I was surprised to see the Times venting about the need for elections in an editorial. “Any New Yorker who is not furious at the mention of their state capital, Albany, has not been paying attention,” according to the newspaper. So we should write letters and ask them nicely to do better, and give them credit for the slightest improvement? Perhaps not. “The place needs a thorough cleaning — a giant broom to sweep out the rascals, starting with the State Legislature. We are not in favor of term limits, but the idea gains currency when most people who get elected in New York State keep their seats until they retire, die or go to jail.” That does seem to be the two options doesn’t it -- term limits or perpetual incumbency? Except at the state and federal level, where there is only one option, because they aren’t going to put term limits on themselves. “So, here is how to change Albany: find and support somebody daring and thick-skinned enough to run against the local legislator.” Well, from their lips to God’s ears. But I can’t help but contrast this editorial with the response of the newspaper when I took the trouble to run myself (as I wrote about here)-- ignore what I was saying despite repeated requests, and then publish an editorial just before Election Day that said I was one of only two or three people running for election that no one should listen to.
Yesterday the legislative stars aligned - if only for a fleeting moment - as I was able to address the Senate about one of my bills. Currently, I have 16 active bills being considered by various committees, and have publicly addressed my Senate colleagues only once this session. It will also probably be the last time due to the rules that govern the New York State Senate.
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The state budget has passed, but to judge by news reports the Governor and State Comptroller have already said mid-year emergency budget cuts will be required. And we can only assume the victims will be the same as always -- New York City schools, which will be diverting hundreds of millions of dollars out of the classroom to the retired as a result of the recent pension deal in any event, infrastructure and the poor. Money will be borrowed, and taxes will be increased -- but not on the retired, who pay no state taxes. And all this will happen after the election. It's one thing for me to say it. It's another for them to say it. I guess they figure they don't even have to pretend anymore.
Letting go of one’s illusions is a difficult process that takes a long, long time, but I am just about there. From a young age I have been a believer in public services and benefits as a way of providing some measure of assurance for other people, people I rely on every time I purchase a good or service, of a decent life regardless of one’s personal income or standing. After all, I initially chose public service as a career. And I have been a defender of the public institutions when compared with those who were only concerned with their own situation and preference put in less, or get out more, as if the community was a greedy adversary to be beaten in life rather than something one is a part of. Now, however, I see that it is probably hopeless.
Under the current generation of “leaders,” “the community,” in its governmental form, is controlled by insatiable interests and sits on top of those who happen to live in New York City, New York State, and the United States. While promising general, universal benefits in the future, or lower taxes in the present, they have already taken so much out of that future for themselves and self-interest groups that it is unlikely that there will be a functioning school system, usable parks, convenient mass transit, affordable health care, or a livable Social Security retirement stipend for my children’s generation. Even at high future taxes. They’ve blown it all, rationalized or just ignored the near certain effects on others, and they won’t give it back. So perhaps all the time, energy and money directed toward trying to reform or improve our social institutions, particularly out government institutions, would be better spent preparing to do without them.
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In the past, on something like the state budget, I would write a post describing what I would do, or what our “leaders” should do. But I’ve had a shift of views recently, and will now base my writings on the assumption that it is hopeless, and our elected officials and those who back them will keep taking and taking until the rest of us have nothing left to lose. Thus they have no reason to care what the rest of us have to say. If it is otherwise, Patterson, Silver and Bruno are free to contact me, and I will go to Albany and tell them what they ought to do and why they ought to do it in person. In the meantime, what I will say is that the budget is a three-year decision.
He could not have known it, but the credit crisis makes Monday, March 17th an ironic day yet appropriate day for David Paterson to have chosen to be sworn in as Governor. And not because it’s Saint Patrick’s Day. Since it is clear that everything didn’t change on Day One, and certainly cannot be expected to change on day 442, I thought it worthwhile to predict the our future under the Paterson Administration, or rather the Paterson, Silver, Bruno and related parties and organizations administration, by examining the past. Since a Census of Governments is being conducted for FY 2007, detailed Census Bureau data on public employment and payroll in 2007 will not be out until the fall. The New York State Department of Labor, however, has recently released revised and updated payroll employment data through 2007 (see attached). Looking at annual data from 1990 to that year, I think we can get a sense of where things are headed, and how New York City is likely to be affected. If you are planning on enjoying St. Patrick’s Day festivities, don’t read this until you are done celebrating and prepared to merge your personal hangover with the national one.
The real measure of this year's state budget is not whether it is on-time, but whether there is a second, devastating budget after the November elections. If Bear Stearns merges, as seems likely, it will take a big chunk of the city and state tax base with it, and that may be just the beginning. My guess is this state faces two years like it hasn't seen since the 1970s, with the only "good news" being that this time most other parts of the country will be faring worse, so there will be nowhere to flee to.
I'm not sure this is exactly the form in which the new governor would have wanted this one to come:
David and I have worked together for a long time and since we are months apart, he, Congressman Greg Meeks, and I, used to sit together monthly, planning where we wanted to go in life. We always thought David would be our generation’s “Dave Dinkins.”
We never imagined he would be Governor, but we are sure he can more than rise to the occasion. I hasten to say, as I said to David, that he is now the Governor for all New Yorkers, not just Black New Yorkers, and he has proven his ability to serve all. His first challenge will be to heal a State that is in pain and shame, and to continue to govern in a way fair to all. We must all pledge to work with him in those efforts.
Not much changed on Day One. Our state government continues to hand out benefits to already-privileged insiders in good years while making promises to everyone else, and then holding those deals harmless while sacrificing everyone else when the economy turns down. The problems with the budget process, and the results, are for the most part pretty much as I described them here when I ran as a candidate against the state legislature. But at least one thing has changed for the better in Albany. Perhaps today is a good day to point it out.
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People who have worked the system to get, shall we say, very good deals for themselves have left us with a potentially diminished future. They have done so by taking away future revenues, and shifting past costs forward, all in order to live in way they feel entitled to with the diminished effort they felt like making. And not just through the MTA. In a way, the region’s transportation system never recovered from the deferred maintenance of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. At first, through the work and sacrifices of many people, the transit system, police and other services partially recovered from the years of high taxes with essentially nothing in return. But then subsequent generations merely substituted a greater financial hole, through debts and public employee pension enrichments unmatched by adequate contributions, for a reduced level of physical deterioration. Meanwhile, a third bond issue has been passed for the Second Avenue Subway, and yet the proposed capital plan does not even have the money to finish three stations. If the state legislature wanted to do the right thing, is there still a way out? I think there is, although the MTA and legislature are unlikely to approve it.
Streetsblog reports that our overlords in the New York State Assembly will be having a public hearing on congestion pricing, and it will be taking place right around the corner from the place I work. The last time they did so, I decided to show them up by riding a bicycle part way to work and comparing my trip mode to theirs here. My neophyte bike commute had some problems, but I found that I really, really had fun doing it. Enough fun that I did some research, made some adjustments, and observed how and where others locked up their bikes. Beginning a month after that first hearing, I have been biking the nine miles to and from work three or four times a week. It’s the most exercise I have gotten since college, or maybe high school, and it costs me little if any extra time out of my day. What had seemed impractical now seems to be the most practical thing I have done in years, and I wish I had done it 20 years (and 40 pounds) ago. One might say that this is the only good thing the New York State Legislature ever did for me. I’ll write more about some changes in my thinking as a result later, but for now I’ll put yet another two cents in on congestion pricing, and I’ll do it here because the “public hearing” is by invitation only and surprisingly I didn’t get an invitation.
Four years ago at this time, I decided to do something I never imagined I would do – run for state legislature, with no chance to win, despite the fact that doing so would mean losing my job (per my employer’s policy), putting a burden on my family until another one could be obtained, and exiting the public sector. Nothing else had had an impact, including writing reports like this one, writing letters to the editor, feeding information to reporters for articles like this one, and trying to point out the winners and losers in the state’s priorities in city publications that I was asked to write sections of, but which no one ever read. Voting did not and does not matter, because aside from a few districts competitive between Republicans and Democrats, there is generally only one name on the ballot (or only one who actually campaigns) for state legislature (and, for that matter, Congress) in November, and few primary challenges as well. After years of complaint about public policies that sold out our common future to benefit insiders today (if you’ve read posts here you know what those are; if not you can still read my platform here), simply complaining and not doing anything became morally unsupportable.
So after a few years of trying to convince people “someone should do something about this,” I decided that if no one else would, I would try. I didn’t make much of an impact, as I explained here