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Payback billionaire? 

You could have seen it coming. Back in November, WXXI Public Broadcasting aired a locally produced documentary that, according to promo material, explores the life of Paychex billionaire and free-spending ex-gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano. The documentary, which "highlights his achievements," was WXXI's first in-house production to be shown on WXXI-HD 21.1, the station's high-definition channel.

            And now the other cash-filled shoe has dropped. On January 26, WXXI announced it would receive $2 million from Golisano, earmarked for the station's techie side: completion of a new control room and the replacement of "obsolete radio studios." The first floor of WXXI's State Street headquarters will be renamed the "Thomas B. Golisano Production Center," says the announcement.

            Also --- hold your HD hats --- the $2 mil will be used to "provide more local programming and educational services." We already detect vibes from additional "biography-style" programs in the air. But we hope there'll be time and resources for producing a follow-the-money miniseries. Working title: The Decline and Fall of the Independence Party.

Septuagenarians, unite

US Representative Louise Slaughter has made it official: She's running for re-election in the 28th Congressional District, that oddly-shaped entity that runs from here to Buffalo via the Lake Ontario shoreline. Slaughter's announcement was short and sweet, though. She promises a "more formal announcement in the spring."

            Surely people like Monroe County Republican Committee chair Steve Minarik and Western New York Congressman Tom Reynolds are nursing some disappointment over this. Republicans in this region have long hoped to take back "their" seat, which before redistricting used to "belong" to the late Barber Conable and his short-term successor, Fred Eckert. But Slaughter has been impossible to beat.

            Now in her seventies, Slaughter has an unexpected counterpart in moderate Republican Representative Amo Houghton, the 77-year-old ex-Corning CEO whose district now stretches from the Southern Tier to Monroe County. Houghton, a World War Two vet, is facing a challenge from arch-conservative Monroe County legislator Mark Assini, who's fired salvos at the incumbent for being reluctant to back an illegal war.

            Assini also has attacked Houghton, whose father was US ambassador to France and grandfather was ambassador to Germany and Great Britain, for being soft on the French. France, says Assini, has been "an untrustworthy ally in the war on terror," meaning that nation didn't heel like a Tony Blair poodle when asked to obey George W. Bush.

            Houghton recently was treated for prostate cancer, fueling speculation he might not seek re-election. Only weeks before, he told the media he'd make up his mind in April about running. Maybe the chronic criticism from young Assini will be a shot in the arm.

Waging survival

You'd think that working full-time would pay enough to keep body and soul together. But with the state (and federal) minimum wage at $5.15 an hour --- $10,000 a year and change --- survival means struggle.

            Struggle away, some business groups tell workers who call for a raise in the minimum. Labor advocates, though, say New York's working people need a big break.

            That's the message of the "$5.15 Is Not Enough" Coalition, whose members include Action for a Better Community, the Working Families Party, FoodLink, the Rochester Roman Catholic Diocese, Metro Justice, the Rochester Area Labor Federation, and other groups.

            The coalition is now buttressing its case with new data from the Albany-based Fiscal Policy Institute. This month, FPI put out a study that highlighted how far down the economic ladder some workers have climbed. In 1970, says the report, New York State's minimum wage was $8.83 in today's dollars, 71 percent higher than the current level. Almost as bad: Around one New York State worker in eight earns less than $7 an hour.

            You don't have to be a data-cruncher to know that's not enough to support a family. FPI figures the "self-sufficiency wage" for a Monroe County family of three (one adult, an infant, and a preschooler) is $17.49 an hour.

            In parts of Long Island, it takes almost $29 an hour for a similar family to make it, says FPI. But Monroe County's cost advantage doesn't mean local working families are on easy street.

Bus station blues

Bemoaning a lack of public input, design flaws, and the secrecy shrouding the project, several people complained about the transit center portion of the three-pronged Renaissance Center proposal at last week's Monroe County lej meeting.

            One speaker called it "a monster that wants to swallow up Main and Clinton."

            Rochester's Raging Grannies put their opposition to song, calling the transit center "a diesel-spewing hoop-de-do."

            "This isn't the way. We want some real county planning, so let the people have their say," the Grannies sang.

            Speakers complained about nonsensical bus routes and a lack of attention to alternate plans.

            Since the transit center has been folded in with the performing arts center and MCC's Advanced Technology Education Center, more public input is needed, speakers said, "This is a whole new project now."

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