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State of SUNY, and Schumer speaks out

SUNY schools could soon be competing with each other for aid.
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SUNY schools could soon be competing with each other for aid.

State of SUNY
SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher gives her "State of SUNY" address today.  She's expected to announce that schools will compete with each other for aid, reports the New York Post:

Colleges that excel in research awards or graduation and retention rates, student course completion, diversity of students and faculty, and programs that address workforce shortages and the needs of emerging industries could land more aid in those areas. The aid has traditionally been distributed on the basis of enrollment.

You can stream the address, now in progress, here.

Hiring at Amherst call center
GEICO says it's hiring 300 new workers at its call center in Amherst, outside Buffalo, reports the Buffalo News:

Currently, the company employs 1,900 at the 250,000-square-foot site, built in 2005 -- with great fanfare and significant government tax breaks -- to ultimately handle as many as 2,500 workers. The $40 million facility has been ramping up its employment gradually over the last few years. "We have a great work force in Western New York," Cunningham said. "We have a nice facility here, and we're taking an opportunity with that."

Schumer speaks out
Senator Charles Schumer was in Rochester and Buffalo yesterday, berating the Chinese for hogging "rare earth metals" - elements necessary for many industrial processes.  When the Chinese clamped down on exports, prices rose, so Schumer is using Chinese president Hu Jintao's visit to the U.S. as an opportunity to call for loosening controls.  WXXI’s Innovation Trail reporter Zack Seward reports.

Schumer also talked to WNED's Innovation Trail reporter Daniel Robison about how western New York will cope with the loss of some key earmarks, including funding for the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.  According to Schumer:

"I put Schumer' proudly on every earmark. And there are some people who request earmarks and I say, This is not a good enough project. Or I don't know if the money will be spent well.' And I don't submit them. But every earmark I submit has my name on it and I'm proud to defend it in public," Schumer said.

Health insurance in Rochester
Rochester has "near-universal" health insurance, according to the Daily Beast (via Democrat and Chronicle), with more than 90 percent of residents covered.  You can see a gallery of the most insured cities, and least insured cities.

Offshore wind
The Democrat and Chronicle reports that "a majority of Monroe County legislators have now gone on record" opposing off-shore wind turbines in Lake Ontario

New York's Power Authority is currently considering five applications for wind farms in Lake Ontario or Erie and expects to announce a winning proposal in the first quarter of the year.

But the project has been controversial up and down the shores of the Great Lakes, with towns passing resolutions opposing the idea, and legislators weighing in against the idea.  A poll sponsored by WXXI, the D&C, WDKX, and 13WHAM-TV found that 68 percent of respondents were in favor of offshore wind.

Union contracts
Unions in Central New York are trying to negotiate new contracts in a very bad climate, reports the Post-Standard:

Oswego’s teachers, like government workers across the state, are opening negotiations in the harshest climate for public employees in years. The clamor for a cap on property taxes has focused attention on public spending — and on government workers whose pensions and other benefits are often sweeter than those in the private sector. For the governments, open contracts provide an opportunity to reset spending. For the workers, it’s a matter of holding on tight to what they have — and avoiding the role of scapegoats for an economy gone bad.

Spending cap
Republican state senators are introducing a spending cap bill today, among other pieces of legislation, reports the AP.  That's good news for the 83 percent of New Yorkers, from a recent Siena poll, who say they support a cap.  Gannett's Albany bureau reports that the survey also found that respondents want to tax millionaires in conjunction with the cap:

But voters also support extending the surcharge on high-income earners by a margin of 55 percent to 42 percent, a proposal Cuomo and Senate Republicans have rejected because reauthorizing the measure is considered a new tax. The tax, known as the millionaire's tax by its supporters, is due to expire at the end of 2011.

Lobbying for the Environmental Protection Fund
Advocates for New York's Environmental Protection Fund gathered in Albany yesterday to urge the governor to replenish the pot.  The Times Union reports:

With a budget deficit as high as $11 billion looming in the next fiscal year, it's hard to say whether the fund, which this year stands at $134 million, will be restored to $222 million as environmentalists and others want. But the participants at Tuesday's news conference provided a clear illustration of how budget crunches can bring together allies from a wide range of diverse interests.

TU reports that loggers and environmentalists also teamed up to decry cuts at the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Fracking fiction
Author R.W. White appeared on Innovation Trail station WSKG's "Off the Page" program yesterday, talking about his novel that centers on a mysterious hydrofracking related illness.  You can listen here.  What does the natural gas industry think about the book?  According to the Press & Sun-Bulletin, they’re “not thrilled:”

Brad Gill, director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association, wasn't thrilled to hear about the novel. He doesn't think the gas industry has gotten a fair shake from the entertainment industry, pointing to an episode of the CBS drama "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" that aired last year, portraying a fictional gas company as the villain. "I have to empathize," White said, adding he saw the CSI episode and didn't think the research was very good.

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