Nassau’s contracting process breeds corruption – By George J. Marlin

Posted July 28, 2015 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: Articles/Essays/Op-Ed, Long Island Business News

The following appears in the July 24-30, 2015 issue of the Long Island Business News:

Nassau County’s finances are a disaster. Budget deficits are projected to hit $210 million in 2015, $259 million in 2016, $295 million in 2017 and, in 2018, $325 million.

The revelation this month that total sales tax revenues at the end of June were below budget expectations only exasperates the crisis.

Nassau’s mess is the direct result of years of mismanagement, cowardice and cronyism — particularly when it comes to vendor contracts. Hence, I was not surprised that Nassau’s contracting process was described in a report released by County District Attorney Madeline Singas as a “recipe for corruption” because it is not insulated “from improper influence, manipulation, collusion and fraud.”

The report points out that Nassau has a porous contracting process “due to years of neglect, ineffective surface level reforms and a regrettable failure to learn from past failings.”

County Executive Edward Mangano has not only failed to reform the contract process, he scaled back two key oversight positions created by his predecessor, Tom Suozzi. The post for deputy county executive for compliance was eliminated and the office of the commissioner of investigations for budget was slashed.

These so-called cost-saving measures, the D.A. observed, open the doors to corruption because the “antiquated, slow, and inefficient contract approval process … is heavy on bureaucratic file passing, and light on substantive scrutiny and fact checking.”

Unlike New York City’s process, critical information needed to determine if a vendor is credible or viable is not required when applying to Nassau County for a contract. Vendors do not have to reveal if they have criminal convictions, pending criminal actions, debarment history, tax liens, pending litigation, judgments, bankruptcies, or if they are related to public officers or have made political contributions.

The D.A. focused on unsolicited proposals like the Ab-Tech deal that is at the root of the indictments of Dean and Adam Skelos. Such a scandal, the D.A. concluded, “illustrates a systemic failure of Nassau County’s procurement and contract management process to ward off corruption.”

I do hope that the D.A. is investigating the Veolia bus public-private partnership deal.

When the bus deal came before the Nassau Interim Finance Authority Board in December 2011, as a director I voted reluctantly to approve it because NIFA received the contracts at the last minute and did not wish public bus transportation to come to a halt on January 1, 2012.

However, when I cast my “yes” vote I warned that the County presented too rosy a picture of the contract’s merits and that it would prove to be a disaster for taxpayers and bus riders. Sadly, my prediction came to pass.

The $106 million estimated cost for the private company to run the system in 2012 was off by $14 million. Hence, bus routes had to be eliminated and services cut to save $7 million. The other $7 million came from an unexpected one-shot of federal and state aid that the county turned over to Veolia.

Since then, Nassau has had to allocate more money to Veolia and the county comptroller has reported a significant decline in fixed route service levels and certain critical performance measures that were not maintained.

On this contract and others, the D.A. should follow the political contribution trail and the roles lobbyists/consultants played in the process.

Concluding that Nassau’s “procurement and contracting process remains prone to manipulation, corruption and fraud,” the D.A. made a number of excellent recommendations that mirror the New York City procurement process. If implemented, it would result in a comprehensive overhaul of Nassau’s contracting process.

Taxpayers, however, shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for Nassau’s pols to implement reforms. The special interests have too much to lose and will use their clout and checkbooks to keep the status quo.

Curriculums Favor Groupthink Over Accomplishment – By George J. Marlin

Posted July 28, 2015 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: Articles/Essays/Op-Ed, Newsmax

This article I wrote appeared on the Newsmax.com web site on July 13, 2015.

The state Legislature’s mixed bag for Long Island – By George J. Marlin

Posted July 15, 2015 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: Articles/Essays/Op-Ed

The following appears in the July 10-16, 2015 issue of the Long Island Business News:

The indictments of the state Legislature’s top honchos, Assemblyman Sheldon Silver and Senator Dean Skelos, haven’t changed Albany for the better. At the end of the legislative session it was business as usual. Before calling it quits for the year, there was last minute horse trading, bundles of bills passed unread and legislators who rolled over dead for the three men in the room—the governor, the speaker and the senate majority leader—in return for crumbs from their table.

As for legislation that affects Long Island, it’s a mixed bag. Here are some highlights: An approved bill that increases oversight of Industrial Development Agencies has been sent to the governor’s desk and hopefully he signs it into law.

The law would require each IDA to develop a standard application form and to create policies that would trigger the suspension of tax breaks in the form of PILOTS—payments in lieu of property taxes—if a business is not achieving its job creation goals.

Praising the legislation, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said, “By increasing scrutiny of IDA project applications and requiring project agreements to include the recapture of job creations that are not met we can address many of the concerns raised in audits by my office over the years.”

While the legislation is far from perfect and will not eliminate political cronyism from the decision making process of Long Island’s IDAs, at least tax breaks can be stopped when it becomes evident that a particular deal is a bad one.

Nassau County managed to get its sales tax renewed without dedicating part of that revenue stream to the favored projects of legislators. The County, which is projecting GAAP budget deficits as far as the eye can see, needs every dime it can get from the sales tax, particularly since those revenues have been falling short of rosy projections.

The 2 percent cap on property tax levies—first enacted in 2011—was extended for four more years. (Opponents led by the teachers’ unions prevented the cap from being made permanent.) The extension of the cap was important because it’s an Albany reform that has actually worked. An analysis by the Empire Center has revealed “that school property taxes have grown at an average annual rate of 2.2 percent per year in the four years since the cap was created, down from 6 percent per year in the thirty years prior.” The decline in tax increases during the life of the tax cap have saved New Yorkers thus far about $7.6 billion.

There are, however, two new exemptions to the Cap that the special interests were able to get into the renewal legislation: payments made to BOCES—Board of Cooperative Educational Services—that provides school districts with shared educational services—and PILOTS paid by local business developments.

One fiscal boondoggle Long Island legislators happily embraced was the four-year $3.0 billion property tax rebate. That program is not a property tax cut for struggling homeowners but merely income redistribution. The state takes tax revenues from taxpayer A and gives it to taxpayer B. And, surprise surprise, the first rebate check will not arrive in the mail until several weeks before the November 2016 election.

The tax rebate does nothing to stop our ever increasing property taxes and does not deal with a prime mover for increased municipal expenditures, unfunded state mandates.

On other fronts, the governor and legislators surrendered to political pressure from the left. That World War II relic, rent control—which is responsible for the lack of affordable apartments in the New York metropolitan region—was extended for another four years. The tax credit program Governor Cuomo promised Cardinal Timothy Dolan to help out parents paying parochial school tuition was once again killed.

Overall, this year’s legislative session was similar to past years; lots of hype over lackluster accomplishments.

More news stories on George Marlin’s new book “Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy”

Posted July 12, 2015 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: Christian Persecutions in the Middle East

Click on the following links to read the stories:

The Unthinkable in the Twenty-First Century” (Book review by Rick Hinshaw)

Obama Response to Christian Killing Fields ‘Horrifying‘” (Interview with Leo Hohmann of WND.com)

Anti-Genocide Now Underway (Interview aired July 1 on Accuracy in Media TV)

Christopher Dawson on Our Cultural Mess – By George J. Marlin

Posted July 11, 2015 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: The Catholic Thing

This article I wrote appeared on The Catholic Thing web site on July 11, 2015.

Nassau IDA skirts law, gives away the stores – By George J. Marlin

Posted July 3, 2015 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: Articles/Essays/Op-Ed

The following appears in the June 26-July 2, 2015 issue of the Long Island Business News:

Back in 1969, the governor and state legislature approved the Industrial Development Agency Act that permits local municipalities to create agencies that “promote, develop, encourage and assist in the acquiring, constructing, reconstructing, improving, maintaining, equipping and furnishing industrial, manufacturing, warehousing, commercial, research and recreation facilities….”

These agencies were also empowered to issue bonded debt and to buy, own and dispose of real property and to offer financial assistance to attract, retain and expand businesses.

Today in New York there are 178 state-authorized IDAs. The total value of the 4,709 projects on IDA books is $76.8 billion.

Typically, a business applies to an IDA to support its plans to construct, expand or renovate its facility. If the plan is approved, the IDA generally receives title of the real property of the project and it becomes exempt from property taxes. (Project operators generally pay to the local municipalities PILOTS – payments in lieu of taxes – that are much lower than similar properties on the tax rolls.)

The state comptroller’s office reports that in 2013, statewide IDA-granted tax exemptions totaled $1.38 billion. That figure, according to the comptroller, “represents the estimated value of taxes that would otherwise have been collected on the properties had they not been IDA projects.” With total PILOT payments on these new projects coming in at $723 million, the net tax exemption cost the municipalities $660 million in revenues. In other words, 52.3 percent of the tax revenues were recovered.

I was not surprised to learn that in our region, Nassau County had the highest exemptions, the lowest PILOT payments and the worst projected job creation on its new IDA projects in 2013.

What does it mean? It means that Nassau’s IDA is giving away the store. It means that struggling businesses without sweetheart IDA exemptions must pay more in taxes. And it means that the politically connected get tax breaks that are not only unfair but may violate the intent of the state IDA statute.

Here are a couple of examples of dubious Nassau IDA projects that have been reported in newspapers during the past year: In August 2014, a physical fitness gym received a 20-year property tax reduction and a $2 million sales tax exemption from the Nassau County IDA even though the law specifically forbids the granting of such exemptions to retail businesses. The IDA skirted the law by concluding the gym would attract tourists from outside the county because tourist destinations can receive exemptions. The IDA used that excuse in granting tax relief to an automobile dealership in Lynbrook, claiming buyers would travel from New York City. And in April, it was reported that the IDA gave tax breaks to a Valley Stream car dealership utilizing the tourist destination exemptions “because 50 percent of its business comes from Queens.”

This kind of abuse is outrageous and should be investigated by the Nassau district attorney or the state attorney general. Here are a few questions government investigators should ask:

Do the clients of politically connected lawyers or lobbyists get special treatment from the IDA?

Are any outside professionals retained by the IDA for advice (its general counsel, for example) incentivized to get deals done regardless of the merits because they get a percentage of approved projects that close?

For decades, the agendas of Nassau’s special interests – lobbyists, consultants, lawyers, political hacks – have come before the best interests of the general public. This helps explain why Nassau County is broke and its citizenry overtaxed. But don’t expect any genuine reforms until after there are indictments or Nassau becomes insolvent.

News stories on George Marlin’s new book “Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy”

Posted June 30, 2015 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: Articles/Essays/Op-Ed, Christian Persecutions in the Middle East

Click on the following links to read the stories:

‘The unthinkable is real,’ author warns about persecutions of Middle East Christians (Catholic News Agency)

What the West Needs to Know About the Persecution of Christians in the Middle East (Aleteia.org)

Systemic Christian Persecution in Middle East (netny.tv)


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