Larry Littlefield's blog
It’s no secret that there is an election on for President, although a vote in New York State is less significant because it is not a swing state. The more significant vote is for U.S. Senate, or the U.S. House of Representatives if you happen to live in a contested district. For most of us, however, there are no real elections for the House of Representatives, New York State Senate or New York State Assembly. The only candidates, or the only active candidates with real campaigns, are perpetual incumbents who have already been chosen by the insiders. And fake elections is just the way those who have been grabbing at the expense of those without power and the common future like it. While New York State does not suppress voting the way some swing states do, it does all it can to ensure that when people show up, there is no one to vote for, by keeping people off the ballot. The media cooperates by providing no attention to those challengers who manage to sneak through.
But they tripped up. With the new voting system, write-in votes have become extremely easy. And therefore, I intend to vote for myself, Lawrence D. Littlefield, for the House of Representatives, State Senate, and Assembly. Not because I think I’m that great, sadly, but because of what I think of what these ignoble assemblies have done, with the local pols fully part of it or doing nothing to stop it. Eight years ago I had to lose my job and struggle to get on the ballot to make a similar protest, but not now. If you aren’t in a place with a real election, and agree with what I said then, which you can still read here, feel free to write in my name also. It doesn’t matter where you live, because it’s just a protest. If you don’t agree, but are similarly disappointed with the perpetual incumbents, you can write in your own name, or the name of someone you wish was on the ballot. A message needs to be sent about the sell out of our future, which is now the present, so I don’t see any reason to vote for the incumbents. You’d be better off writing in Donald Duck.
I’m going to repeat the style I used to discuss public employment this year, and toss off some comments on trends in public finance rather than provide, yet again, an exhaustive number-laden description. I assume there are many Room Eight readers who have read these over and over are as bored with it as I am, but I’ll keep doing it as long as New York’s public agencies – the City Comptroller, the State Comptroller, the Independent Budget Office, etc. do not.
There is much in our relative situation that doesn’t fit the propaganda narrative that the public employee union and contractor interests that control most of our state and local politicians wish to hear. Notably the high tax burden here, which raises questions about what is being provided in return, even among those who would otherwise be inclined to be “pro-government.” Thus to the extent you see government finance data discussed, in its totality rather than selectively only when favorable, it is generally the right wing Manhattan Institute and its Empire Center doing the talking. But the facts don’t fully fit the right wing narrative either. Notably the fact that the high taxes cannot be entirely or even primarily explained by the minority immigrant urban poor. And the fact that costs deferred from the past do explain a great deal of the excess burden, given that somehow since 1980 “conservative” has come to mean “buy now pay later.” But on to an attempt to say the unsaid and, unusually for me, say it briefly.
I had an amusing thought. A while back I came across the movie “Blue State” on Netflix, “a romantic comedy about a disgruntled Democrat who actually follows through on a drunken campaign promise to move to Canada if George ‘Dubya’ Bush gets re-elected” back in 2004. Didn’t want to live in that kind of country anymore. The movie wasn’t great, and I didn’t watch it to the end, but it was an interesting premise. Disgruntled Democrats had lots of countries to flee to at the time. Almost all of Europe, for example.
This is a rare occasion where I would say “fortunately” to the fact we don’t live in a swing state, because we are being spared the deluge of deception and overwrought emotion being pumped in there. Those of us who don’t have cable, at least. But I’d bet there would be plenty of people out in the Red States who would have a similarly nuts reaction to an Obama re-election. The question is, what countries will disgruntled Republicans be able to flee to if Obama is re-elected in 2012? I couldn’t think of any, and of course the idea of calling them “red countries,” for those of us who were around before 1989, is ironic in itself. Switzerland, Monaco and Hong Kong don’t count, except for those in Romney’s tax bracket, who probably have multiple countries to flee to anyway. But lots of people like that from elsewhere are buying condos in New York. Any suggestions?
The fiscal 2010 state and local finance data compilation has been released by the U.S. Census Bureau, and I spent one and one-half days of a weekend putting it into a readily comparable form for local governments in the U.S., New York State, New Jersey, New York City, and (by subtraction) the rest of New York State. You can follow my work step by step in the series of worksheets in the “Local Government Finance 2010” spreadsheet, which can be downloaded from Archive.com here. Look to the left and click on “Excel” to download it. I did the work on my own time because providing comparisons with the national average and other states is something neither the City of New York nor the State of New York, which between them spent $3.3 billion on agencies in the Census Bureau’s “Financial Administration” category, have seen fit to do. In the “Added” worksheet, you can hopefully print the FY 2010 data on two pages. The “FY 2002 and FY 2010” worksheet provides that comparison for those who have good eyes.
How much should people concern themselves with this data, and with the New York State legislators and New York council members who pass the budgets that have decided what the data show? Consider this. In FY 2010, the money New York City local governments (including the Port Authority and New York City Transit) directly spent equaled 20.8% of all of the personal income earned by all New York City residents. Of that amount, the equivalent of 12.8% of the income of city residents was extracted directly from city residents and others spending time here in taxes, fees, fines and other revenues, with the equivalent of 8.0% coming from the federal government and the State of New York (with some of the state money originating with the federal government). The State of New York exercises indirect control over the entire 20.8% of everyone’s income that is spent by the city, and also directly spends the equivalent of 12.8% of the income of state residents. Taken together, New York City’s state and local governments spent the equivalent of about one-third of everything New York City residents earn. On public services and benefits that are, or can be, absolutely essential, but which the city and state and those who work for it have no contractual obligation to provide with any quality.
The situation no one wants to talk about is being whispered about here and there. Looking for something else I recently came upon this NY Times essay by Kurt Anderson from a few months back. “Why had the revolution dreamed up in the late 1960s mostly been won on the social and cultural fronts — women’s rights, gay rights, black president, ecology, sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll — but lost in the economic realm, with old-school free-market ideas gaining traction all the time? There was a long pause. People shrugged and sighed. I had an epiphany, which I offered, bumming out everybody in the room. What has happened politically, economically, culturally and socially since the sea change of the late ’60s isn’t contradictory or incongruous. It’s all of a piece. For hippies and bohemians as for businesspeople and investors, extreme individualism has been triumphant. Selfishness won.”
So, do I agree? In part.
In publications headquartered outside the United States. The Economist seems to imply that as bad as it would be, high inflation may be the only way out for disadvantaged younger generations. Follow the link and read all about it. Earlier, the Financial Times had brought the issue up.
I had predicted this would happen in the future, but it turns out it may have already started to happen in the recent past. According to this report “for generations of Americans, it was a given that children would live longer than their parents. But there is mounting evidence that this trend has reversed itself for the country's least-educated whites, an increasingly troubled group whose life expectancy has fallen by four years since 1990.” Recall that the median wage of those without a high school diploma started to fall first, in the mid-1970s, followed by high school graduates, and then college graduates. Soon only the one percent was getting ahead with everyone else worse off. But now, perhaps it is only the 0.1 percent are getting ahead. Perhaps the rise in early death will work the same way – working its way up the socio-economic ladder a few decades after the wage declines and the increase in divorce and single parenting.
“The five-year decline for white women rivals the seven-year drop for Russian men in the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, said Michael Marmot, director of the Institute of Health Equity in London.” Bingo. That's how I saw it coming. "There's this enormous issue of why." Perhaps the various ways that the richest generations in U.S. history made later generations worse off, from the collapse of the family to diminished earnings in the marketplace, to public policy, has something to do with it. That first factor will vary from family to family, so you’ll see the damage in the most damaged first. Or perhaps the constant stream of advertising conditioning people to always choose what is easier or pleasurable in the short run, even if it hurts in the long run, has had an effect. Homicide is the surest measure of crime, because it is the easiest to measure (a body) and hardest for the authorities to fudge. The same is true of the basic vital statistics as an overall social measure. One might say that every other social measure is merely an explanation.
One of the dilemmas of writing on Room Eight is whether or not to repeat myself. On one hand, there may be some people who have never actually seen data on comparative public employment, or whose interests or ideology may cause them to try to ignore it. For them, my usual exhaustively explained and sourced “beat them into the dust” (in the words of a former boss) style might make sense. But for anyone who has read this stuff before, the result is boredom. Last year I wrote twelve single typed pages on this data, in four posts. Did anybody read it, after all that effort? Who knows?
So this time, I am going to try to write less, tossing off comments in emulation of the most popular and prolific Room Eight poster. To do so, I’m going to assume that anyone reading my blog has the spreadsheet posted here, printed out and in front of them. If you haven’t already, you should download this and print out the “local output” and “state output” tables, before reading what I have written here. I’ll also assume that there is much I don’t need to say about how New York compares with other places, because I’ve said it over and over again, ad nauseum. And I’ll assume that the reader is willing to assume that if I say something is true, then it is backed by facts, without once again regurgitating exhaustive proof and specific numbers. Rest assured that data is there.
The governments division of the U.S. Census Bureau has released state and local government employment and payroll data for March 2011, and as in the past I’ve compiled it for New York City, the rest of New York State (by subtraction), New Jersey and the United States, along with some related and relevant private sector data, and added 2002 data for comparison. A spreadsheet of related private-sector data is also included. A link to the spreadsheets, and notes on how the data was compiled, come after the jump.
Based on the Census Bureau’s release schedule, I may have 2010 state and local government finance data to show you in time for the state legislature election this November. But this 2011 employment data, that 2010 finance data, and the 2011 education finance data are likely to be the latest available prior to the 2013 New York City Democratic Mayoral primary. And it is this data, and the values and priorities it demonstrates, that the candidates for Mayor ought to be asked about. How much do we pay, compared with other places? What do we spend more than average on, or less, adjusted for everything? For which public services do we employ more people compared with other places, and how is that changing? Let’s see what the data shows.
That claim was made not by New York's United Federation of Teachers, but Chicago's teacher's union, which is now on strike. According to a media report “A day after Chicago Public Schools’ teachers overwhelmingly authorized a strike, CBS 2 wanted to know how much the average teacher earns. As CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov found out, it depends on who you ask. Salary figures provided by the Chicago Public Schools show teachers here have the highest average salary of any city in the nation. But, according to the Chicago Teachers Union’s calculations, Chicago teachers would rank second behind New York City.”
The difference is the union believes it isn't just salary that matters, but benefits such as pensions and total spending on teacher per pupil that matters. I agree.
It turns out the Generation Greed bond in Poway, California that I wrote about here is not alone. I just followed a link to this from National Public Radio. “Look, there's no doubt that this has happened in dozens if not hundreds of school districts around California. I mean, we're already finding them; we've been sort of broadening our scope and we're actually publishing a piece today that shows three other local school districts that have very similar deals to Poway's. This is a multi,-multi-billion dollar issue across the whole of the state. Tens of billions of dollars of debt out there in this type of creative financing.”
What about New York, where these horrors are cooked up. Did some of our government entities snort our own supply? The MTA perhaps, or Nassau County, or the State of New York?
Like many Americans of the past 30 years, the people of Poway, California wanted more in government services, in this case new schools, but didn’t like taxes, and weren’t likely to complain as long as they got what they wanted. The future was not one of their concerns. And like many politicians, the Poway school board gave them exactly what the whiniest generation in U.S. history wanted. How they did so has now become a scandal that has received national attention.
“School officials said the long-term bond was needed if the district was to continue with a school construction program in these difficult economic times” according to the San Diego Union Tribune. “Board member Marc Davis pointed to the taxpayer approval of the bond measure in 2008 without a tax increase. ‘We had those parameters and we executed or operated within the parameters you had given us,’ Davis said, adding: ‘There are no backroom deals. There are no shenanigans. There is no fraud.’” Not in the legal sense, I suppose. But there is the fraud that Generation Greed has perpetrated on those coming after, and not just in Poway. As the future no one cares about continues to arrive, and politicians and the media call for “creative” ways to pay for things now that so much of people’s taxes are going to past debts and public employee retirement benefits, New Yorkers should pay attention to what the Poway Unified School District did.
Here is something I wanted to do something about 15-plus years ago, but go nowhere because I was a public employee, and thus could make no useful contribution to the city. Use regulations that make no sense but remain on the books, to be enforced rarely and in a discriminatory way.
The New York Times reports that some yoga studios are being fined, and are at risk of being shut down, for being "physical culture establishments," which technically they are. Basically, just about any place with exercise is required to get a special permit that requires months to get -- after you have already rented a place and started paying rent, but before you are allowed to do anything to prepare the property to open for business. It is something no business other than a huge national chain can afford, so most places -- from karate schools to your local health club -- just open without it, or get it later. But every now and again they go after someone.
If Paul Ryan had merely proposed to keep federal taxes the same, rather than cutting them, and had proposed to reduce old age benefits for all Americans, not increase them for today’s seniors and cut them for those under 55, I might have something good to say about the Romney/Ryan ticket. But instead Ryan is little more than a panderer to Generation Greed, once again promising the better off lower taxes and the non-poor richer benefits with all the associated costs shifted to younger generations. He is another in a long line of careerist frauds.
So why doesn’t President Obama say so? Why doesn’t he highlight the Republican way of victory over the past 30-plus years, selling out the future and those who will live in it on behalf of the most selfish generations in American history? Why doesn’t he take this opportunity, win or lose, to ensure that no one under 55 (if they bother to show up) votes for a Republican at the national level ever again? Two words – Walter Mondale. Since he promised to raise taxes and cut spending to reduce the deficit, no Democrat has dared to stand up for the future of this country. Instead they have sought to get a few more of the benefits for their yuppie and public employee union constituents, at the expense of the people they pretend to represent, while hoping to avoid the blame in the end. If Obama would highlight the generational inequities not only of the Ryan plan but also of the past 30 years, I would vote for him enthusiastically. But he dares not, because he leads a Generation Greed-run party pandering to Generation Greed benefitting interests.
Although I have a master’s degree in city planning I generally am interested writing about public finance rather than land use issues. But since my neighborhood is wigged out about the closure of the local Key Foods, and future replacement by a Walgreens, I might as well do the usual and write a post pointing out the unsaid, even if I don’t really feel passionately about the whole thing.
Based on the meetings, petitions, and press coverage, one would think the Windsor Terrace Key Food, a successor to a Bohacks that was built in the early 1950s, was a beloved institution. But lots of people who are complaining now were hardly enthusiastic about the place back when it was open. As someone put it “the only thing worse than Key Food is no Key Food.” The chain has a high-low strategy. For certain items, for the weekly specials, and for basic foodstuffs it was a pretty good deal. For other items and for non-food items it was not. We shopped at Key Food for some things, therefore, and not for others, but over the decades that certainly added up to at least $60,000 spent by my family at that store, in today's money adjusted for inflation. Others presumably spent more. But then the owner, being 80 years old, wanted to retire, and who could be grudge him? Supermarket chains offered to pay over time, but Walgreens offered to pay up front, and that’s what he wanted, I was told. So now what?