Paying a high price for the woeful MTA – By George J. Marlin

Posted November 16, 2014 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: Articles/Essays/Op-Ed

The following appears in the November 7-13, 2014 issue of the Long Island Business News:

For most New Yorkers, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is an enigma. At best, they see the MTA as a maze of poorly managed transportation agencies that stick them with the tab for fiscal and operational incompetence.

Created by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller in 1968, the MTA consolidated, under one state-controlled oversight board, three ailing commuter systems: Long Island Rail Road, the New York City Transit Authority and Metro-North Railroad, plus the prosperous Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.

The key component of the Rockefeller initiative was the TBTA, because its toll-collecting facilities were generating significant annual surpluses. Instead of lowering tolls to reduce the burden on commuters, the surplus money was allocated to cover the operating deficits of the other MTA transit operations. This arrangement, the political class proclaimed at the time, would be the panacea for all mass-transit ills.

Alas, it was not to be. Misuse of capital-project funds, public-employee union pandering and fiscal slight-of-hand not only sucked up the TBTA surplus, but forced toll and fare increases time and again.

Gov. George Pataki, for instance, inflicted great harm on the MTA when he recklessly refinanced MTA debt in 2002. He approved $12 billion of restructuring that produced limited short-term savings and extended debt due to be paid off between 2015 and 2032. E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center for New York State Policy wrote at the time that Pataki’s actions “weakened the agency’s infrastructure budget for a generation.”

In 2009-2010, the MTA had to borrow to meet its payroll and deferred pension payments to the tune of $125 million. To stem the hemorrhaging, Gov. David Paterson and the state Legislature further picked the pockets of taxpayers by imposing a “regional payroll tax.”

Pandering to unions has resulted in a majority of the MTA’s 68,000 employees making more than $100,000 a year. In 2013, the average pay of MTA police was $125,000. The Empire Center reports that among non-police operating subsidiaries, LIRR employees were the MTA’s highest-paid workers, earning an average of $84,000, with 28 percent of railroad employees receiving more than $100,000 – including 166 who more than doubled their base pay with overtime and other extras. And these figures don’t include the 7.5-percent retro pay included in the giveaway election-year contract deal Gov. Andrew Cuomo cut with LIRR unions.

To add to the MTA’s woes, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli reported in October that “significant challenges remain, in particular, closing the unprecedented funding gap in its proposed five-year capital program.”

The DiNapoli Report revealed:

  • Cuomo’s labor agreements will cost $1.5 billion more than originally budgeted.
  • Non-pension, unfunded retirement and post-employment benefits (i.e., healthcare insurance) at the end of 2012 totaled $19.9 billion.
  • Capital-program bonded debt is expected to reach $39 billion by 2018, more than double the 2003 level.
  • Overtime is projected to hit $801 million in 2014, 30 percent higher than four years ago.
  • The 2015-2019 capital projects plan, which totals $32.1 billion, has a funding gap of $15.2 billion.

These dismal findings explain why the MTA raised tolls and fares between 2007 and 2013 by 29 percent, more than twice the inflation rate.

While it’s projected that tolls and fares will go up another 4 percent in 2015 and 2017, that may not be enough if the MTA proceeds with its $32 billion building plan. Closing the capital program’s funding gap through borrowing “would put added pressure on fares and tolls,” DiNapoli concluded, noting every $1 billion borrowed increases debt service by an amount comparable to a 1-percent increase in fares and tolls.

Not a pretty picture. And commuters and taxpayers will, as always, be shelling out more of their hard-earned dollars to pay for the fiscal follies of inept and shortsighted pols.

It’s time for career hack Kaiman to move on – By George J. Marlin

Posted October 28, 2014 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: Articles/Essays/Op-Ed

The following appears in the October 24-30, 2014 issue of the Long Island Business News:

Dear Governor Cuomo:

Nassau County is a fiscal disaster. Its financial condition is as awful as it was when the state intervened in 2000 to bail out hapless County Executive Tom Gulotta.

You will recall that to head off bankruptcy, the Nassau Legislature unanimously approved a message requesting Albany to create the Nassau Interim Finance Authority with broad oversight powers.

In return for the state’s permission to fund operating deficits with $1.311 billion of borrowed money, the county was to walk down the path of fiscal virtue and to fix its broken property-assessment system.

That promise was not kept, and on January 28, 2011, NIFA was compelled to impose a control period.

To stem the financial hemorrhaging, NIFA approved in December 2011 a long-range recovery plan. The county pledged to achieve a GAAP-balanced budget by fiscal year 2015 and NIFA agreed to permit the county to borrow up to $449 million to help Nassau get through the transition.

Last month, the county issued its proposed budget for fiscal 2015 – and it’s nowhere near GAAP balanced. In fact, the multiyear financial plan projects deficits as far as the eye can see.

Assuming approval of the maximum permitted property-tax increase, NIFA analysts project a GAAP deficit of $210 million. And in the out-years they project deficits of $259 million in 2016, $295 million in 2017 and $325 million in 2018, with no plan to balance.

Who is to blame for this mess? NIFA Chairman Jon Kaiman.

After you appointed Kaiman to the board in 2013, he announced he would personally negotiate with the county and the unions a cost-neutral deal to lift the wage freeze. Ignoring warnings of several board members that NIFA should not be in a position of negotiating and then judging union deals, he boasted that as a one-time township district traffic court judge, he successfully negotiated many settlements.

Contrary to his claim, the deal Kaiman persuaded the NIFA board to approve was not cost-neutral. Every objective analysis that predicted the union agreement will cost up to $70 million more a year than it will save is proving true.

Thanks to Kaiman, who turned NIFA from a watchdog to a lapdog, taxpayers will be stuck paying hundreds of millions more deficit-funding debt dollars over the next 30 years.

Let’s face it, Kaiman has been nothing more than a career political hack. After being a Mark Green disciple, he lost races for Hempstead Village board, Nassau County Legislature and Nassau district attorney. In 1999, he managed to get elected to a minor post, North Hempstead Township District judge, but quit after two years to take a town patronage job. He was subsequently elected town supervisor.

However, after 10 years as supervisor, Democrats were grateful when he announced in 2013 he would not seek another term, because they believed he’d lose.

During his tenure, Kaiman – a vulgar and intemperate man – managed to offend scores of constituents. On one occasion, he publicly berated a Catholic priest for referring to Jesus Christ at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. He made headlines when he purportedly got into an altercation at a Jets game and when he managed to aggravate music legend Art Garfunkel at a concert, with his cell phone.

In addition to screwing up at NIFA, Kaiman is floundering in the $150,000-a-year job you gave him to coordinate state support for Hurricane Sandy recovery on Long Island. Newsday recently disclosed Sandy spending is in shambles, with disappointed and enraged homeowners holding the bag two years after the storm.

Governor, if the voters reelect you in November, your first priority should be to clean out the dead wood in your administration. And the first name on the list of people who need to go should be Jon Kaiman.

‘All Things Possible’ – Cuomo’s Tome on Self-Interest – Book review by George J. Marlin

Posted October 23, 2014 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: Articles/Essays/Op-Ed, Newsmax

My book review of All Things Possible by Governor Andrew Cuomo, appears on the web site October 23, 2014.

Don’t be fooled by Cuomo’s Smart Schools – By George J. Marlin

Posted October 14, 2014 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: Articles/Essays/Op-Ed

The following appears in the October 10-16, 2014 issue of the Long Island Business News:

It’s very unusual for proponents of an important statewide ballot referendum to be silent during an election campaign season, but that’s precisely the case this year concerning the so-called “Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014 Proposal No. 3.”

Not familiar with it? I’m not surprised. In his January State of the State address, to entice New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his extreme leftist allies to ditch their plan to increase NYC’s income tax to pay for universal pre-K, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed the bond act, but little has been said about it since.

To bring you up to speed, here’s the official ballot text that will appear in your voting booth on Nov. 4:

The Smart Schools Act of 2014, as set forth in Section One of Part B of Chapter 56 of the laws of 2014, authorizes the sale of state bonds of up to two billion ($2,000,000,000) to provide access to classroom technology and high-speed internet connectivity to equalize opportunities for children to learn, to add classroom space, to expand high-quality pre-kindergarten programs, to replace classroom trailers with permanent instructional space and to install high-tech smart security features in schools. Shall the Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014 be approved? Yes or No.

Why has there been so little talk about this bond referendum? Because supporters are afraid if voters focus on it, a majority will realize it’s a $2 billion dollar boondoggle and vote it down.

This proposal doesn’t make much sense. Taxpayers are being asked to pay principal and interest on debt well beyond the life of iPads, laptops and other computer and technology equipment. E.J. McMahon, president of the fiscal-watchdog Empire Center, agrees: “Cuomo seems to rely on an arbitrary number and would pay for technology that will be outdated and useless before the state’s indebtedness is even paid off.”

Comparing the issuance of such long-term debt to borrowing for a vacation, Citizen’s Budget Commission Vice President Elizabeth Lynam said, “It’s OK to borrow money to purchase a house, and you pay that over 30 years because the house is going to last 30 years. It’s not OK to borrow typically in your personal life for a vacation, because that’s a short-term benefit and you’re going to pay it back for many years to come.”

The technology and construction programs included in the Smart School Act are generally funded by the state’s operating budget via annual school aid. By not using this normal process, the Empire Center has observed “the state will have to grow its debt and incur interest payments that make the expenditures more costly.”

Also, the funding of projects with bond proceeds frees up dollars in the state budget to fund more goodies on the never-ending wish lists of the state-wide teachers unions.

While the national cost of education averages about $10,000 per student annually, spending in New York averages $20,000 per student. On Long Island, it’s projected to hit $26,000 per student this academic year. For all that spending, the results are not impressive; New York student proficiency levels are below the national average, and it’s unlikely spending another $2 billion on dubious projects will improve student performance.

Back in the early 1800s, New York State went on a spending spree. But the 1837 depression brought it to a halt, as the state found itself on the brink of insolvency when canals and railroads built with bonded debt defaulted. To address this crisis, a constitutional convention was convened in 1846, and new measures were adopted permitting debt to be incurred only if approval was obtained in a voter referendum.

In modern times, New Yorkers have used this constitutional power wisely, rejecting most bond acts. This year, state voters have another opportunity to do just that – and to show Cuomo they’re too smart to fall for the Smart Act.

Wither LI’s Conservative parties – By George J. Marlin

Posted September 29, 2014 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: Articles/Essays/Op-Ed

The following appears in the September 26-October 2, 2014 issue of the Long Island Business News:

After writing this biweekly LIBN column for more than five years, I presume readers know that fiscally, economically and culturally, I’m a small “c” conservative. But I’m also a member of the New York Conservative Party, which I suppose makes me a large “C” as well.

Back in 1965, when I was 13, I handed out fliers on Brooklyn street corners for William F. Buckley Jr., founder of the modern conservative movement. At the time, he was the Conservative Party’s NYC mayoral candidate, running against the very liberal John Vliet Lindsay.

In 1993, I followed in Buckley’s footsteps and ran for mayor on the Conservative line against Mayor David Dinkins and the candidate of the Republican and Liberal parties, Rudy Giuliani. To help celebrate the party’s 40th anniversary in 2002, I even wrote a book: “Fighting the Good Fight: A History of the New York Conservative Party” (St. Augustine’s Press).

The Conservative Party was founded in 1962 to serve ideals first. Throughout its history, the party has been the guardian of working-class New Yorkers – men and women who subscribe to the belief that to be a good citizen, it’s essential to love family, country, neighborhood and God, and just as important to respect an ethic of hard work.

Thanks to the dedication of the party’s founders and many of its leaders, who eschewed personal gain, Ronald Reagan said, “The Conservative Party has established itself as a pre-eminent force in New York politics and an important part of our political history.”

This brings me to the present state of the Conservative Party on Long Island. Right now, Suffolk County Chairman Ed Walsh is being investigated by the FBI over allegations that he collected his salary as a county Corrections Department lieutenant for hours he did not work; the county sheriff is attempting to fire him. According to records disclosed in Newsday, Walsh collected more than $250,000 in salary and overtime from the sheriff’s office in 2013 and another $60,000 from the Suffolk Conservative Party.

Longtime local party activist Michael O’Donohoe said the allegations have “tainted” the Conservative line and he fears that members dedicated to its principles will “abandon the county party if it’s known for bloated salaries and political connections.”

For the good of the party, Mr. Walsh should have stepped down as chairman, at least until the investigation is over. But no, that was asking too much – and sadly, his rubber-stamp county committee elected him to another two-year term Sept. 17.

As for the Nassau County Conservative Party, its leader, Danny Donovan, claims he champions traditional cultural beliefs, and says candidates seeking the party’s nomination must be pro-life and pro-traditional marriage. That standard, however, didn’t apply in the 4th Congressional District this year.

Instead of choosing Republican Frank Scaturro, a true conservative intellect and dedicated activist, the party nominated pro-abortion Bruce Blakeman to oppose Democrat Kathleen Rice.

Blakeman, one of GOP boss Joe Mondello’s favorite political hacks, not only lacks intellectual depth but has proven to be an inept candidate. In 1998, he was creamed by Carl McCall in the race for state comptroller. One year later, voters booted him out of the county legislature for supporting a 9-percent property-tax increase. And in 2010, he never got to the starting gate to run against U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, soundly rejected by both the Republican and Conservative parties.

Unlike Nassau County Conservative Party leaders, I won’t abandon my principles – and therefore, I won’t vote for Bruce Blakeman. Instead, I’ll write in Frank Scaturro for Congress in the 4th C.D. on Election Day. I urge all right-minded Conservatives to do the same.

If the Conservative Party is to endure, its time for the rank-and-file to send a strong message to Long Island leaders: Principles matter more than patronage, financial gain and political cronyism.

Cuomo’s Primary Woes – By George J. Marlin

Posted August 31, 2014 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: Articles/Essays/Op-Ed

The following appears in the August 29-September 4, 2014 issue of the Long Island Business News:

Back in January, Governor Andrew Cuomo thought everything was going his way. His approval ratings were sky high and he looked forward to a huge second term victory that would enhance his national image.

But a federal investigation of his office and his “in your face” governing style has energized opposition on both the left and right sides of the political spectrum—and that could wreck his hopes for a big win in November.

On the right, pro-fracking, pro-gun and pro-traditional marriage voters are expected to come out in droves and could deliver a disproportionate ballot box impact in what is expected to be a low turnout election. Cuomo’s Moreland Commission scandal has given new life to Republican-Conservative candidate for governor, Rob Astorino, who’s proven to be an adept candidate despite his limited financial resources.

On the left, Cuomo has learned that it’s hard to keep the masses happy. No matter how high Cuomo raises taxes or how much he spends on education, housing, welfare or Medicaid—it’s never enough for liberals.

Members of the extremist Working Families Party made Cuomo grovel for their nomination—and his pledge to support their high-tax, high-spend agenda still wasn’t good enough for 42 percent of convention delegates who supported challenger Zephyr Teachout.

Undaunted, Teachout and her running mate, Tim Wu, entered the Democratic primary and have survived Cuomo court challenges.

In her first TV ad, Teachout described her ideologically driven perception of New York’s populace. She said “the people of this state believe in public libraries and believe in public education and believe in public transportation…. There are two futures. One future is a state with CVS or Duane Reade and Bank of America—really, really centralized power where people don’t have a voice. The other future is really responsive government—family farms, small businesses….”

While I’m sure most people have nothing against their public library, my guess is their main concern is jobs. And CVS pharmacies and Bank of America branches create more jobs throughout the state than public libraries.

As for owning family farms, that’s not the goal of 99 percent of New Yorkers. It’s the pipe dream of wealthy leftists—the liberal one percenter—who want to own large pieces of land in the Hudson Valley. They want to be perceived as environmentally sensitive farmers to avoid being labeled as decadent owners of great estates as the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts of a century ago.

Teachout’s platform is designed to appeal to Manhattan’s West Side lefties and the East Side’s radical chic crowd. She could do well on Primary Day, because the bulk of the turnout will be in New York City where motivated voters will be mostly disgruntled liberals. Cuomo should still win, but a strong showing by Teachout will make him look ridiculous and wreck his national ambitions.

Another Cuomo nightmare: Teachout’s Lieutenant Governor candidate, Tim Wu, beating Cuomo’s running mate Kathy Hochul.

Cuomo chose Hochul not because she was qualified but because she was from Western New York and had a center-right voting record during her 19 months in Congress. Hochul may help Cuomo in November but she is lethal in September. A Wu victory will muck-up Cuomo’s total vote count in November. While the Democratic ticket will be Cuomo-Wu, the tickets of the Working Families Party and the Independence Party will be Cuomo-Hochul. And because the names on the tickets differ, all the votes cast for Cuomo on the minor party lines will not be added to the votes cast for him on the Democratic line.

If this comes to pass, it’s possible Cuomo loses or wins only with a plurality, or a very slim majority of votes. Whatever the outcome, expect Cuomo to fall far short of the 65.6 percent his father Mario received in his second term election.

Cuomo’s “thug” approach to governing and lack of core principles may be finally catching up with him. And that’s a good thing.

New York’s Cuomo to Leave a Legacy of Cronyism – By George J. Marlin

Posted August 29, 2014 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: The Catholic Thing

This article I wrote appears on the web site on August 29, 2014.


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