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Politics

Paterson unsticks the state budget, and Alec Baldwin for Wegmans

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Governor Paterson may have changed how Albany does budget business - permanently.

Do the legislative limbo
Gannett's Albany bureau has a look at how Governor David Paterson may have revolutionized New York's notoriously sticky budget process.  By using emergency spending bills Paterson was able to inch his budget toward adoption in separate pieces, with the threat of a state shutdown as leverage.

Some budget watchdog groups said Paterson at least was able to develop a blueprint to help the next governor deal with the state's fiscal woes. In another example, Paterson unilaterally delayed payments to schools and other agencies to help the state from going broke and preserving some of the state's savings. "Governor Paterson showed the state that the governor's office has some powers we didn't fully understand before and we can expect future governors will try to take full advantage of that," said Robert Ward, deputy director of the Albany-based Rockefeller Institute of Government.

As if the budget isn't tricky enough, the governor-elect still doesn't know what type of senate - Democratic or Republican - will be voting on those budget bills, as votes continue to be counted in close races.  So Andrew Cuomo has called for judicial intervention, in a letter shared with the Times Union:

"In my view, a Senate in limbo is not only undesirable, but also unacceptable," Cuomo said in an open letter to Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. "The challenges now facing the State are immense and impact the lives of all New Yorkers. Rarely in our history has it been more important that the State has a fully functional Legislature." Cuomo asked Lippman, who oversees New York's court system, to expedite legal cases surrounding the ballot counting that will decide Senate seats in Nassau, Westchester, Niagara and Erie counties.

Utility hike
Judges advising the state's Public Service Commission have recommended that utility National Grid keep its rate increase to just $99 million, according to the Post-Standard.  It's up to the PSC to decide whether or not to take that advice though, as it mulls over National Grid's original request for a $391 million rate hike:

The proposed $99.3 million rate hike would raise National Grid’s delivery rates about 6.6 percent, but the judges recommended no bill increases for residential and small commercial customers. Instead, certain costs due to be collected from those customers would be deferred until later years. A group representing larger businesses argued against deferring any portion of bills, which only adds interest costs, the judges wrote. Big businesses indicated they preferred “a short-lived rate increase in 2011 (if necessary), followed by a reduction in 2012,” they said.

Gas leasing vote
Broome County legislators will get more time to decide whether or not to lease public land for gas drilling, reports the Press & Sun-Bulletin.  The original deadline for a vote on the multi-million dollar deal was today - now it appears that the company is offering another month to mull it over:

The offer -- $7.8 million up front and 20 percent royalties, minus a share of post-production costs, for the rights to 3,200 acres of county land over five years -- was scheduled to expire at the end of November. Now, the legislature could push the vote back for the second time in as many months; it was already held over once at the November legislative session. Previously, Inflection offered $16 million for the mineral rights to 5,610 acres of Broome County land. That proposal, however, was pulled in July by County Executive Barbara J. Fiala because it lacked support from a majority of legislators. The new offer excludes some of the county's most valuable property near the Pennsylvania border.

State funds for church renovation
Two churches in Buffalo have received state money to renovate their buildings, according to the Buffalo News.  Trinity Episcopal Church received more than half a million dollars to replace roofs and correct drainage issues.  Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church will receive $200,000 as it pursues a plan to convert part of its building to apartments and community space, reports the Buffalo News:

“We’re kind of becoming the town hall of the Elmwood Village,” said the Rev. Drew Ludwig, the church’s pastor. “We’re the gathering space for the neighborhood.”

Reviving science
Students from across the country discussed how to make science education more effective - and less geeky - at a virtual town hall meeting yesterday.  The Democrat and Chronicle reports that that local students tuned in from the Strasenburgh Planetarium:

"There's not a lot of awareness among students about these issues," said Nicholas Cancalosi-Dean, who came with classmates from Dewitt Middle School in Ithaca. Organizers decided to have the event in response to international test scores that place U.S. students 35th in math and 29th in science, behind most other developed countries.

Humanities cuts in higher ed
NPR's Margot Adler covered SUNY Albany's closure of foreign language programs in her look at cuts to humanities across the country.  Adler notes that students and faculty are starting to question SUNY Albany's school slogan, "the world within reach."

The boss is back

Carl Paladino returned to the spotlight in Buffalo yesterday at a board meeting, and promptly got into a spat with another member over using state money to shore up a private building, reports the Buffalo News.  Paladino defended his use of state dollars for development projects, saying the Empire Zone that he's used as a landlord is not "selective," and that anyone who applies can receive benefits.

IBM trial
The momentum continues, for a trial over IBM's environmental legacy in Endicott, outside Binghamton.  The Press & Sun-Bulletin reports that lawyers for both sides met yesterday to talk about how to proceed with a lawsuit brought by citizens concerned about trichloroethylene pollution.  So far both sides are keeping mum about any decisions that have been made.

Housing authority row
There's a fight brewing in Syracuse, where mayor Stephanie Miner has appointed a new head of the housing authority.  What's the problem?  The outgoing head won't go out - Charlie Vinal is refusing to step down.  The Post-Standard reports there's a showdown expected at "high noon" today as the city's lawyer accompanies the new head to a midday meeting.

A day in the life...
... of squash.  Just in time for Thanksgiving, the Democrat and Chronicle has a look at a humble butternut squash farm, and how its byproducts make their way into the food economy of the East Coast:

A week from today, thousands of families from Maine to Virginia will grace their Thanksgiving tables with butternut squash that was grown and cut up on Martin Farms, just northwest of the village of Brockport. A much smaller number might also flavor their roasted vegetables or salad with a byproduct of the same squashes. Stony Brook WholeHeartedFoods, a startup company in Geneva, Ontario County, makes oil from Martin Farms' butternut squash seeds. Meanwhile, young dairy cattle on the Zuber farm in Churchville will root through their feed to find and munch on the peels left over from Martin Farms' squash-cutting process. And pigs growing fat at the Piggery in Hector, Schuyler County, will scarf up chunks of a caramel-colored extrusion left over after roasting, grinding and squeezing oil out of butternut seeds.

Wegmans marketing
Hat tip to the Democrat and Chronicle's Business blog for bringing us a peek at Alec Baldwin's ad for Wegmans, the Rochester-area grocery giant.  Let's just say it's no 30 Rock:

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