Western New York

Monroe County Executive Invites Election Challenger To Advocate Against Green Light Bill Together

UPDATE (4:15 p.m.) Bello has accepted the invitation.

“I am pleased to partner with the County Executive and share my expertise on licensing issues. I look forward to meeting with State Senators and sharing my concerns with the present proposal to confer drivers’ licenses to undocumented individuals,” he said.


No need to wait until 2020 for the Green Light bill to become a campaign issue.

The proposal to give driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants is front and center in several local races across the state. That includes the contest for Monroe County Executive.

Incumbent Republican Cheryl Dinolfo sent an open letter to her Democratic challenger Adam Bello, asking him to join her Monday in Albany to advocate against the bill’s passage. Bello, currently the Monroe Count Clerk, has said he has concerns about the legislation and the difficulties it will present for his staff, however he has vowed to follow the law if passed.

“Given my longstanding opposition to this proposal, and your stated concerns about this bill specifically, now is the time to put politics aside and work in a spirit of bipartisanship to stop this misguided legislation from passing, before it is too late,” Dinolfo wrote.

The county executive pointed out, when she was clerk in 2007, she and other clerks across the state successfully rallied against then-Governor Elliot Spitzer’s attempt to give driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. She said “even in the midst of this campaign season” they should cast aside politics and advocate for the community’s best interest this year.

Special Counsel Issues Subpoenas In Niagara County Bid-Rigging Investigation

A spokesperson for the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office has confirmed investigators have issued subpoenas requesting information regarding Four Points Communication.

Former state Senator George Maziarz, R, during a February press conference, alleged a Niagara County government grant writing contract was rigged for the company. As evidence, he pointed to testimony received as part of the discovery process during his own alleged political corruption litigation.

Following the accusations, Niagara County District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek, D, recused herself and called for a special investigation because Maziarz accused her husband, former County GOP Chairman Henry Wojtaszek, of being involved in the scheme. Wojtaszek has maintained he has done nothing wrong and the accusations have been vetted and dismissed by courts.

Administrative Judge Paula Feroleto appointed Monroe County DA Sandra Doorley to investigate the accusations.

Two WNY Democratic Assembly Members Oppose ‘Green Light’ Bill

Two Assembly Democrats from Western New York have come out in opposition to the state allowing undocumented immigrants to get drivers’ licenses.

In a joint statement, legislators Pat Burke and Monica Wallace said the “Green Light” bill is flawed legislation they can not support and they will not be voting for it when it comes to the Assembly floor. They said immigration is federal problem that requires a federal solution and the state is not in a position to solve every “failed policy” of the federal government.

“In the meantime, we will continue to focus our energy on addressing state issues to find solutions that improve the lives of our constituents and all New Yorkers,” Burke and Wallace said.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has said the controversial legislation will be brought to the floor for a full vote next week. With 106 members in the conference, the measure is not likely in danger of failing, even without Burke and Wallace who represent two of WNY’s more conservative Democratic districts.

Their announcement comes after news Thursday the measure may not have support in the state Senate, as state Dem Chair Jay Jacobs, concerned about political fallout, confirmed he has been urging some senators to vote against it.

Cuomo Announces Plans For Lake Ontario ‘Resiliency And Economic Development’ Investments

For the second time in three years, New York State is sending resources to Lake Ontario communities dealing with significant flooding along the shoreline.

As it continues to do so though, the state is also looking at more long-term solutions. On a conference call Thursday afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, announced the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative (REDI).

He said high water levels on the lake are the “new normal” and people should expect it to continue.

“Once you accept that premise, then it’s a fools errand to continually rebuild to the same standard only to have another flood that does the same damage.”

The initiative’s goal is to redesign the shoreline to make it more resilient but also do so in a way that spurs economic growth for the communities. He said a council, co-chaired by Empire State Development President Howard Zemskey and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos, will work with local governments to come up with projects.

“I think we can actually improve the economic advantage for the communities along Lake Ontario. It is a great asset. It is a great place to visit. Its a great place to fish. It is a great place to live and the floods are a problem today but I think we can actually find a silver lining in the storm cloud,” Cuomo said.

The governor pointed out in 2017, the state spent roughly $100 million in relief funding to the affected communities. It’s not clear how much damage there will be this year as the flooding has just started in earnest and the state has taken steps to try to mitigate the impact.

Cuomo did not say exactly how much Lake Ontario REDI would cost but he said he would rather spend a larger sum all at once. He said it would be significant and will require Legislature approval to fund.

As for when it will start, he said the state will begin meeting with local governments in the next couple of weeks about their visions.

“We can move as fast as the local governments can move but the long-term project requires thought and consultation,” Cuomo said.

The International Joint Commission which governs Great Lakes outflows, during a Tuesday visit to Western New York, said it doesn’t have enough evidence yet to say the high water levels are the “new normal” and not a multi-year anomaly. However, commissioners pointed out if it does decide to make changes to the plan which regulates Lake Ontario and Saint Lawrence River water levels, it would likely mean new regulations regarding where structures can be built.

The state said it has no plans to wait for the IJC to finish another study and is ready to act now. The Lake Ontario initiative will also apply to Niagara River and Saint Lawrence River shorelines.

Lawmaker Wants NY AG To Sue Federal Government Over Flooding

From the Morning Memo:

State Sen. Rob Ortt, a North Tonawanda Republican, has asked the state attorney general to file a lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of people who own property along the Lake Ontario shoreline.

Ortt said that following widespread flooding in 2017, the state appropriated $90 million for recovery efforts while assistance from federal emergency agencies has been nearly non-existent. He said the federal government also signed off on the controversial Plan 2014, which he blames both for the flooding two years ago and the expected repeat this year.

“The federal government must take the blame for the damage the IJC has caused and assist the State of New York in recovery efforts,” the senator said. “The IJC is responsible for Plan 2014, so the onus of assisting New York residents impacted by the flooding shouldn’t fall solely on the State of New York, but the federal government as well.”

The Republican, seemingly derisively, pointed out that Democratic Attorney General Tish James has a “demonstrated interest” in suing the federal government, and certainly hasn’t shied away from doing so since she took office in January.

Following the lead of other state attorneys general, James has focused her efforts on the president and his administration, recently, for example, suing over PCB cleanup in the Hudson River.

While it’s safe to assume Ortt questioned the validity of many of those lawsuits, he said that in the case of Lake Ontario homeowners, he believes litigation is necessary.

The IJC yesterday said Plan 2014, which sets benchmarks for when water in Lake Ontario can be released into the Saint Lawrence River, is not the primary problem for the current situation. But Ortt isn’t buying that.

“By the IJC’s own admission, flooding would worsen under the plan,” he said. “Despite substantial outcry from lakeshore communities and officials, the plan was implemented, and the effects were felt shortly thereafter.”

Ortt said the financial impact goes beyond physical damages to structures, as many communities have again been forced to close down roads, businesses and tourist destinations this season.

New IJC Commissioners Visit Western New York

As water begins to spill over the shores of Lake Ontario, causing damage to many waterfront communities, the international body that regulates lake levels said its doing all it can to mitigate the issues.
Newly-appointed members of the International Joint Commission were in the Buffalo and Rochester areas Tuesday, speaking with experts and elected officials on the ground. Despite regular criticism of Plan 2014, which outlines outflows for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, the commissioners said it is not the problem right now.

“In situations of very high supply from above, from Lake Erie, from Lake Superior, no plan would be able to produce a situation where nobody is getting flooded so we are trying to balance all the interests and make sure that we give the maximum relief to everybody,” IJC Canadian Chair Pierre Béland said.
As for calls to repeal the plan they said it won’t happen anytime soon. U.S. Chair Jane Corwin said Plan 2014 is complex and pointed out it currently does not constrain the IJC board from releasing the maximum amount of water because levels are so high.

“It took a long time to do it. It would take a long time to undo it, quite frankly, and I think more importantly, undoing Plan 2014 at this moment  isn’t going to fix the problem that were facing with right now,” Corwin said.

The commission is now filled with all six members – three from the U.S. and three from Canada – officially getting appointed earlier this month. There had been vacancies for several years.

“The process was a little frustrating to be quite frank,” Corwin said. “It was a long way coming. I’m happy that they came to the conclusion to confirm us and we’re happy to go and moving forward work as hard as we can for the behalf of the people of the U.S. and Canada.”

The commission did say it will be reviewing Plan 2014 moving forward and no regulation plan is permanent. However, members said they need to conclude if high water levels for two of the last three years is a new normal or part of an extended abnormal weather event.

WNY GOP Legislators Unhappy With Farm Labor Decision

From the Morning Memo:

Republicans representing some of Western New York’s more rural districts are disappointed with a state Appellate Court ruling backing the rights of farmworkers to organize and collectively bargain.

Assemblyman Steve Hawley, a Batavia Republican, said he was “deeply disappointed” with the decision, both in substance and what he calls judicial overreach that is keeping the New York Farm Bureau from litigating the case in trial court.

“Make no mistake, if the Court of Appeals doesn’t overturn this decision, it will mark the end of family farms in New York state, wiping out hundreds of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in economic impact and generations of time-honored tradition older than New York state itself. It’s imperative that the New York Farm Bureau’s appeal is successful,” said Hawley.

The bureau has already signaled it will appeal.

The state Legislature is considering a bill called the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act that codifies labor rights like the ones in the ruling.

Republicans, including state Sen. Rob Ortt, of North Tonawanda, have made it a priority to try to stop the bill from passing in the final weeks of the session, which supporters believe is now more likely as a result of this court decision.

“After (Thursday’s) ruling, the last thing we need to do is pass the Farmworkers Fair Labor Act, which goes far beyond today’s ruling, and adds even more regulations on the backs of those responsible for growing our food,” Ortt said.

The legislation is currently in both the Senate and Assembly Labor committees.

U.S. Senate Confirms New IJC Commissioners

The U.S. Senate has finally confirmed three new members of the International Joint Commission, which regulates water levels for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

Lawmakers in New York have been pushing for the positions to be filled for roughly two years. Canada still has three vacancies and needs to appoint at least one commissioner before there is a quorum and the body can meet.

However, with Lake Ontario water levels at record highs and local leaders concerned about a repeat of 2017 flooding, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer applauded the confirmations.

“The filling of all three U.S. seats on the IJC is a major step in the right direction and will help prepare New York State for the absolute worst,” he said. “I was proud to support the confirmation of these nominees to the IJC and look forward to working in lockstep with them to shield Lake Ontario communities from more devastating flooding.”

Former New York State Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, R-Clarence, will be the new chair of the commission. Rep. Chris Collins, R-NY-27, recommended Corwin.

“President Trump could not have made a better choice than Jane L. Corwin to be the next U.S. Chair of the IJC,” he said. ” Thanks to his leadership, we now have a voice for Lake Erie and Lake Ontario shoreline residents.  Jane’s experience as an Assemblywoman for the Ontario Lakeshore properties and her understanding of the issues with Plan 2014 will make her an exceptional leader of the Commission. I know Jane, as well as Commissioners Robert Sission and Lance Yohe, will protect the homeowners and small businesses along our shorelines.”

The IJC would have the authority to move away from the controversial Plan 2014, which currently regulates outflows for the various bodies of water. Many homeowners and elected officials in Lake Ontario communities believe the plan is at least partially responsible for the 2017 damage and potential damage this year.

The state has already started sending resources to communities this year in anticipation of flooding.

Lawmakers Push FAA To Implement Long-Stalled Safety Standard

From the Morning Memo:

The Western New York Congressional Delegation is again pushing the Federal Aviation Administration to implement a key component of safety reforms passed at the urging of family members of those who died on the Flight 3407 crash in Clarence Center.

An Electronic Pilot Training Database was supposed to be in effect no later than April 2017. However, has been stalled in the beta testing phase for more than two years.

The database would give airlines full access to training records of commercial pilots. In February,around the tenth anniversary of the tragedy, lawmakers individually wrote letters to FAA Secretary Elaine Chao.

This week, in another effort, they sent a unified letter led by the delegation with signatures from 20 other members of Congress as well.

“The Captain of Flight 3407 was hired with only 600 hours of flight experience at his first regional airline job and had previously failed three Federal Aviation Administration check rides, only having disclosed one to the regional airline that hired him.

“This is one of several reasons the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) Accident Report concluded the incident was entirely avoidable and attributable to pilot error. Based on recommendations from the NTSB, the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-216), enacted major legislative reforms including the establishment of a Pilot Records Database to prevent such a circumstance from occurring in the future,” the bipartisan letter reads.

Many of the 3407 families, again, returned to Washington this week to discuss the importance of the safety standards.


Tesla Makes Official Report To NY: Ahead Of Job Goals, Diversifying Product Line

Tesla submitted a jobs report and investment numbers to New York on Wednesday as part of its agreement to work out of the state-funded South Buffalo Gigafactory.

The company, which has been producing “solar roof” technology at the Riverbend facility, said it has 632 full-time employees and 4 part-time jobs, roughly 25 percent ahead of its obligation to employ 500 people in New York State by April 30, 2019.Of those jobs, 329 of those full-time jobs are at the Buffalo factory and  the rest are elsewhere in the state.

Tesla said it has also nearly tripled the state’s financial requirement buy spending and investing more the $381 million cumulatively. Nearly $180 million has come over the last year, which includes costs like capital spending, inventory, labor and benefits and other expenses.

The company said, in the letter to the heads of Empire State Development and Fort Schuyler Management Company, the jobs reported do not include any headcount from co-located business partners at the facility. Panasonic is also manufacturing solar cells at Riverbend, and Tesla said the partner employs roughly another 400 full-time employees. The are 43 more contingent workers, contractors and vendors.

The company said it’s also manufacturing more products at the factory as it scales back the solar roof production.

“We’re pleased to have exceeded our first year job commitments by more than 25 percent and nearly tripled our investment requirement in New York State,” a Tesla spokesperson said in a statement. “In addition to scaling production of Solar Roof, Tesla is also diversifying its presence in Buffalo by manufacturing and assembling Supercharger and energy storage components at Gigafactory 2. We’re committed to investing in Buffalo and the State, and the new power electronic lines will deliver more high tech jobs while supporting Tesla’s energy storage products and global Supercharging infrastructure.”

Tesla said a “V3 Supercharger electric vehicle charging cabinet” manufacturing line is installed and operational and additional lines are slated to being production later this year. It said the facility also now houses several other manufacturing lines supporting the “Tesla Energy Industrial Storage business portfolio.”

The company said there are electric vehicle chargers and superchargers already deployed across the state with more under development. According to the letter, it will also be opening new vehicle centers in Buffalo, Rochester, in Albany.

“Empire State Development is in receipt of Tesla’s Employment and Investment Report for RiverBend,” an ESD spokesperson said. “We are pleased that Tesla is reporting that it has exceeded its job and investment commitments, invested $381 million over the course of the project, and become host to nearly 800 full-time employees working at the manufacturing facility. In the coming weeks, ESD will perform the necessary due diligence to verify the data provided by Tesla.”

Tesla has until next April to create 1,460 jobs in Buffalo, although they do not all have to be in the factory. Currently, it is only reporting one full-time job in Buffalo outside of RiverBend.