Timelines 8/2913

Nyack Village Board approves funding for major repaving project
The Nyack Village Board approved almost $1 million in loans marked for a repaving project targeting several highly-trafficked local roads. The short-term loan will pay for $457,000 worth of new construction equipment and $255,000 for the repaving project itself. Additionally, the state is expected to cover part of the cost for Polhemus Street’s repairs, which are necessary given the high traffic flow onto the northbound New York State Thruway from Route 59. Grounding of old pavement will begin September 9 before repaving can begin on September 16. Streets affected include Broadway from First Avenue to Cedar Hill Avenue, Burd Street from Franklin Street to Washington Street, Franklin from Main Street to Depew Avenue, First Avenue from Gedney Street to North Franklin Street and Polhemus from Route 59 to High Avenue.

Moody’s changes outlook on New York State to positive
Moody’s altered its position on New York’s financial standing in an August 22 announcement, affirming an Aa2 rating on New York’s $3.5 in general obligation bonds due to a general improvement in the state’s general financial situation and outlook. The high value placed on New York’s bonds and subsequent rating improvement was attributed to recent movement to bust budgetary gridlocks in Albany, opening the way for timely, structurally-balanced solutions to financial issues, an unusually resilient, improving economy which continues to attract a diverse, global workforce, sizable contingency funds which allow budgetary flexibility and a well-funded, functional pension system relative to other states. The report also highlights areas of improvement, including continued revenue volatility due to a weak financial services sector and relatively low fund balance and liquidity positions. However, exposure to interest rate variability was characterized as “modest.”

$71 million allocated by state to build affordable housing
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on August 21 that the Early Award and Unified Funding Rounds for 2013 imbued New York State Homes & Community Renewal (HCR) with $71 million for affordable housing projects across the state. The funding, which will be available for shovel-ready projects which meet the state’s specific housing goals, will target initiatives including but not limited to Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) priority projects, disaster relief projects, rural preservation, mixed-income and mixed-use revitalization and projects for veterans and people with developmental disabilities. Applicants will be competing for low-interest loans and tax credits available through various programs. A similar initiative was pushed last year, when HCR granted 33 awards with a total value of $91 million in low-interest loans and tax credits.

Federal Judge rejects Justice Department’s argument against background checks
A federal judge dismissed a discrimination claim brought by the Obama Administration, not only arguing there was no evidence to suggest background checks were used by corporations to target minorities and women, but also strongly criticizing what he perceived as a shoddy legal argument.  The claim stems from policies by Freeman, Inc., a company which provides services for corporate functions and events, to screen employees with criminal and credit background checks. The EEOC filed suit, arguing the background checks were discriminatory and disparately impacted black, Hispanic and female applicants. However, presiding Judge Roger W. Titus concluded that while some use of background checks might have been discriminatory, the EEOC plainly did not satisfy their burden of proof. Titus was particularly harsh toward the Fed’s counsel, calling the discrimination claim “worthless” and a “theory in search of facts” supported by evidence “rife with analytical error.” According to Judicial Watch, the judge’s chastisement was severe, but unlikely to deter the administration from continuing to pursue discrimination claims against corporate entities.

Fox News writer loses appeal to protect confidential sources
A New York appellate court ruled 2-3 on August 20 against FoxNews.com reporter Jana Winter, who was brought to court by Colorado to compel her to reveal confidential sources related to the 2012 Aurora Shooting. Colorado required approval from New York before it could force Winter to reveal the identity of the source, who told her about a notebook containing violent images which shooter James Holmes sent to his psychiatrist after his arrest. A Colorado judge already ruled that the confidential source had violated a gag order and was not protected by press confidentiality.  In his dissent to the appeal, Judge David Saxe argued that revealing confidential sources was a career-threatening move which could constitute undue hardship.  Winter’s attorney, Dori Ann Harswith, took hope from Saxe’s dissent, calling it “persuasive.” Harswith added that Winter plans to appeal the ruling.

Oklahoma student gunned down by “bored” teens
An Australian baseball player was shot and killed in Duncan, Oklahoma on August 16 by three teens who allegedly committed the murder out of boredom. James Edwards, 15 and Chancey Luna, 16 were charged with first degree murder for allegedly shooting East Central University student Christopher Lane, 22, in the back while he was jogging. Michael Jones, 17, was charged for being an accessory to the murder. Police arrested all three, who stated they killed Edwards at random “for the fun of it.” Though District Attorney Jack Hicks said no evidence was presented indicating the crime was race-related (Lane was white, while two of the defendants were black), several of the defendants reportedly expressed anti-white sentiments on social media. Edwards stated on Twitter that he “hated white people” and bragged he had attacked whites in retaliation against the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Due to Lane’s Australian citizenship, the case has attracted both national and international attention. Additionally, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin called upon President Obama to speak out on the case in a similar fashion as with the Trayvon Martin shooting, saying it would be a “nice gesture” to express condolences for Lane’s family and community.

North Rockland alert active for bank robber
victor shearVictor Shear, one of two suspects in an upstate bank robbery remains at-large and might be hiding from police in North Rockland. Along with Anthony Zumbolo, 40, Shear is suspected of robbing a Trustco Bank in Bethlehem, New York on August 21. Though Zumbolo was caught on August 27, Shear is believed to have travelled south, with witnesses sighting him in the Highland Falls/Fort Montgomery area near Wildwood Ridge Road. Shear was suspected of having used Highland Falls High School as a temporary shelter for a time, but this has not been confirmed. Shear stands at 5’6″, weighs 135 lbs, and has blue eyes and brown hair. Police are considering him armed and dangerous. Potential information on his whereabouts can be reported to the state police by calling 845-344-5300.

Woman gives birth from embryo frozen for 19 years
Kelly Burke, 45 of Virginia, gave birth to a baby boy on August 22 in what scientists called the second-oldest birth from a frozen embryo. Burke, a NASA research scientist, was attempting to conceive when she discovered a married woman who donated her eggs to the Reproductive Science Center of the Bay Area 19 years prior. After contacting the couple and completing a strict adoption process, Burke adopted four frozen embryos, transferring two and saving the others in case she chooses to have another child. The process was completed through open embryo adoption, which means Burke’s son will have the opportunity to meet his fraternal siblings born from the donor.

Syria may see U.S. intervention
In a statement released on August 26, Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to indicate a war with Syria might be on the horizon. Calling apparent gas attacks upon a Damascus suburb by pro-Assad forces a “moral obscenity,” Kerry argued the regime’s actions were inexcusable and directly contrasted the global consensus against the use of chemical weapons. Though neither he nor President Obama explicitly announced military action, the statement did seem to reflect a desire to aggressively intervene. Direct intervention to support Sunni militants could be politically hazardous, as it could further sour relations with Russia and China and spark a war with Iran. Kerry’s statement did not mention the United Nations, however, which means it’s also possible the United States would work with its NATO allies rather than unilaterally attacking Assad.

Private lobbyists get public pensions after work for cities, counties
A Washington Post report on August 25 revealed public pensions are often given to private lobbyists who represent localities to twenty states, including New York where such a practice is largely illegal. Given lobbyists are private entities which can campaign against taxpayer interests and often face little to no public oversight, states such as New Jersey and Illinois are also questioning the need to provide them with salaries. 120 individuals in New York are eligible for pensions through eight groups which were grandfathered in after lobbyists and nonprofits were barred from the pension system. Though they represent a small fraction of the 633,100 workers currently enrolled in the state’s pension system, lobbyists are not always bound by salary restrictions which limit benefits, meaning their benefits are potentially much higher than average. The inclusion of lobbyists has also been criticized by onlookers as hypocritical, with many arguing that the lobbyists are receiving benefits other state workers have been struggling to maintain in the face of budget cuts. Localities and lobbyists counter that they are essentially serving a government function and are entitled to a pension.