As we reported previously, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is in a battle with federal highway officials over state-funded “I Love New York” billboards scattered along highways in New York State.
The signs are meant to inform motorists about a state-funded phone app which guides people toward state selected tourist attractions and businesses.
Federal officials say the signs pose a threat to motorists with poor self preservation instincts who might download the app while driving.
Initially New York State officials told the public that the signs cost taxpayers $1.9 million. The controversy with the feds however stirred further-than-usual inquiries by the media and subsequently the state admitted the cost for the signs was $8.1 million not $1.9 million, uncovering the fact that in this one instance the state was more than 400 percent off in the numbers they initially told the public.
There is a battle between the US Dept. of Highways and Gov. Cuomo’s NYS Department of Transportation over the state’s right to keep illegal “I Love New York” billboard sized signs along highways in the state.
The US Highway Department wants them down since they claim they are a distraction to motorists.
The state wants to keeps the I Love New York signs since it aids the state in its efforts to direct tourism in the state. The signs both direct tourists to specific places nearby and also advertise a state operated tourism phone app which when downloaded will give directions to places the state has decided are places for tourists to visit.
As readers know, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has installed I Love New York billboards along highways in New York State which US Highway officials have declared “illegal”.
The state installed 514 of the “illegal” billboards although some people who didn’t like them illegally took down seven in Long Island.
Federal officials says the state signs violate US law because they have a complicated message which may cause drivers to crash. The I Love New York billboards direct tourist to download a state phone app which guides people toward state selected attractions and business.
To date there have been five autonomous government investigations into the campaign bank account of former State Senator George Maziarz.
The five are:
The Moreland Commission, 2014. Gov, Cuomo launched it. It was targeted at state legislators for possible campaign fund improprieties. Moreland noted Maziarz had the largest amount of unitemized spending of any state senator on his campaign’s Board of Elections filings (about $150,o00). The Moreland Commission was disbanded by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. No charges were filed.
The US Attorney, Southern District of New York, headed by Preet Bharara subpoenaed Moreland records in 2014. A grand jury convened to investigate Maziarz’s campaign account. Witnesses were called. No charges were filed.
New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s Public Integrity Bureau started investigating in 2014. The investigation, seemingly dormant for years, has been suddenly reactivated. A grand jury convened following Maziarz treasurer, Laureen Jacobs, in response to a civil suit, filing an amended report explaining unitemized expenditures, on Feb. 6, 2017. The State investigation may be targeting Maziarz for possible violation of elections law through possible use of campaign funds donated to him which he in turn may have donated without full disclosure to the campaigns of other GOP candidates.
Niagara County DA.; 2015-2017. On an entirely different and arguably more serious track than the state, the county sought evidence that Maziarz senate staffers, Marcus Hall and Alicia Colatarci-Reimann and his treasurer, Jacobs, stole money from Maziarz campaign fund and that is why it was filed as unitemized. The investigation, commenced under former DA Michael Violante, was halted by the election of Caroline Wojtaszek as DA, based on a conflict of interest; she is married to longtime Maziarz ally, Henry Wojtaszek.
Erie County DA, 2017. The Niagara County DA transferred the case to Erie County DA, Michael Flynn in February 2017. It is reported that Erie County DA may await results of the Attorney General’s investigation despite the investigation being on an entirely different track (grand larceny of staff) than the state (election law).
To date, perhaps as much as $5 million in taxpayer money has been spent to investigate what appears to be no more than $151,000 in unitemized campaign funds.
There are also private costs to targets or potential targets of the investigation.
While it is not likely to pass, it’s the thought that counts.NY State Senators Rob Ortt (R,C,I-North Tonawanda) and Jim Seward (R,C,I,Ref-Oneonta) joined Assemblyman Marc W. Butler (R,C,I,Ref-Newport) and other lawmakers and gun rights advocates to unveil legislation to repeal elements of the NY SAFE Act throughout the state except for the five boroughs of New York City.Lawmakers are calling on both houses of the state legislature to reform several measures of the gun control law Upstate and on Long Island.
The comments from the legislators are instructive about how a lot of people upstate feel about the SAFE Act and the control New York City has over the lives of people downstate.
Senator Ortt said, “New York City plays by its own rules on so many issues. It has its own regulations when it comes to ride-sharing services and minimum wage increases, so it only makes sense to let New York City progressives keep the SAFE Act and reform the law everywhere else. The divide in our state is clear and since the un-SAFE Act was signed into law, that divide has only deepened. Its sweeping overreach turned yesterday’s law-abiding citizens and sportsmen into today’s criminals. Separating gun regulations between New York City and the rest of the state will help to relieve the unnecessary burden placed on gun owners and begin to bridge the divide.”
The governor’s Goat Island lodge plan, rolled out during one of his State of the State speeches in Amherst last month, is coming under strong attack from Niagara Falls legislators.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it is time for a “world class lodge” on Goat Island, something to create a year-round tourism destination, but three of the Cataract City’s county legislators will sponsor legislation next week opposing the governor’s plan as the wrong investment in the wrong place, urging Cuomo to focus instead on downtown economic development.
The legislation, co-sponsored by Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso (6th District, including the state park), Legislator Jason Zona (5th District) and Legislator Owen Steed (4th District) would oppose “further commercialization of the Niagara Reservation State Park,” and would ask the governor to cease any efforts to develop a “lodge hotel” anywhere in the state park.
In addition, the legislation asks that the state redirect staff resources to assist with economic development efforts outside the state park in conjunction with the City of Niagara Falls Comprehensive Plan.
Environmentalists have already spoken out against building a lodge on Goat Island as not being a good fit with the nature preserve setting envisioned by Frederick Law Olmsted, the park’s designer.
Virtuoso says he has received many calls from residents opposing the governor’s proposal as well as from hoteliers downtown who are concerned this lodge would be unfair competition, adding “we don’t know if this lodge would be paying property taxes or bed taxes. We’ve worked too hard rebuilding out downtown to go this route.” Being on state land, the lodge would be tax exempt.
“I have many concerns with this proposal,” said Zona in a press release, adding the state and Olmsted opposed commercialization of the park 130 years ago, restricting such efforts.
“We have a comprehensive plan for downtown and this falls nowhere under that,” said Zona. “All of our joint efforts should be to develop the areas outside of the park and grow our local economy.”
Steed said “it is important that all of our local officials, whether city or county, stand in opposition to this proposal.”
The legislators expect a protest at next Tuesday’s City Council meeting against the lodge plan, and both the council and the legislature will discuss the plan at their sessions next Tuesday.
Local historian Paul Gromosiak called Cuomo’s proposal for a Goat Island Lodge an insane idea.
“He [Cuomo] needs to read about Olmsted’s vision when the state park was established in 1885,” said Gromosiak in the Niagara Gazette, “and how Goat Island was to be kept as much as possible in its native state. If they want another hotel, let them build it downtown.”
I have advocated a free market approach to transportation since 1989. In an article, published in Business First, I proposed allowing drivers of smaller vehicles to compete with buses and provide a better product including door-to-door service. After the digital age came along, companies like Uber began to supply just such services but Buffalo and Upstate remain the last areas in the country that make Uber driving an imaginary crime. I mean, it’s an actual crime punishable by law, but one which, lacking a victim, logically exists only in the minds of progressive legislators and their gendarmes.
It is truly a David vs. Goliath story playing out in Albany these days as the ride-sharing giant Uber and its smaller competitor, Lyft, inch closer to their goal of operating beyond New York City and likely overwhelming conventional taxi services across the state, especially if they get a pass on some key regulations that govern traditional taxi businesses
Uber, reported to be worth $69 billion last month, and Lyft ($2 billion) have spent big dollars lobbying state lawmakers, with Uber alone spending close to $800,000 in the first six months of last year to push its agenda of expanding ride-sharing without regulations, and they have big-name supporter across the state and including the governor who want cities like Rochester and Buffalo to have the location-based app that makes it easy to hire an on-demand driver.
Local leaders are said to be fuming about Gov. Cuomo’s State of the State address—delivered, unconventionally, in Buffalo—after he inserted a demand that local governments hold referenda ostensibly designed to cut local tax bills.
“Cuomo’s plan doesn’t cut [excrement],” a frustrated county official told us Wednesday. “Meanwhile, he’s the biggest cost-driver in the state.”
The plan, which Cuomo trotted out at the Buffalo State of the State speech, would require county leaders to devise ways to consolidate or share services with the municipalities inside their borders. While that sounds commendable enough, county budget officials we talked to said the impact of any likely service sharing would be negligible across tax bills.
The silence is so noticeable you can hear a pin drop.
That’s how Assemblyman Angelo J. Morinello (R,C,I,Ref-Niagara Falls) is describing the lack of will or urgency to combat Albany corruption, and enact realistic and meaningful ethics reform during the opening weeks of session. Morinello noted over the last several weeks many state leaders have outlined proposals to spend billions in taxpayer dollars on headline-grabbing proposals without a responsible spending plan to back it up.
Morniello expressed disappointment that proposals from state leaders lacked teeth to combat the pervasive corruption that plagues the state Capitol, instead choosing to focus on proposals like free college tuition for illegal citizens and incentivizing movie theaters to serve alcohol.
(Editor’s Note: Judicial Watch Inc., America’s leading watchdog group, is led by Tom Fitton, who corresponds weekly with The Reporter and other media, keeping us updated on their initiatives. Our readers are invited to visit their website at www.judicialwatch.org and aid the organization through a generous contribution.)
Food-Stamp Recipients Can Order from Amazon, Other Online Retailers
Food-stamp recipients can use their taxpayer-funded benefit to order online from retailers like Amazon under a new Obama administration initiative that aims to facilitate the shopping experience for rural and urban residents. It marks the latest of many costly experiments by the administration to expand the fraud-infested program, which has seen a record-high number of beneficiaries under President Barack Obama. To eliminate the welfare stigma, the administration renamed food stamps Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the rolls swelled to an astounding 46.5 million in 2016. This cost American taxpayers and eye-popping $70 billion, according to government figures.
As part of the implementation of the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly called “Obamacare”, an online insurance exchange was created to enable New York residents to purchase health insurance from private insurers participating in the new internet marketplace. Over 3.3 million New Yorkers purchased health insurance from “New York State of Health” before the December 15 deadline for coverage to begin on Jan 1, 2017, the vast majority using the convenient website to evaluate and choose their plans.