati.

Now, just over one year later, Mangano has fallen from grace in a big way.

Earlier today, a state oversight board seized control of Nassau County’s finances, saying the fiscally troubled county has failed to balance its $2.6 billion budget in spite of its wealth and considerable property tax base wealthy in spite of months of warnings to do so.

Mangano repeatedly assured the board that he would be able to close the county’s deficit, which at one point reached nearly $350 million, but he has failed to keep that pledge.

This is only the second time that a county has been taken over by the state, according to the NY Times. The other was Erie County, which is New York’s 24th weathliest county and has a median income that is half of Nassau’s, the state’s richest county.

(My understanding of the Erie County control board was that it was a “soft” board and only acted in an advisory capacity, as compared to the City of Buffalo’s board, which was fully empowered. An effort to weaken its powers was vetoed by former Gov. David Paterson).

UPDATE: Actually, the history of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority (AKA, the control board) is more complicated than I imagined. Erie County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz explained, via e-mail, it was “soft” when it was created in 2005, switched to “hard” in November 2006 and then went back to “soft” in July 2009. It’s now threatening to go back to its more stringent iteration when it meets in February.

Mangano inheritied a deficit from Suozzi, but he worsened the situation by eliminating a tax on home heating oil that generated some $40 million in revenue. (He was seeking to fulfill his campaign pledge to cut taxes, which had gone up on Suozzi’s watch).

More >

Can’t They All Just Get Along?

Following yesterday’s rules revolt, which ended in a draw thanks to (yet unexplained) absence of Sen. Ken LaValle, Senate Minority Leader John Samspon has issued a plea to his majority counterpart, Dean Skelos, for a bipartisan summit at which the two sides might hammer out their differences.

Sampson sent a letter to Skelos today asking for a reinstatement of the Temporary Committee on Rules and Administration Reform, which the Democrats formed back in 2009, then chaired by Sens. Dave Valesky and John Bonacic.

“There should be a public, transparent, and bipartisan process led by members from both conferences, who will be charged with drafting permanent rules all 62 members can support,” Sampson wrote.

“…It is my hope we can build on the progress made in the 2009 rules reforms, and give New Yorkers greater confidence their voices will be heard in the Senate that is run in the serious and bipartisan manner these difficult times demand.”

The temporary committee had six members – three Republicans and three Democrats. Since Valesky is no longer a member of the Democratic conference, Sampson has proposed appointing Senators José Serrano, Dan Squadron, and Andrea Stewart-Cousins to represent the minority.

No word yet on whether Skelos will agree.

sampson letter on rules

The Candidate Of Last Resort

Republicans aren’t exactly clamoring for former NYC Rudy Giuliani to make another attempt at the White House – a move he has said with increasingly frequency lately that he’s actively considering, particularly if Sarah Palin tosses her hat into the ring.

A new Rasmussen poll finds Giuliani is leading the group of what you might call B list contenders, assuming all the A listers, which includes Palin, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Gov. Miek Huckabee and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich all decide to take a pass.

Of the eight other would-bes remaining, Giuliani leads among likely GOP primary voters with 29 percent.

Tim Pawlenty, who recently stepped down as governor of Minnesota, comes in second with 17 percent. No one else got out of the single digits.

The list included:

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, with 5 percent each; Indiana Congressman Mike Pence, Georgia businessman Herman Cain and Jon Hunstman, the former Utah governor who is now U.S. ambassador to China, each with 4 percent, and South Dakota Sen. John Thune, at 3 percent.

Eleven percent like some other candidate; 19 percent are undecided.

A lot of observers have more or less dismissed Giuliani as a real contender, suggesting he’s merely feeding his ego and/or trying to boost his business interests by floating the 2012 trial balloon. Or maybe he’s jsut trying to remain relevant long enough to run for something else – perhaps Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s seat?

Anyway, I think the incredibly astute Steve Kornacki said it best:

” His comments indicate either a streak of profound cynicism or a complete and perhaps final detachment from reality.”

Skelos: Congestion Pricing ‘Just Another Tax’

Despite his near $1 million investment in the Senate GOP during last year’s election cycle, Mayor Bloomberg isn’t finding much support from Majority Leader Dean Skelos for one of his long-standing signature projects: Congestion pricing.

The DN’s Adam Lisberg reported NYC pols are quietly revisiting the idea of charging motorists to drive into Manhattan as a method of generating revenue for the perpetually cash-strapped MTA.

Supporters, like Sen. Dan Squadron, a Brooklyn Democrat and Bloomberg ally, are calling the idea “traffic pricing,” but it’s still the same concept.

Skelos told reporters he was opposed to congestion pricing when it died in the Legislature back in 2008 (largely thanks to the Assembly Democrats, although it was unclear the measure had sufficient support to pass in the Senate at the time, too) and hasn’t changed his stance.

The majority leader said congestion pricing is “just another tax,” adding he wouldn’t likely reconsider that position even if backers offered to trade it for rescinding the MTA payroll tax – a key Senate GOP issue and one that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he’s willing to consider (assuming another revenue source is found to support mass transit).

Skelos also discussed his decision to give the IDC members committee chairmanships – basically, he argues, because “they asked” and the other Democrats didn’t, rejecting the idea that this was some sort of “payoff,” as the minority has suggested.

Skelos pointed out that Minority Leader John Sampson did the same thing when he was in charge, reaching across the aisle to give committees to Sen. George Maziarz and the late Sen. Tom Morahan.

Rep. King Goes Ahead With 1,000-Foot Gun Ban Bill

Despite criticism from several places, Long Island Republican Congressman Pete King has introduced his bill banning guns within 1000 feet of events featuring high ranking elected officials like the President, Vice President, and members of Congress.

You might remember, King announced he was going to introduce this bill a few weeks ago at a news conference with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In today’s press release, Rep. King made it clear this is more about protecting citizens than politicians.

“While this legislation would not prevent all shootings at public events,” Rep. King said, “police experts tell me it would be a valuable tool toward preventing attacks such as the tragic assassination attempt against Rep. Gabrielle Giffords which critically wounded her, killed six innocent people and wounded 12 others. A main purpose of this bill is to encourage citizens to attend these public events by giving them a greater sense of security.”

Senate GOP’s Nod To WNY

The Senate Republicans have elevated Sen. George Maziarz, a veteran Western NY lawmaker, to the post of vice president pro tempore – the third highest ranking leadership position in the chamber.

In this new role, (first reported by the Buffalo News last night and then formally announced by Maziarz via press release), Maziarz will, in his words, work closely with the GOP leadership to “craft a policy agenda that focuses on tax relief, fiscal restraint, economic development, and job creation.”

The vp pro tempore job carries a $34,000 lulu.

Maziarz will be keeping his post as Energy and Telecommunications Committee chairman – a job given to him in an effort to display bipartisanship by the Democrats when John Sampson was in charge of the chamber (the late Tom Morahan also got a committee chairmanship). He’ll also serve as a member of the Rules; Environmental Conservation; Higher Education; Transportation; and Crime Victims, Crim, and Corrections committees.

“Our state desperately needs reform,” said Maziarz. “We must chart a clear course to get us beyond our budget deficits and our economic stagnation.”

“We need to make bold changes to the way our government is structured and the way it operates, and I look forward to being part of that process.”

“…My new leadership role can only help our Western New York delegation advance key projects like UB 2020. Making sure that our region has a voice in Albany is what my public service is all about.”

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said the elevation of Maziarz illustrates the GOP’s “commitment to Western New York,” adding:

“Unlike the Senate Democrats, who only paid lip service to Western New York, the Senate Republicans are committed to helping businesses create jobs and revitalizing the local economy.”

Senator Maziarz noted that no WNY senator has had such a prominent leadership role since the days of the late Senate Majority Leader Earl Brydges a generation ago.

As Jimmy Viekind notes, Maziarz played a key role in the failed 2009 Senate coup along with retired Paychex billionaire Tom Golisano.

He also bucked much of the GOP establishment and was an earlyish supporter of Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino.

WNY has become something of a battleground for the Senate. The retirement of longtime senator Dale Volker last year left the delegation with some leadership shoes to fill.

With this move, the GOP is clearly signaling its interest in building connections to Paladino’s active base and retaining the toehold it has in the region after freshman Sen. Mark Grisanti ousted former Sen. Antoine Thompson in one of the state’s most Democrat-dominated districts.

Eliot Engel, ‘Aisle Hog’

Welcome to your 15 minutes of fame, Rep. Eliot Engel. It isn’t necessarily pretty.

“Nightline” called out the New York congressman, a Democrat who represents the 17th CD, for being what deemed an “aisle hog.”

That would be a member of Congress who makes it his or her business to do whatever it takes to get into the shot with the president as he enters the House chamber to deliver his State of the Union address.

Engel is well known among NY reporters for showing up in the chamber hours in advance to cop a good seat and then squatting there until he gets his moment in the sun. He’s not alone in doing this, as Salon’s Steve Kornacki determined.

Now, thanks to “Nightline,” the rest of the world knows about Engel’s obsession, too.

The LG Question

Here’s some footage of the verbal tussle between Sen. Liz Krueger and Sen. Tom Libous during yesterday’s Rules Committee meeting at which senators debated the GOP’s attempt to change the chamber’s rules – including a bid to end the LG’s ability to weigh in on procedural deadlocks.

The Republicans, who hold a slim 32-30 majority, wanted to block LG Bob Duffy (or anyone who holds his No. 2. post in the future, for that matter) from being able to cast a deciding vote on key questions like choosing the Senate president.

The debate over when the LG has the right to weigh in while presiding over the Senate has been raging on and off for years now.

Krueger asserted during her back-and-forth with Libous that the powers are laid out in the state Constitution, but the Binghamton Republican insisted that is not, in fact, the case, noting this question has divided state government scholars.

The issue is moot in the short term since the rules changes sought by the GOP failed to pass the committee. (Apparently, Sen. Ken LaValle was absent and failed to submit a written vote sheet, robbing the majority of the 13 votes necessary to move the changes to the floor).

The Democrats called the effort a “power grab” – a characterization the Republicans rejected. The whole mess has been laid aside for at least a week.

Conservatives Target Silver, Assembly In Robocall

The state Conservative Party is launching a robocall today targeting so-called “liberal Democrats like (Assembly Speaker) Sheldon Silver” who are “fighting like hell to keep picking your pocket.”

The call, which will start to ring on phones statewide at 9 a.m., urges respondents to contact their local assembly member to express support for a budget that cuts spending and holds the line on taxes, fees and borrowing.

The call features the voice of Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long, who surprised political observers last week by declaring his strong support for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget plans and announced a campaign of callers, mailers and, if money allows, even TV ads to support the Democratic governor’s agenda.

“At our 44th Annual Conference, beginning on Sunday (January 30) at the Holiday Inn in Albany, we will begin our next phase to end the out of control spending that occurs when Legislators keep raising taxes, fees and borrow to fund Albany’s special interests and failed liberal/socialist programs designed to keep people dependent on government handouts”, Long said in a press release.

Long made it clear to me during a CapTon interview last week that this unusual political marriage is likely to last only as long as the budget battle. The Conservatives will undoubtedly be opposing Cuomo on social issues like the legalization of gay marriage and the protection of abortion rights.

Silver is the only lawmaker named in the Conservatives’ call. There is no mention of the governor. (Recall that Long and his party backed former Long Island Rep. Rick Lazio in the gubernatorial race last year, but then switched to Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino after he defeated Lazio in the GOP primary).

Here’s the call script:

“This is Conservative Party chairman Mike Long. I am calling about the budget battle that is happening in Albany right now.

“This might be the last chance for taxpayers to get spending and taxes under control – with no new taxes, no increased fees, and no new borrowing.

“But liberal Democrats, like Sheldon Silver in the Assembly, are fighting like hell to keep picking your pocket.

“Please take a moment now to call your Assembly Member at 518-455-4100.

“Tell them you stand with the Conservative Party and demand they support a budget that cuts spending, and does not increase taxes, fees or borrowing.

“Please call your Assembly Member now at 518-455-4100.”