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Blair Horner: Earth Week 2021

Apr 26, 2021

April 22nd was Earth Day.  For over five decades, the world has marked Earth Day as a time to reflect on the state of the environment and to debate how best to improve the only habitat we have.

New York lawmakers return this week after a break following passage of the state budget in early April.  There are several big issues to tackle, all of which will be debated under the shadow cast by the Assembly’s impeachment inquiry and the Attorney General’s investigation of the governor’s actions.

Last week, state lawmakers and Governor Cuomo finally wrapped up a budget.  As it has in the past, the agreement was days past the deadline for the beginning of the new fiscal year – April 1st – but it was approved in time to spare state workers and the public of an interruption in services or paychecks.  In terms of the timing of the agreement, this year was not exceptional.

As Albany moved closer to a budget deal, a new controversy emerged.  According to reporting in the New York Times and the Buffalo News, Governor Cuomo’s pandemic leadership book deal was likely worth $4 million.  This reporting also raised a new wrinkle – that the governor’s staff was involved in pulling together the draft of that book and pitching it to publishers and the public.

Blair Horner: Taking On Superbugs

Mar 29, 2021

For years the world’s health experts have sounded the alarm about the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  The more antibiotics are used, the faster bacteria evolve to resist them, giving rise to so-called “superbugs” – bacteria that are extremely difficult or impossible to treat with existing drugs.

Blair Horner: Albany Moves Toward A Budget Deal

Mar 22, 2021

Despite the growing controversies swirling around Governor Cuomo, the mounting calls for his resignation, and the beginning steps toward possible impeachment, the state budget discussions moved forward last week.

This week is “Sunshine Week.”  Since 2005, Sunshine Week has focused public attention on the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy.

The swirling controversies and prognostications about the future of embattled Governor Cuomo have dominated New York headlines.  One of the big questions has been, “How will the governor and state lawmakers work together to hammer out a new state budget due by the end of this month?”

Blair Horner: Albany Is Once Again In Turmoil

Mar 1, 2021

February was not a kind month to the governor.  Earlier, the state Attorney General issued a report that documented that the Administration had significantly undercounted COVID deaths in nursing homes.  That revelation and the Administration’s admission that they had withheld data from the Legislature and the public roiled the Capitol and became Albany’s focus. 

The Cuomo Administration has been taking a beating in the media over its months-long refusal to disclose public information to reporters and watchdog groups about COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes and other similar non-hospital settings.  The Legislature, a co-equal branch of government, had also been stonewalled by the Cuomo Administration.  Republicans have called for the governor to be impeached and for a special session to be called to address the Administration’s failures.  Democrats have threatened to subpoena Administration officials and to hold public hearings on the issue.

Blair Horner: NY Needs To Overhaul Its Elections

Feb 15, 2021

Last week, more than three months after the November 2020 election, a winner was finally chosen in the nation’s only undecided Congressional race.  In Central New York’s Congressional District 22, Claudia Tenney was declared the winner with a razor thin margin of victory over incumbent Representative Anthony Brindisi.  In addition to a new Representative, the race brought disturbing news to New Yorkers: The close scrutiny of the ballots identified serious flaws in the way the state runs its elections.

With over a decade in office, through his control of the budget process and state agencies, Governor Cuomo owns New York’s higher education policy.  As lawmakers considered his eleventh annual budget last week, there was a focus on the increasingly precarious financial situation for some of New York’s colleges and universities.

The big news in Albany last week was the dramatic report released by the New York State Attorney General’s office.  The report examined the Cuomo Administration’s estimates on the number of nursing home patients who died due to COVID-19. 

Blair Horner: Governor Cuomo's Budget

Jan 25, 2021

Governor Cuomo unveiled his proposed budget for the state’s upcoming fiscal year, which starts on April 1st. The governor’s presentation focused on the amount of aid that the state could receive from a federal stimulus package. The strategy of the Administration since the pandemic began has been to “kick the can” – putting off critical decisions – until it became clear what the Congress would do.

Governor Cuomo is scheduled to release his proposed state budget this Tuesday.  His budget will be the first to comprehensively analyze the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the state’s finances and it will also be the first budget of the second decade of the Cuomo Administration.

Blair Horner: A Dark Day In American History

Jan 11, 2021

Last week the President of the United States attempted to overturn the 2020 election through the use of force.  There can be no other interpretation of his actions.  His effort was planned for months and executed after all his other measures to overturn the election failed. 

Blair Horner: The 2021 Legislative Session Begins

Jan 4, 2021

New York State lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene this week to start a new two-year legislative session.  The state Constitution is clear about the opening of the Legislature, that it must start meeting on the “first Wednesday after the first Monday in January.”

Blair Horner: 2020 Heads For The Exit

Dec 28, 2020

As 2020 grinds toward an end, it is a good time to review the profound changes that have occurred over the past 52 weeks. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the world.  An interconnected planet has its great advantages, but dangerous viruses can also hitchhike along aviation routes and shipping lanes to spread disease at incredible speed.  Not only has the pandemic savaged the world’s public health, but it has similarly devastated nations’ finances. 

Monday, December 14th, the nation formally picks its President.  A full month after the popular election, delegates to the Electoral College will gather in each of the states to vote on whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump should be President.  Four years ago, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by the margin of three million votes, yet still lost the election since her opponent, now President Trump, won big in the Electoral College.

One full month after Election Day, New York finally closed the books on 2020.  Although there is still one Congressional race outstanding, the final tallies are in for November’s elections.  What is most notable about the election is that by allowing the widespread use of mail-in ballots due to the pandemic, the outcome initially seen on Election Day was dramatically changed after all paper ballots were counted.

As the world continues to grapple with the deadly coronavirus pandemic, some potentially good medical news has developed.  In recent weeks, two major pharmaceutical companies claim to have developed vaccines that are far more successful than anyone had expected in protecting the public from COVID-19.

As the nation – and the world – tries to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, the fight to combat the ongoing climate catastrophe caused by global warming must be a priority. 

Blair Horner: Reforming New York's Elections

Nov 3, 2020

Regardless of the election results, the verdict is in on New York State’s system of running elections: It fails and is in desperate need of overhaul.

A little more than halfway through its fiscal year and New York State is dealing with a budget that is billions of dollars in the red.  Unless something changes, that’s the way it will be for the foreseeable future.  These deficits are largely the result of the cratering state finances driven by the catastrophic coronavirus pandemic.  In addition to the staggering toll in death and sickness from COVID-19, state revenues took a nose dive because New Yorkers have not been working, or shopping, or traveling, at pre-pandemic levels.

For months, the state’s finances teetered on the edge as the Cuomo Administration attempted to keep New York’s budget in balance while hoping for a bailout from the Congress.  The bulk of the Administration’s hopes hinged on two tactics: one, borrowing to ensure that revenues covered expenses; and two, “withholding" payments to government agencies and non-profit service providers to keep expenses down.  The Administration “withholds” funding instead of cutting programs while waiting for a federal stimulus deal to fill up the state’s coffers.

Led by the President, there is a nationwide attack on the mail in voting option.  The basic thrust of these attacks is that voting by mail is prone to “fraud” and that the mail-in votes will not be counted or will be lost. 

Utility giant National Grid has proposed a rate hike of 4 percent more for electric and 6 percent more for natural gas service that, if approved, would start next July.  Those proposals would boost the utilities revenues by $100 million for electric delivery and $42 million for natural gas delivery.  The plan has been the subject of a series of public hearings organized by the New York State Public Service Commission and has generated widespread concern.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus America’s economic and racial disparities.  A stark example is in health care delivery: when it comes to access as well as quality, racial, gender, and geographic differences are enormous and growing.

With Congress stalled on a bailout package, New York’s financial situation is becoming increasingly dire.  As the feds debate, in the meantime, the state is withholding support for local governments and non-profits that provide services.  That “withholding” can turn into cuts as local governments cut back on assistance.