Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Don't count your chickens before they hatch

Our local school districts are hoping that their representatives in the Assembly and Senate come up with some more money for them to run their school districts.

The state aid is needed, school officials say, in order to prevent local property taxes from skyrocketing.

In a mathematical feat not seen since last year, schools have curbed spending increases to levels like .98 percent, which will result in tax increases in the 7 percent range (Lockport School District), thanks to Gov. George Pataki’s refusal to institute “job killing taxes” at the state level.

Roy-Hart actually cut spending by .3 percent, but will still see a tax levy increase of 5.5 percent.

In Wilson, a 5.3 percent spending increase means a 7.6 tax increase. In Starpoint, 4.9 is 5.9. In Barker, 2.9 becomes 6.4.

Newfane’s budget to budget increase — a whopping 9 percent — would be difficult to swallow on its own. Unfortunately, though, for those fine folks below the escarpment, it translates to a 26 percent tax hike.

Around the state other budget increases equate to much larger tax increases. For example, the proposed budget for schools in Troy, Bruno’s own home base, would increase taxes almost 37 percent. The rural Whitney Point district on the Southern Tier is calling for a 52 percent increase in the tax levy.

Yeah, that’s 52 percent. No typos here.

Legislative leaders are saying that they’ll have a budget together that will give schools more money than that stingy-old Pataki was offering.

It’s unknown, however, how much more they’ll present, when it will be available, and if Pataki would sign off on it or if they’d have the votes to override his impending veto.

Meanwhile, a state aid payment of $1.6 billion to local schools that was expected to arrive on Thursday has been lost in the mail — make that red tape.

That means many school districts will be forced to borrow to make up for the state aid they were expecting but won’t receive on time.

And still local school officials keep their fingers crossed hoping for money from Saint Maziarz and Saint Wirth.

Uncross your fingers and pick up a shovel so we can dig ourselves out of this mess.

Now some officials have been afraid to criticize the previously mentioned saints Maziarz and Wirth for fear that they won’t do their bidding again in the future — and with this notion that they’re still going to come through this year.


And let’s not forget that we still have these teachers out in Starpoint that want 5 percent raises and are allergic to paying for any of their health care. “Doug Whelan doesn’t pay for his health care,” I can hear them whine now.

Other teachers’ unions around the county are taking note, I assure you, because if the Starpointers get their demands, they might make a nickel more than somewhere else and there seems to be an unwritten law that all public union contracts have to be for the highest dollar figure ever.

It’s like a never-ending game of poker — no calls, no showing of the cards, just constant raises — and they’re playing with your money.

Maybe I’m alone here, but there seems to be a problem — and it is us.

Time and again, I’ve heard school boards mention programs or projects that they wanted to cut — and I’ve seen people come out and say, “No, that’s important. Cut something else.”

It’s all important, folks. We need to make choices. We need to determine the difference between want and need ... and then choose to hang on to the things that we need and do away with those that we don’t.

Look, I like my satellite a whole lot, but if I have to choose between it and food, I’ll have to forego the MSNBC for a while.

We’re in that predicament now. And we need to choose to eat and wait until we can afford to be entertained.

Since, after all, Saint Maziarz and Saint Wirth are saving us with our own money anyway.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Scott Leffler: Party of one

Let's start with the basics.

I'm a white liberal Democrat male.

Now take every pre-conceived notion that you have about the previous paragraph and toss it right out the window.

Don't pigeon-hole me.

Just cause some of the liberals that you met were in favor of constantly raising taxes to pay for social programs that you don't agree with, that doesn't make me "tax-and-spend Scott."

Just cause you met some white guy one time in Kansas that thought that women and blacks were inferior, that doesn't make me ignorant and prejudiced.

And just cause the majority of my political party prefers abortion at any time during a pregnancy to responsibility, that doesn't' make me "anti-life" (although my party calls it pro-choice).

Someone actually said to me last week: "You're a bad Democrat."

Um, okay. But I'd make a worse Republican.

The problem is folks, I don't fit into a nice neat little label - And most of us don't.

Just what is a radical Muslim?

Point a "social liberal but fiscal conservative" out of a crowd next time you go to the mall.

And forgive me if this offends, but to me "compassionate conservative" is an oxymoron.

We can't all be moderates, you know.

So why do we use this jargon to describe people to one another?

We break free of the chains of high school and college, losing our "statuses" while we do so.

No longer was I Scott Leffler; nerd. I was just plain Scott Leffler.

And once we're free of those shackles, we align ourselves with people who think alike - even if we don't share ALL the same thoughts.

And so I registered Democrat. To make it simple, I agree more with Democrats than with Republicans. While I like the "hands-off" nature of the GOP, I'm also in favor of the social kindness that is the basis of the Democratic Party. And my willingness to actually let other people speak without shouting over them told me for sure that I was a Democrat.

Unfortunately, so is Sheldon Silver.

So maybe I don't want to be a Democrat - after all, I sure don't want to be associated with Shelly Silver.

But as a Republican, I'd have to be associated with George Pataki, George Bush and Ronald (George) Reagan.

If I went Green, I'd be in "The Party of Nader."

Ralph Nader actually believes that the Republican and Democratic parties are the same. I sure don't want to associate with anyone that can't tell the difference between Donkeys and Elephants.

Fortunately, you can create your own party - at least for an election cycle.

Sean Smith did it a couple years ago when he ran for alderman. The "2nd Warders'" party drew in just a handful of votes, but it was enough of an edge to push him to win.

Smith said he "created" the party because he thought that there might be people that liked him, but whose conscious wouldn't let them vote Democrat - his preferred party.

If I were to create a party, it would be the "None of the Above" party and I'd only let candidates who felt that the major parties didn't speak for them run as members of that party.

Of course, then those candidates would be associated with me ... and I'm not sure they'd want to do that.

Scott Leffler - party of one.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

April 15, the day we pay for all our so-called freedoms

Happy income tax day.

It's also the 138th anniversary of the day Abe Lincoln died. You know, 'Honest Abe.'

And 91 years ago today the Titanic sunk.

What do all those things have to do with one another?

Absolutely nothing.

But it illustrates that April 15 isn't neccessarily the best of days.

I mean, one of the songs topping the charts 40 years ago today was "The End of the World," by Skeeter Davis -- almost fitting if you ask me.

I know, you didn't.

But I digress.

This country was founded on freedoms. And for those freedoms, we pay taxes, which pay the salaries of those men and women who protect those freedoms.

I'm using a double tipped pen here, becuase I'm talking about our military and our politicrat at the same time. They both serve us in different ways. (Look up serve in the dictionary).

Most of the politicrats who end up serving us forget all about the freedoms once they get to their destination, be it City Hall, the Statehouse or the White House.

But one woman I have had the pleasure of talking with over the past few weeks hasn't forgotten the meaning of freedom. (Did you keep that dictionary handy?)

Meet Sandra Lee Wirth, a Republican Assemblywoman from Elma.

She is the only local representative who voted against the smoking ban which is expected to go into effect in July.

And she told me a few weeks ago that smoking in restaurants wouldn't be the only right to be trampled.

She jokingly said that her colleagues would next come up with a law that outlawed fatty foods -- for our own good, mind you.

And then she saw that one of her colleagues was genuinely considering something of that nature due to a lawsuit against McDonalds in which the defendant claims that he didn't know that eating McDonalds day in and day out was bad for you.

When she heard about the lawsuit and the potential ramifications of it, she called me to have a good laugh about it.

"I mean, give me a break," she said. "Once you let pandora out of the box, you can bet the rest are going to follow suit. And here come the fat people now."

The 102 pounder wasn't making fun of fat people, but rather expressing her disbelief that any group of people (smokers, those who are overweight) could have their rights trampled becuase it makes her colleagues feel good about them selves.

Not passing a budget on time in 19 years makes you long for accomplishments to point to, I guess.

Anyway, Wirth marveled at the fact that instead of working on that budget that we've discussed time and time again, they're out peeling back our rights.

So I tested her.

What about the cell phone ban?

She voted against it.

And where were you when we were told we had to wear seat belts for our own good?

"I wasn't a legislator. I was nothing more than a happy little mother and wife," she said.

But not happy about the new law.

"I was livid," she said. "I literally cut them out of my 79 ford thunderbird."

Now she wears it, of course, but wishes you didn't have to.

"I think if I had the chance, I would like to let people have the right to make their own choices," she said. "If you make a bad decision, it's your fault."

In other words, you have the right to remain stupid.

I agree Sandra Lee.

And thanks for sticking up for us.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Fairport fair in breaking law

“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” my mom always used to say.

Actually, I’m not sure if she ever said that, but moms across the world have been saying something similar for eons.

And it’s generally true.

School boards across the county and state are using exactly that logic in refusing to go along with a Rochester-area district that recently told the state that it wouldn’t ask their residents to vote on a school budget until it had solid figures from the state.

After the Fairport (home of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter) School District passed the resolution March 20, the school board president faxed a copy of the resolution to other state school districts and elected officials.

“Will you join us in refusing to vote on the school budget until you have the correct information?” the letter asked school board presidents.

Locally, our school boards have resoundingly said, “No.”

Lockport Superintendent Bruce Fraser said it wouldn’t set a good example for students.

Superintendents from Niagara Wheatfield, Niagara Falls and Newfane agreed.

You see, not having a budget vote on the third Tuesday of May (May 20 this year) would be breaking the law and school boards and their superintendents could be removed from their jobs.

And I can surely understand that line of thinking. I’d never tell my children that breaking the law is okay.

But I’d rather my kids see me being just than legal.

Sometimes laws themselves are unjust. And obeying an unjust law makes the person obeying the law unjust, too.

While not adopting a budget and putting it out to vote on May 20 would be considered illegal by the state, I would imagine that a majority of local taxpayers who our school boards represent would prefer it to our rolling over and taking it.

The state’s “do as we say — not as we do” attitude for the past 19 years stinks to high heaven.

I say it’s time we do something about it.

Call your local school board president and tell them what you think. Your phone call could be the one that puts them over the edge and makes them decide to stop taking it.

And your school board telling the state what it really thinks could make our elected officials stand up and take notice: “Hey, we might have to listen to them.”

In turn, our senators and assemblymen could very well turn to the three men in a room (Gov. George Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno) and tell them they’re not going to stand for it any more.

And Bruno, Silver and Pataki might do something instead of just pretending to care about the people.

In the end we could see real change.

But first you’ve got to pick up the phone.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Taxes fall, state passes budget on time ..

And I've got a bridge that used to be across the Erie Canal that I'd like to sell you.

Today, folks, is the day of fools.

April Fools' Day, they call it.

I'm not sure of its origins or what the real purpose of the day is, but year after year, people trick their friends and colleagues into believing things that ordinary people should never believe.

Here at the Union-Sun & Journal, we used to make a big deal out of April Fools' Day.

Unfortunately, the super-cool April Fools' jokes that we used to do were over and done with before I got here.

* We said once that the Big Bridge had been taken out and was moving down stream.

* We said another bridge was being installed to go from Wilson to Toronto.

* A five-year-old bowled a 300, one year.

Now it's just the news. No foolin' around.

But sometimes the real news looks like a joke.

For example, today is the 20th anniversary of the last time our state passed its budget on time. No really, I'm not joking.

Members of the IDA and the Niagara County Legislature really are shouting things at each other and speaking ill of one another. One day the Republicans try to oust the chairman of the IDA. Days later she resigns the post, but retains her seat on the board. Just days after that, she's ousted by those same Republicans who have the help of two local Democrats.

This past weekend, three men each bowled their first 300 game. Three men! Each, I'm told is a good bowler and a fine human being, but three of them bowled perfect games over the weekend. Remember you used to hear about perfect games on a monthly basis, maybe?

"Head of State" just edged out "Bringing Down the House" as the nation's top-selling movie. The thought that either one of them drew an audience is crazy. Each being the best movie in consecutive weeks is implausible.

Know what's implausible?

I really wish it were an April Fools' joke. Or a bad nightmare. But it's real.

George W. Bush, who many believe to be functionally illiterate, and who certainly lost money at business venture after business venture is in the process of running our country into the ground.

This past November, American voters had the opportunity to spread a message to Bush and remove some of his power by electing Democrats. And what happened? A slew of new elephants got sent to Capitol Hill.

What is this, Bizarro World?

Recent polls say that 70 percent of you support the ongoing war on Iraq. Seven out of 10 of you believe that the biggest threat to our national security is Saddam Hussein.

They say sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

Right now I'm inclined to believe it.