Friday, March 13, 2015

State budget will include emissions reductions funding

Posted By on Fri, Mar 13, 2015 at 9:57 AM

State lawmakers have their eyes on a multi-state greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program as a source of revenue for the 2015-16 state budget.

According to an article published on Capital, the state political news website, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Senate have proposed sweeping funding from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative into the forthcoming state budget. Both want to use the money in part for general funding purposes and to replenish the state's Environmental Protection Fund.

And it looks like the Republican plan is the better of the two. Here's the breakdown, according to Capital:

Cuomo wants to take $36 million from RGGI. He'd use $23 million for the state's general fund and $13 million for the Environmental Protection Fund. 

The Senate would pull $64 million out of RGGI funds and direct $49 million to the Environmental Protection Fund, mostly for projects that cut greenhouse gas emissions. (In total, the Senate wants to fully fund the EPF at $200 million, according to Capital.)

The Senate program would sweep more money from RGGI, which gets it proceeds from the auction of carbon emissions allowances to power plants. And while these sorts of funding sweeps aren't really a good idea, at least the Senate wants to use the money similarly to how RGGI would use it. The program's proceeds are supposed to fund energy efficiency projects, projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and utility bill relief for consumers.

The budget proposals aren't final. The Senate and Assembly have passed their budgets and Cuomo has his proposal. Over the next few weeks, leaders will sit down and try to negotiate a plan that they can all agree on. Whether the RGGI sweep gets through in some form depends on how those talks go.

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U of Oklahoma's stark reminder

Posted By on Fri, Mar 13, 2015 at 9:48 AM

Imagine you're the parent of a college-age child. Your son or daughter managed to get accepted into a respectable school and you've pulled together enough money to help pay for it. You’re a proud parent, thinking that years of nurturing and guidance paid off.

Then you turn on the television only to find an image of your child grinning like a fool and chanting horribly racist lyrics. There aren't words to describe the shock and shame.

The video of the fraternity brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at University of Oklahoma is another reminder of how racism continues to play a cancerous role in American society. Still, many people see the SAE incident as isolated and unrelated. 

Is there a connection between the flagrant disrespect shown toward the nation’s first African-American president and the barrage of voter identification laws that followed? Is there a connection between the police shooting of an unarmed African-American youth in Ferguson and the recent uproar over the Urban-Suburban program in Spencerport?

These events aren't directly related, but there’s more of a connection than most of us care to admit. Let’s face it, America remains deeply divided when it comes to race. But what makes the frat boys’ 10-second video so compelling is seeing the idealism of American college life so corrupted by hate. How could young people with so many privileges and opportunities behave with so little humanity?

Many people quickly blamed the parents — these views were simply handed down. Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and conservative commentator Bill Kristol blamed the students’ behavior on rap music.

A better explanation can be found in the hateful anonymous online comments we all see on various websites, and the attitudes expressed in coded language around the water cooler. 

When it comes to race, the US isn’t the same country it was 50 years ago. But we also haven’t advanced as far as we sometimes think. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Public Market neighborhoods need a boost

Posted By on Thu, Mar 12, 2015 at 10:59 AM

The Public Market is a gem, but the neighborhoods surrounding the market struggle. - FILE PHOTO
  • The Public Market is a gem, but the neighborhoods surrounding the market struggle.
I like the idea of a direct connection between Village Gate plaza and the Hungerford Building; the two share a similar sensibility and right now, Hungerford kind of hangs out there on East Main, isolated, like Alcatraz. (Although I think some effort needs to be made to make Hungerford easier to navigate both inside and out.)

The connection is one idea to come out of the city’s public meeting Tuesday night on its pending East Main Arts and Market District Plan

The overall goal is to connect Neighborhood of the Arts with the neighborhoods around the Public Market both physically and emotionally, so that the latter shares in NOTA’s vibrancy. The Public Market is thriving, but you wouldn’t know it by the shape of much of the surrounding housing stock and empty commercial buildings.

The big barrier to this, of course, is East Main — dividing NOTA from the neighborhoods on the other side of Main like a moat. A pedestrian bridge over East Main is another idea to come out of Tuesday’s meeting.

Other concepts either suggested by the city or by meeting participants include streetscape enhancements, protected bicycle lanes, beautification of the Main Street bridge, banners, and public art.

“Public art is debatable,” one woman said. “I get all excited, but then they unveil it and, ‘Oh no.’”

Accompanying the project, according to the city, will be an examination of housing-related issues and opportunities in the area.

The final East Main Arts and Market District Plan is due between August and October 2015, according to the city’s timeline.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Study: Universal health care would save billions annually

Posted By on Tue, Mar 10, 2015 at 1:07 PM

A study released today says that New York would save $45 billion annually by creating a statewide universal health plan.

The study was conducted by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Economics Department, and focuses specifically on a bill proposed by state Assembly member Richard Gottfried. Assembly members Harry Bronson and David Gantt are local co-sponsors of the bill known as the New York Health Act.  

The average cost of health care premiums for employer-provided plans in New York doubled in the last decade with employees paying over $4,200 annually, according to the study. And for a family plan in New York, the average annual deductible has also doubled since 2003 from about $700 to more than $1,400.

Where would the savings come from? The study suggests that much of it would come from the elimination of private insurance carriers and their administration costs, which are about 15 percent of premium costs. The state could also use the same large purchasing power as the Veterans Administration to greatly reduce the cost of drugs and medical devices.

The study shows there would be a net growth of 200,000 jobs in New York if the bill passed.

The plan requires a complicated funding arrangement, but also promises lower health care costs for employers and the potential for reduced state property taxes because the plan would take over the state’s Medicaid costs.

The most important factor in the health bill would be better outcomes. It may surprise people who have not experienced it, but having health insurance doesn’t automatically result in care. Many people in the US cannot afford the deductibles and other health expenses that add up when serious illness or injury occurs.

According to the study, 14,000 deaths in New York could be avoided if the bill is passed.

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Power plant owners at odds over state subsidies

Posted By on Tue, Mar 10, 2015 at 11:43 AM

New York's electricity marketplace is in transition. Some of the old coal plants have gone offline; more wind and solar power has come online; fuel prices and generation costs are fluctuating; and regulators, utilities, and power plant owners are all trying to figure out how to make the whole thing work.

And right now, it's a bit of a fight.

City has written about the Ginna nuclear plant's financial struggles and its request for a state-imposed subsidy to keep running. The plant lost more than $100 million in three years and won't be able to make enough by selling electricity on the state's competitive market, according to its owner, a subsidiary of Exelon.

Ginna's owner threatened to shut the plant down if the state didn't order Rochester Gas and Electric to negotiate a support contract. (State utilities regulators say that Ginna is needed in the short term to ensure a reliable electricity supply.) The agreement between Ginna and RG&E is being reviewed by the state; the contract would mean slightly larger bills for customers, according to filings with the State Public Service Commission.

But some other New York power plant owners, including Entergy and NRG, oppose the agreement, partly for competitive reasons. Ginna should shut down if it isn't economically viable, they say — that way other plants can sell more of their power at appropriate, market-based prices. 

That same argument appears to be the basis of a federal lawsuit that Entergy — the owner of the Indian Point and Fitzpatrick nuclear plants — has filed against the state. An article by Jon Campbell from Gannett's Albany bureau does a good job of breaking down Entergy's claims and how the lawsuit could affect aging power plants in New York.

Continue reading »

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Monday, March 9, 2015

WEEK AHEAD: Meeting on East Main-Market project; Coffee and Conversation with Vargas

Posted By on Mon, Mar 9, 2015 at 9:32 AM

The first of two public meetings on the East Main Street Arts and Market Initiative is from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 10, at School of the Arts, 45 Prince Street.

The City of Rochester is developing a plan for multi-modal circulation, access, parking improvements, land use, streetscape improvements, and other initiatives to promote housing opportunities in the neighborhoods immediately east of downtown and to create a more vibrant area.

Another goal of the development is to better connect communities with destinations.

The purpose of Tuesday’s meeting is to provide an overview of the project, share findings about existing conditions, and obtain input from the public.

The plan should be completed by the fall.

If you can’t get to the meeting, you can submit comments to project manager Erik Frisch at by Friday, March 20. BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN 

Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas will hold one of his monthly Coffee and Conversation meetings from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 12, at central office, 131 West Broad Street.

The meetings give students, parents, teachers, and community members the opportunity to talk to the superintendent, ask questions, and raise concerns in an informal setting. BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Forum tonight on Cuomo's education vision

Posted By on Thu, Mar 5, 2015 at 11:08 AM

Fairport Interim Superintendent Bill Cala - FILE PHOTO
  • Fairport Interim Superintendent Bill Cala
The Rochester Teachers Association will hold a community forum on education at 4:30 p.m. today. The forum is one of several that the RTA has organized in the Upstate region in opposition to Governor Cuomo's education reform agenda, which stresses tougher teacher evaluations based on the results of student tests. Cuomo also wants to increase the number of charter schools in the state.  

Area legislators Rich Funke, Joe Robach, Joe Morelle, David Gantt, Mark Johns, and Harry Bronson have been invited to the event. Remarks will be made by Bill Cala, Fairport's interim superintendent; and Rosemary Rivera, spokesperson for the Alliance for Quality Education. Community members will be able to ask questions and make comments.

Tonight's event will be held at Temple B'rith Kodesh, 2131 Elmwood Avenue. The RTA and its allies have more forums planned in the coming weeks.  

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Vargas-school board feud blows up

Posted By on Wed, Mar 4, 2015 at 5:50 PM

Bolgen Vargas - FILE PHOTO
  • Bolgen Vargas
It’s finally out in the open. The on-and-off tension between Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas and members of the school board has erupted in a most unsavory way. Vargas has taken the first steps to sue his bosses.

This is not frivolous litigation. This is serious and it raises important questions about the role and responsibilities of elected school boards and the leaders they hire. Who runs the district and makes the day-to-day decisions? Should the superintendent have some of the same latitude in decision-making that most private-sector CEO’s take for granted?

And who should be held accountable when those decisions turn out to be wrong?

To recap: the Rochester school board in a 7-0 vote last night approved two resolutions. One revises the board’s policy regarding the Superintendent’s Employment Group. These are employees that are usually handpicked by the superintendent and are among the highest-level administrators in the district.

But they are not members of a union, which means that they serve at the pleasure of the superintendent.

The resolution is intended to limit the employees in the SEG to those permitted by State Education Law. Vargas says he's following the law now, but the school board says that he isn't.  

The second resolution asks their attorney to get clarification from the New York Employment Relations Board regarding which job titles are allowed to be part of SEG.

But in his notice of claim, Vargas says that the resolutions “usurp the Superintendent’s authority and violate his rights” and that board members have “unilaterally modified the Superintendent's employment contract.”

The claim was filed in State Supreme Court. A notice of claim essentially lets the court and the involved parties know that a suit is coming.

The claim says that the State Education Law was revised in 1997, with the support of Assembly member David Gantt, specifically “to increase the powers relating to the management and operation of the Rochester City School District in the Superintendent of Schools instead of the Board.”

“The resolution violates his employment contract and violates provisions of employment law,” Vargas’s attorney Steven Modica said in a telephone interview earlier today. When asked if the board might be trying to get Vargas to resign, Modica said, “That’s certainly something we wonder about.”

But much of the disagreement centers on a longstanding question that has plagued many school boards and superintendents: what specifically are the roles of the board and the superintendent?

White says that the board’s resolutions are an effort to comply with state laws. The SEG group has expanded over the years to include employees who shouldn’t be there, he says.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. But the suit certainly doesn’t bode well for the credibility of the district.
The suit also raises questions about the district’s relationship with the University of Rochester as it steps into a management role at East High School — not to mention the district’s relationship with other outside agencies.

And does the suit raise the specter of mayoral control — legislation that would probably eliminate the school board and put the schools, the budget, and the superintendent under the mayor’s office?

And most important, can Vargas still be effective as superintendent considering his challenges with the principals and administrators’ union, and now the board? Is there still an opportunity for both the board and Vargas to resolve this amicably? We just don't know. 

Board Resolutions


Swiatek Letter

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

MCC's new downtown campus on target for 2017 opening

Posted By on Tue, Mar 3, 2015 at 2:20 PM

The first phase of construction at Monroe Community College's new $72 million downtown campus is three-quarters complete, and the facility is on track for a fall 2017 opening.

MCC Downtown campus renderings
MCC Downtown campus renderings MCC Downtown campus renderings MCC Downtown campus renderings MCC Downtown campus renderings MCC Downtown campus renderings MCC Downtown campus renderings MCC Downtown campus renderings

MCC Downtown campus renderings

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The new 255,000-square-foot campus will be spread across seven floors in four former Kodak buildings on State Street, bought by the county. The first phase of construction included separating the utilities from the adjacent Kodak Tower — which is still owned by Kodak — as well as some demolition, infrastructure, and asbestos abatement work, said John DiMarco II, president of DiMarco Constructors, the construction manager for the project, at a press conference this morning. 

DiMarco said that project officials are working on plans for the second phase of construction, which should go out to bid in the late spring or early summer. The work should start by the fall, he said.

Monroe Community College and Monroe County will seek LEED status for the campus, said Robert Healy, president LaBella Associates, the project's lead architect. Buildings given LEED certification have to meet certain environmental performance criteria.

One key feature of the new campus will be a three-floor "spine," which is a stairway surrounded by public areas, administrative offices, collaborative spaces, and meeting rooms. Classroom spaces will start on the third floor.

Continue reading »

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Monday, March 2, 2015

WEEK AHEAD: Gillibrand at UR to talk sexual violence; forum on living wage

Posted By on Mon, Mar 2, 2015 at 9:32 AM

Kirsten Gillibrand. - FILE PHOTO
  • Kirsten Gillibrand.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will visit the University of Rochester campus at 12:30 p.m. today to hold a roundtable discussion about sexual violence at colleges.

Participants include University of Rochester students and officials; students and officials from other Rochester-area colleges; and advocates, law enforcement, and sexual assault survivors, according to a press release from Gillibrand’s office.

They’ll discuss ways to fight sexual violence on college campuses.

Gillibrand’s office says that college campuses in New York reported 388 forcible sex offenses in 2013; nationwide, over 5,000 were reported.

The senator is a sponsor of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which would overhaul the way that college campuses handle sexual assault cases. BY JEREMY MOULE

“Wedge Wage,” which will include a forum and discussion on the fight for a living wage, is from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, March, 5, at the German House, 315 Gregory Street. No RSVP is required and the program is not limited to residents of the South Wedge.

Speakers will include low-wage workers; Elizabeth Nicholas, an attorney with the Wage Justice Project of Empire Justice Center; and the Rev. William Wilkinson of Trinity Emmanuel Presbyterian Church. BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN 
  • Re: WEEK AHEAD: Events for the week of April 13, 2015

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      Thanks for sharing nice blog post Event Staff.

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  • Re: Education in crisis: it has come down to naming teachers

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  • Re: Education in crisis: it has come down to naming teachers

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