Western New York

Trucking Association of NY Points Out Tractor Trailer Ban Has Economic Impact

The Trucking Association of New York said it supports the ban of tractor trailers on major highways across Western New York.

It said Tuesday’s 21-vehicle pile up which had a truck involved, is a perfect example of why the restrictions are in place. President Kendra Hems said the association is working closely with the state Department of Transportation, the Thruway Authority and the governor’s office and is spreading information over a multitude of channels to keep the industry informed.

“We can’t, nor would we defend any driver or company that asks their drivers to violate the ban and at this point it’s going to take this type of penalty to keep them off the road then that’s something that as an industry they’re going to need to be aware of,” Hems said.

At the same time, she stressed the importance of getting trucks back on the road as soon as possible. Hems said many drivers are independent contractors and whenever they can’t work they are losing money.

“Once this storm has passed and roads are clear, you know, we need to do everything to get those roads reopened to trucks as quickly as possible, because again, safety is a big concern but these trucks are the lifeblood of our economy. They deliver everything that we rely on every day and a 24-hour closure can have an impact that takes over a week to recover from in terms of getting those deliveries made and getting people restocked,” she said.

Hems said, for example, there are fuel trucks that can’t make their deliveries. She said that’s important during a polar vortex when people need gas for personal and emergency vehicles, plows, generators and even their homes.

She said they also deliver groceries to stores and raw materials to factories. If the ban goes on for too long she suggested plants may have to temporarily close down their assembly lines.

And that’s why she said it’s hard to put an exact number on the economic impact of an extended tractor trailer ban. When asked if it would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Hems estimated more.

The governor heavily criticized truck drivers Thursday morning for violating the ban and suggested those who violate could be criminally charged. State police are also making a concerted effort, ticketing drivers at toll entrances.

Hems said drivers need to realize the state is enhancing enforcement during this weather event and reiterated the safety of the drivers and the public remains the number one priority.

Nearly Shuttered WNY Children’s Psych Center Slated For $30 Million Upgrade

The state Dormitory Authority is seeking proposals for an estimated $30 million upgrade project to the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center.

The center in West Seneca was slated to close and merge with the adult facility in Buffalo. However, last April, after years of community pushback, the governor announced the CPC would stay put.

The Request For Proposals calls for a roughly 48,000 square foot new addition to replace the current inpatient units and supports services wings. It includes multiple sleeping units with single bedrooms, bathrooms, group/visiting spaces, secure outdoor recreation areas, staff space, a kitchen and pharmacy.

“The existing environment of the facility is well maintained yet presents significant supervision problems and has experienced The Joint Commission accreditation violations,” the RFP reads.

The old wings will be decommissioned and prepared for future demolition. The project will also include upgrades to the existing administration and educational spaces.

Suprisingly, the RFP was released quietly last week despite the significant attention the fight to keep the facility open received. Proposals are due by February 19 and a winner could be announced as soon as March 5.

“This is such great news for all those families that would have been affected by the decision to move this facility downtown,” West Seneca Supervisor Sheila Meegan, D, said. “We could not be more pleased that the governor has seen his way to keeping the facility where it belongs and affording all those families the opportunity to heal. This was such an incredible fight by so very many and to see this kind of an investment and a facility that is truly going to help so many today and for many many many years to come. Truly a blessing and would like to thank the Governor for his willingness to see this facility for all it has accomplished over the years and served so many families.”

The CPC serves children across Western New York with severe emotional and behavioral problems.

Counties Scramble To Prepare For Earlier Elections

From the Morning Memo:

The campaign timetable has changed this year, thanks to a new election law moving the primary to June.

State legislators passed the bill as part of a package of voting reforms, but won’t have to deal with its repercussions for their own re-elections until next year. However, there are significant countywide races across the state this cycle, which has sparked a scramble at the local level.

Petitions can start to be circulated on Feb. 26, which is less than a month away. Candidates who haven’t announced their intentions yet, will have to do so soon so their respective parties can make endorsements.

In Rochester, there’s already been a flurry of activity with the committees holding designating meetings and, notably, Democratic Monroe County Clerk Adam Bello announcing he will challenge Republican County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo this fall. The district attorney’s term and county legislature seats are also up.

Anybody even thinking about running essentially has two weeks to get the initial paperwork submitted.

“It’s a little bit of a daunting process New York State has to get your name on the ballot,” Monroe County Board of Elections Democratic Deputy Commissioner Colleen Anderson said.

In Erie County, they may be even more behind. It seemed to be inevitable Republican Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw would challenge Democratic County Executive Mark Poloncarz this fall.

Then Mychajliw changed course, turning his sights to New York’s 27th Congressional District seat. Incumbent GOP Rep. Chris Collins just won re-election, but is also facing federal trial at the beginning of the year, so his future is uncertain.

A source said state Sen. Chris Jacobs, County Clerk Mickey Kearns and county legislators Ed Rath, Joe Lorigo and Lynn Dixon are all in consideration to run for county executive now. Jacobs had been the presumed frontrunner, but has moved slower than some in the party would prefer in announcing his intentions.

Meanwhile Democrats are focused on keeping control of the Erie County Legislature, as well as finding a candidate to replace outgoing Buffalo City Comptroller Mark Schroeder.

The most consistent complaint coming from party leaders: collecting petitions in February and March weather will be a lot harder – not to mention colder – for volunteers.

Tesla Laying Off Employees Company-Wide, Up To 50 In Buffalo

In an email Friday morning, Tesla CEO Elon Musk told employees the company was cutting 7 percent of its full-time workforce.

Musk says Tesla is trying to cut costs as it increases the production of a more affordable version of the company’s Model 3 electric vehicle. While the $750 million state subsidized gigafactory in Buffalo produces solar roof technology, not cars, it appears it will still be affected.

A spokesperson for Tesla would not give a headcount of how many Buffalo employees could be laid off, but Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul says the state was told the cutback may affect 50 people.  At last notice, the company had roughly 400 employees in the facility, but there are another 400 Panasonic employees as well.

That 800 employee total counts toward the company’s agreement with the state and therefore it has already exceeded a benchmark of 500 workers in the building by April.

“They’ve also committed to us that this does not affect whatsoever their commitment to Buffalo, their desire to continue with the production line for the solar panels, so this maybe seems to be a temporary setback but we’re going to continue moving forward and the rest of the jobs will be protected,” Hochul said.

However, the company still has a way to go to reach its April 2020 goal of 1,460 total jobs in the region. Hochul said the state would continue to monitor the situation.

“We don’t control what a company like Tesla does,” she said. “We deal with the impacts but we still know that there’s a place that will have over 750 jobs which is far more than it had the decades that that property was laying fallow.”

The new Assembly member representing South Buffalo, Pat Burke, said his constituents aren’t going to be pleased by the news and he plans to relay that to the company.

“It’s the jobs here that matter,” he said. It’s the future of that plant that matters. If they’re going to take the benefits, and they’ve taken benefits from multiple government agencies, then they should follow through on their promises.”

However, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-NY, said setbacks can be expected when dealing with emerging technology, but still believes solar is the future.

“I think we have to stay the course and I think in ten years, we’ll see full employment at that plant,” he said.

The state has continued to point out, it owns the Tesla facility and has claw backs built into the agreement with the company should it not meet its employment goals.

Seneca Nation Loses Gaming Compact Arbitration

The Seneca Nation of Indians on Tuesday lost its gaming compact arbitration with New York, finding the nation’s revenue from slot machines with the state continues beyond its 14 year gaming compact.

“We’re thankful the arbitration panel held a fair hearing of the facts and ruled in favor of the state and the local communities that have been hurt by the Seneca Nation’s actions,” said Rich Azzopardi, a senior advisor to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “It was clear to us that the Nation had an obligation to continue payments – period. According to the Compact, this arbitration process was prescribed to resolve conflicts and now that it’s concluded, we ask that the Nation to cease any further delays, make the state and local communities whole, and resume payments.”

The Senecas ceased paying a portion of their slot revenues to the state, arguing their 14-year obligation under the Compact was fulfilled. The state argues the obligation continued when the agreement automatically renewed in 2017.

In a statement, the arbitration panel’s dissenting member, Kevin Washburn, called the decision harmful and “an unjustified windfall” to the state.

“We continue to believe, as anyone who has read the Compact, that the Nation’s Compact payment obligation was fulfilled, and we believe we had an obligation to the Seneca people to defend the Compact as it was written and agreed upon,” Seneca President Rickey Armstrong said.

“It is the Seneca people who voted to permit our Nation to negotiate our Compact and, like all government leaders, we must act every day in the people’s best interest. We created our gaming enterprise so that we could invest in the services that our people need, want and deserve. To that end, our casino operations have been transformational in helping the Seneca Nation serve our residents, from our youngest generations to our elders. None of that changes with this arbitration opinion.”

Following Erie County’s Lead, Niagara County DA Won’t Prosecute SAFE Act Provision

The Niagara County District Attorney’s Office will no longer prosecute a portion of New York’s SAFE Act deemed unconstitutional in federal court.

The provision makes it illegal to knowingly possess an “ammunition-feeding device” that is loaded with more than seven rounds. Last month, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn made the same decision not to prosecute after becoming aware of the 2015 U.S. Court of Appeals opinion.

The Niagara County DA’s office said State Police initially stopped enforcing the provision but have since resumed.

“It was my understanding that the Niagara County Sheriff’s office and out other local law enforcement agencies had not been charging that provision since it was declared unconstitutional,” DA Caroline Wojtaszek said. “It is important that everyone in my county handle this matter uniformly. I find the federal court’s decision on this both useful and persuasive. I join my Erie County counterpart not to prosecute this ammunition provision. Any pending charges under this section will be dismissed.”

Wojtaszek said she spoke with local law enforcement and Flynn before coming to her conclusion.

Buffalo Budget Problems?

From the Morning Memo:

The Buffalo mayor and comptroller appear to be at odds over the state of the city’s financial situation.

Comptroller Mark Schroeder released a report Thursday claiming the city operated at a $23 million loss during the last fiscal year. He said in order to fill the gap, the administration once again tapped into reserves.

Schroeder has consistently criticized the mayor’s balance for having a structural imbalance and said there aren’t anymore unassigned funds to dip into if revenues fall short for the current budget.

 “The city has squandered more than $107 million of its reserves in the past eight years,” he said. “The reserves at a such a low level right now, there won’t be enough to fill budget deficits moving forward.”

The Mayor’s Office, however, maintained the year end financials did not include any gaps or use of reserve funds that weren’t anticipated. It claimed if not for the loss of $7 million in casino revenue from the Seneca Nation of Indians, the city would have been in the black this year.

“As we have stated many times, we are confident that there will be an end to this impasse shortly and that we will receive the monies that are owed to the City. Any surplus funds will be redeposited into the Unassigned Fund Balance,” city spokesperson Mike DeGeorge said. “We also disagree with the assertion that any City funds have been ‘squandered’. We remain a stronger, smarter, safer City that continues to grow and provide quality services and greater opportunities for all of our residents.”

The Seneca Nation claimed it has fulfilled its obligation in a revenue sharing agreement with the state. It has not made a payment since Spring 2017 and the dispute is currently in arbitration.

The other cities where Seneca casinos operate, Niagara Falls and Salamanca, have also complained the loss of revenue has hurt their bottom line.

The Nation, which recently elected a new president, was not immediately available for comment.

Start-Up NY Success Symbol Closes, Blames Trump Tariffs

From the Morning Memo:

A Buffalo-based tablet company often held up as one of the Cuomo administration’s success stories, announced Thursday afternoon it was closing.

The 77 remaining workers at Bak USA will be laid off. The company was part of the Start-Up NY program which offered expanding businesses significant tax breaks and academic partnerships.

When critics questioned the program’s results the administration often pointed toward Bak, which not only was growing but sought to hire workers from disadvantaged communities in the Buffalo region.  However, Chairman JP Bak said the business didn’t make enough of a profit to sustain itself.

“My family started this business nearly four years ago with a bold vision: to empower American students and workers by producing computers in the U.S.,” he said. “Through the innovation and hard work of our talented team, we achieved more than we dreamed. Regrettably, the economic pressures on our young company have become too great to withstand.”

Bak actually blamed the Trump administration, at least in part, for the failure. He said the additional, unanticipated costs as a result of tariffs imposed by the White House were a deciding factor in the decision to close.

WNY Democrats found the reason easy to believe.

“I wish this federal policy was different than it is. Unfortunately, these tariffs that have been imposed have consequences and in the case of Bak USA, an American tablet manufacturer, the consequences have been devastating,” Buffalo Mayor and State Dem Chair Byron Brown said.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz echoed the mayor’s sentiments, adding he spoke with the chairman about his efforts to keep the company owning as recently as Thursday morning. Bak USA opened its global headquarters near downtown Buffalo in 2015.

Rochester Lobbyist Arrested In Connection With Bribery Scheme

Federal prosecutors have charged a second person in connection with a bribery scheme that originated in Monroe County.

Lobbyist Robert Scott Gaddy was arrested Thursday for allegedly willfully aiding and abetting bribes to state Assembly Member Joe Errigo, in order to influence him to introduce legislation aimed at obstructing a pending development project. Law enforcement arrested Errigo in connection with the same scheme last month.

According to the complaint, an individual working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, conspired with Gaddy and Errigo and paid the two men a total of $10,500 over the course of several months. The lobbyist was originally approached about coordinating with another legislator, identified as “Member A,” but Gaddy suggested Errigo introduce the bill.

“The people of Western New York, like all our citizens, deserve to have representatives who act in the public’s interest, not for their own personal financial gain,” U.S. Attorney J.P. Kennedy said. “Where, as alleged here, legislative acts are undertaken not on their merits but in exchange for the payment of bribes and in hopes of personal financial gain, then all involved in the corruption of our legislative process ought to expect to face criminal charges.”

The FBI said it did not allow the proposed legislation or any other official acts to advance beyond preliminary stages. The legislation in question was assigned bill number A10227.

The official charges are: Bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, and honest services wire fraud. Gaddy made his initial appearance Thursday and is due back in court in December for a status conference.

If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Bannon : Don’t Jump to Blame The Right for Attempted Attacks On Dems

From the Morning Memo:

Former Donald Trump advisor Steve Bannon arrived a little later than expected to his Western New York event last night, thanks to tightened security at the airport in New York City after a handful of major national Democrats, and a significant news organization, were mailed suspicious packages.

Bannon condemned the attacks, which were all targeted at individuals or outlets of which the president himself has been publicly critical, but bristled at the idea that this could be the result of the political rhetoric pushed forward by his former boss.

In fact, Bannon said people should not rule out the possibility of a “false flag” attack with Election Day less than two weeks away.

“You’ve just got to get the facts,” Bannon said. “First off, it’s totally and completely unacceptable. If people on the right did it, it’s unacceptable. If people on the left did it, the act itself is totally unacceptable.”

“Whoever did it, it seems to me the logic would be to try to galvanize enthusiasm on the left to say, hey look, these are these crazy right-wingers. People in the middle, you’re going to have this divisive language.”

Bannon said violence on both sides needs to stop, although he believes such incidents are often overlooked by the media when they are generated by the left. He said violence should not be confused with civil protest from his opponents, which he insists he respects – even if he disagrees with their opinions.

Organizers of Bannon’s event in WNY had claimed it faced its own threats, but Democrats claimed that was lie meant to stir up the base.

Either way, last night’s “Reed Tide Rising” rally went off incident free, with the biggest disruption being a band playing loud music outside the fire hall.