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Small Talk

Billionaire David Koch, funder of numerous Tea Party and conservative political campaigns and lobbying institutions. In the background, to his left, M&T Bank chairman Bob Wilmers.

Last week, the UK’s Guardian newspaper published a report based on internal documents acquired from more than 40 state-level conservative groups across the US, detailing a coordinated effort to undermine governmental support for broad access to education and healthcare, to undo the income tax and workers’ compensation laws, and to roll back protections for the environment.

According to the Guardian:

Conservative groups across the US are planning a co-ordinated assault against public sector rights and services in the key areas of education, healthcare, income tax, workers’ compensation and the environment, documents obtained by the Guardian reveal.

The strategy for the state-level organisations, which describe themselves as “free-market thinktanks”, includes proposals from six different states for cuts in public sector pensions, campaigns to reduce the wages of government workers and eliminate income taxes, school voucher schemes to counter public education, opposition to Medicaid, and a campaign against regional efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

The policy goals are contained in a set of funding proposals obtained by the Guardian. The proposals were co-ordinated by the State Policy Network, an alliance of groups that act as incubators of conservative strategy at state level.

According to the report, the State Policy Network has about $83 million a year to spend on its initiatives, thanks in large part to donors like David and Charles Koch.

What’s the local tie-in for Western New Yorkers? We’ll have to get back to you on that, once our crack team of researchers have done their magic. For now, we were struck by the photograph that the progressive new site Common Dreams used to illustrate its digest of the Guardian report: That’s David Koch in the foreground; behind him to the left is Buffalo’s own Robert Wilmers, chair of M&T Bank.

• Last week we received a tip that JBI, Inc., a Niagara Falls company that boasts of a new proprietary technology that allows them to burn scrap plastic and convert it to diesel and other liquid fuels at remarkably low prices, suffered a mishap at their Iroquois Street plant.

The source of the tip wrote that JBI “just blew a stack, spewing oil and all of the accumulated shit the scrubbers had removed onto the surrounded area.”

Here’s a statement we received from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation:

At about 8 a.m. on December 2, 2013, an overpressure situation occurred in one of the facility’s reactors, causing an emergency release rupture disk to blow. Plant personnel notified New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) that morning and followed up with a written incident report. According to their report, the system was immediately shut down and purged with nitrogen. Emissions consisting of vapors and carbon black were released for approximately 90 seconds. In addition, an individual called the spills hotline to report observations on the incident the same day. The incident is still under investigation by DEC.

A DEC spokesperson directed our requests for the two reports to which the statement refers through the Freedom of Information Law process.

In the meantime, and totally coincidentally, we learned that JBI recently purchased a piece of property on the Buffalo River, on Ganson Street, from St. Mary’s Cement, where JBI intends to store and process the plastics it burns to make diesel in its Niagara Falls plant.

In January 2012 the Securities and Exchange Commission brought suit against JBI, company founder John Bordynuik, and CFO Ronald Baldwin Jr., accusing them of fraudulently overstating company assets “and, hence, of the company itself by almost 1,000 percent,” in service of two efforts to raise capital from investors. In June of this year, JBI and Bordynuik settled, paying $150,000 and $110,000 in fines, respectively. Baldwin settled in October, paying a $25,000 fine.

In August, JBI and Crayola announced a new program in which elementary and secondary schools will collect used markers to be shipped to the Niagara Falls plant to be burnt for fuel.

• Last week, members of Buffalo’s Common Council announced that they’d pursue an allocation of $250,000 in capital funds for the Market Arcade Film & Arts Center, which is facing a crisis: The downtown cinema—which is overseen by a nonprofit entity, operated by Dipson Theatres, and occupies a building owned by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency, a city entity—needs $420,000 to buy seven new digital projectors before Hollywood distributors convert entirely from celluloid to digital products in the coming months. The building is also in need of physical repairs and upgrades, according to the nonprofit that contracts with BURA on a month-to-month basis: new roof, new bathrooms, new concessions, new seating, etc.

Now that $250,000 is off the table, pulled by the Brown administration, which seems to have decided it should not be in the business of supporting a downtown arts center that is operated by a for-profit company like Dipson. I nay case, the rationale for not allocating funds from the city’s capital budget is that BURA, and not the city itself, owns the Market Arcade building.

There may still be avenues by which the city could invest in improvements to the property, while the nonprofit that controls the building seeks public and private financial support for digital projectors. But those efforts are hamstrung by that month-to-month lease with BURA: Grant-giving institutions, public and private, are loath to give money to an entity that has so tenuous a hold on its home. Negotiations, we are told, continue.

• Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant will lose her chairmanship of that body when the new Republican majority takes the reins in January, but she will maintain her leadership of the Democratic caucus, which agreed to make her minority leader. Her only challenger for the position came from incoming freshman legislator Patrick Burke, who hoped that he could convince Lynn Marinelli to join him and Barbara Miller-Williams to beat Grant, who is allied with Erie County Democratic Party headquarters.

But Marinelli equivocated. Burke offered to withdraw his candidacy if Grant would see to it that the Democratic Party chairman, Jeremy Zellner—who currently serves as the Legislature’s chief of staff—would not be hired in January as chief of staff to the minority caucus. Burke won that concession, though it may have been a moot point: If Zellner had stayed on, his salary would have displaced at least one or two other patronage jobs for loyal Democratic foot soldiers on the Legislature staff, on top of those who will lose their jobs anyway when Republicans claim their spoils; that would have been a poor position for an already embattled party chairman to take.

Zellner has said he will devote himself full-time in the coming year to his duties as chairman. (He also has said he had the votes to stay on staff if he’d wanted to do so.) Meanwhile, there is a rumor afoot that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s political operatives leaned hard on Marinelli to vote against Zellner staying on, to support Burke over Grant, and to consider running for party chairman next fall against Zellner.

And what does this petty palace intrigue mean to you, our readers? Why nothing. It won’t affect your taxes, or whether the Legislature votes this week to prohibit the transportation of hydraulic fracturing materials through Erie County, or funding for cultural institutions. It won’t affect maintenance of county parks or roads. But you can’t tell the players without a program.

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