Tuesday, December 28, 2010

'Tis no longer the season

Another Christmas has come and gone.

I had a great Christmas season, ending on an an absolutely wonderful Christmas Day where I got everything I asked for. True story.

I mentioned last month how much I love Christmas. I get into the lights. And the music. And the movies. Heck, I watched Christmas movies almost exclusively from Thanksgiving until Saturday night.

However, as I said, the Christmas season ends on Christmas Day. And come December 26th, it just seems wrong to watch Christmas movies. Christmas music becomes passé. The snow stops being pretty and starts being a nuisance. And I can endure the lights and decorations for a little while longer, but by a few days after New Years, they start to bother me.

I guess I feel like there's a place for everything and everything in its place.

With Christmas come and gone, it's now time to focus on the new year. A time we all dedicate to bettering ourselves.

I had never been one for New Year's resolutions. But I made several last year. And I'm happy to say I kept most of them. I didn't resolve to lose weight. Or quit any vices. I would have failed those. Mostly, I just resolved to just be a better person. I think I was.

This coming year I resolve to build on the successes I had in 2010. I had several. I also had my fair share of failures. I resolve to work harder to have less of those in 2011.

Whatever you might want 2011 to be, remember that it is mostly up to you. Sure, there are things in life we don't control. But we do control who we are, individually.

Resolutions should not be wishes. They are intentions. Promises, if you will. And they're promises you make to yourself. Maybe you make them publicly and tell your friends and colleagues. But what you tell yourself is really more important.

A resolution should not be boastful. No one is impressed with what you say you intend to do. People are impressed by actions.

I can truly say that today I am a better, stronger person than I was a year ago. While that may not be impressive to you, it means everything to me.

I got quite a bit of feedback on last week's column. When I wrote it, I was somewhat concerned that it was too specific to Lockport. But the kudos came from far and wide, as I should have expected. Lockport may have been the example, but the topic was somewhat universal.

I always enjoy feedback. Be it positive or negative. It let's me know that you're reading this, first of all. It also lets me know that you care about the community you live in.

This paper encourages feedback. And we want to hear your opinion on things. You can let us know what you're thinking with a letter to the editor, by calling Sound Off, or by adding your two cents to our Facebook page.

Maybe that can be your resolution. Resolve to get more involved.

Alright, I bared my soul enough this week. I'll meet you back here next Tuesday.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What part of 'no' don't they understand?

Some people don't seem to take “no” for an answer.

School boards seem to be worse at this than any other group of people I know.

You'd think that those in charge of teaching our children would be able to understand English – especially a simple word like “no.”

But once again, a local school district is wondering if maybe “no” actually just meant “not right now” or “ask again later.” It's like the Magic 8 Ball version of “no” with them.

Last week the Lockport Board of Education got some visitors asking them to ask taxpayers if maybe “no” really didn't mean “no.”

Two years ago, voters went to the polls to vote on a measure that would build a $6 million sports complex at the Lockport High School. It was part of a two-part capital improvement proposal to upgrade the high school. It was overwhelmingly defeated by a vote of 1,797 to 1,296. The other part of the proposal – which focused more on academics, was approved 1,708 to 1,442 and is the $23.5 million construction work currently being done on the school.

Fast forward to now and some folks in the athletics department are hoping they'll get a second chance at that $6 million project.

The argument they made to the school board last week was that people didn't know what they were voting on before. We're stupid, see, and we can't be trusted to make our own decisions. Since the people who know better are looking out for us, they're going to give us a second change to say “yes.”

I have children in the Lockport School District. I want them to have the best opportunities possible. But I also know what I can and can't afford. And I don't have a spare $6 million for a sports complex.

Now, the sports folks would keenly point out here, that the state is kicking in 93 percent of the cost, so, really, Lockport taxpayers would only pay $420,000. The rest would be paid with money the state has piled up in a big room in Albany.

Except there's no money piled up in a room in Albany. Albany's broke. And let's not forget where Albany gets its money – us!

Government entities have been pulling the whole “don't worry, the state pays for it,” shell game for a long time, all the while, complaining about Albany's overspending. Maybe if we only did things we could afford, Albany wouldn't spend so much.

I have nothing against sports. Growing up, I played hockey, football, baseball, soccer, tennis, even lacrosse. Not for school, mind you. Just at a park with my friends. We never asked for a $6 million sports complex, even though it would have made the games so much cooler. And to the best of my recollection, I never asked my parents for so much as a new hockey stick. When I broke one (which I did often), I got my wallet out and bought one … with my money … if I could afford it. And if I couldn't, I waited until I could.

When you're paying your own way, you learn to accept “no” as an answer.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Recession finally hits state government

Most of us have had to learn to do with less these past couple years.

I've personally used the phrase, “not in the budget” about four million times, whether it was while out shopping with the kids, or turning down a friend's request to go out to dinner or to a movie or whatever. We all have to prioritize and most often prioritizing means skipping what you want to to in order to afford what you have to do.

“Not in the budget” has become somewhat of a catch phrase. I'm hardly the only one saying it. The recession has affected almost everyone I know in some way or another. Many of my friends have lost jobs, or had to do more at their jobs, picking up the slack left because someone else at their job got a pink slip.

Private companies deal with the pain of recession by reducing their workforce if they can't find other ways to save enough money to make them viable during the bleak economic times that fall upon us from time to time.

Government, it seems, hardly goes that same route.

My budget – much like yours – is determined by my paycheck. My paycheck – much like yours – is determined by how many hours I work, multiplied by how much my employer is willing to pay me for each hour of work done.

Government's budget, meanwhile, is determined by how much they raise in taxes; whether they be sales taxes, income taxes, property taxes or “fees,” which are really just taxes with a different name.

Basically, people get paid what their employer is willing to pay. Government gets paid whatever they want.

This has been the formula for far too long.

One thing that rang out loud and clear from the election is that people aren't fond of that formula. People don't like being told what to do or how much to pay. Government is supposed to work for us. Not the other way around. And many of the people who won their elections in November campaigned on just such a mantra.

It looks like New York State might have gotten that message … to a degree. Last week Governor David Paterson announced that come January 1, there will be 900 fewer state employees than there are right now. The last day of this month, 900 people will get their pink slips and told to move on.

Of course, those 900 people are none-too-happy about this. And the unions that represent them aren't either.

But in Paterson's defense, he did give those unions an opportunity to save those jobs if they were willing to make concessions to save the state money. The unions, however, refused.

Paterson can't force concessions on the unions. They already have a contract. But he can reduce the number of employees. So that's what he did.

It's sad to see people lose their jobs. But it beats allowing the state to be held hostage by public employees unions.

Come January 1, this could all be moot if the incoming governor, Andrew Cuomo belays that layoff order.

If he does, we all might have to get part-time jobs just to pay our taxes. Or we'll have to learn to do with even less.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Its snow fun making yourself look stupid ...

Bragging never works the way you want it to. It always comes back to bite you.

Since the snow hit last week, I've been telling everyone, “I don't have any,” with a somewhat smug smile like the one I watched George W. Bush wear for eight years.

Everywhere I went, there was snow on the roads and people's lawns. There was ice on the driveways, slush in the parking lots and general winter unpleasantness. My daily commute began with dry pavement and green grass. But as I passed through Amherst, I saw snow on the trees and all along the grass on the 990. As I entered Lockport, there seemed to be snow everywhere. Granted, it wasn't a lot of of snow. Nothing we couldn't handle. But snow nonetheless. And as I mentioned, “I don't have any.”

I fell asleep on the couch Sunday night as I admired the glow that came off of our new Christmas tree. There was Christmas music on the radio and I was very much feeling the Christmas spirit, as I've mentioned before that I often do.

Monday morning, however … Bah, humbug. What's with all this white stuff outside? My happy little paradise of green grass and dry roads had gotten covered in snow overnight. And my first thought? Not that I'd have to warm my car up. Not that I'd have to brush it off. Not that this would add another 10 minutes to my commute. Nope. My first thought was that I'd have to eat some crow from all the “I don't have any's,” that I've been telling people.

Then it occurred to me that I'd have to start the car early and it would take more time to get to work. And that simply compounded my braggadocios dilemma.

Of course, it's just a little snow and living in Buffalo, we pride ourselves on our ability to deal with the snow. Heck, it could snow three feet in a day and that wouldn't slow us down. Right?

Well, a week ago I would have said as much … before that debacle on the Thruway last week where motorists got stranded for the better part of a day while government officials did their best to look like Keystone Cops. The thought that a little snow not only slowed us down, but stopped us altogether is a bit humbling.

I'm all-too-familiar with that particular tract of pavement where the Thruway became a parking lot. I used to drive it daily. And when the snow hit, I told everyone I knew, “I'm just glad that's not part of my daily commute anymore.”

I'd then add, “I don't have any.”

And just like Buffalo as a whole lost the right to be self-righteous about dealing with the snow last week, I lost my right to be self-righteous about not having to deal with the snow as Sunday turned into Monday.

After all, bragging never works the way you want it to. It always comes back to bite you.