blair horner | WAMC

blair horner

The Biden Administration’s plans to tackle the nation’s infrastructure woes and to combat climate change are among the top policy issues stuck in the U.S. Senate.  The President’s plans have passed the House of Representatives, but the razor-thin Democratic majority in the Senate makes progress slow going.

The world is in crisis: climate change has triggered once-in-a-millennium catastrophic weather events and we are all enduring the second year of a worldwide pandemic. 

For over a decade the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) has been the state’s leading ethics watchdog agency.  Its job is to oversee compliance with ethics standards set for the executive branch, in a limited way to do the same for the legislative branch, and to regulate state and local lobbyists and their clients.  Since its inception critics have charged that the structure of the agency is not independent and it is, in fact, a political agency – one in which the leaders of the executive and legislative branches controlled the actions of the agency.

Last week, western North America suffered through a record-breaking heat wave.  In the month of June, nearly 90 percent of the western US was in a state of drought made worse by climate change.  Lakes have been at historically low levels and restrictions were imposed on water use across the region.  Canada is getting hit too.  As one Canadian climatologist commented, “I like to break a record, but this is like shattering and pulverizing them.  It’s warmer in parts of western Canada than in Dubai.”

The ongoing ideological fight over whether the United States should ensure that all Americans have health care coverage came to a head last week with the US Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act.  While that decision rested on technical grounds – the Court ruled that the states and individuals bringing the challenge did not have legal standing to force a decision on the legal merits – it was widely viewed as a victory for the ACA law itself.

Lawmakers wrapped up the 2021 legislative session last week.  In some ways, the session was unlike others.  For the entire January to June session the Capitol and the Legislative Office buildings were closed to the public.  Lawmakers did not have to be in Albany in order to vote.

  

New York’s campaign financing system has been called a “disgrace” and an “embarrassment.” One of the most brazen examples of the disgraceful nature of the state’s campaign financing system is that it allows those with business before the government to shower contributions on elected officials who control government contracting decisions.

Blair Horner: Helping Young Adults Vote

May 31, 2021

This year marks the 50th anniversary of a landmark reform in American democracy.  In 1971, the nation approved the 26th Amendment – a change that allowed 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds the right to vote.  The change went into effect after 3/4 of the states approved the measure.  The amendment was first approved by the Congress in March 1971 and New York State approved the change on June 2, 1971 – 50 years ago this week.

It is well established that the oil companies knew for decades that the burning of fossil fuels would result in a hotter planet.  They knew it and yet did all they could to keep the public disinformed.  Like the tobacco industry, the fossil fuel companies spent big time on public relations efforts, political consultants, hot-wired lobbyists, campaign contributions and funded fake groups to advocate against the science that they knew to be true.

Blair Horner: The Right To Repair?

May 17, 2021

We’ve all had some version of this happen: Your cellphone refuses to boot up.  You take it to your favorite repair shop, and they tell you that they can’t get the parts to fix it.  Your choices now are either to go to an authorized repair shop and pay a lot more to get your cellphone fixed or just bite the bullet and get a new one.

It is hard not to despair about the looming climate catastrophe caused by global warming.  The world keeps moving past warnings and climate milestones and the nation’s political processes seem incapable of taking the necessary aggressive actions.

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. 

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