More NY Silly Season Politics – By George J. Marlin

Posted August 19, 2014 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: Articles/Essays/Op-Ed

The following appears in the August 15-21, 2014 issue of the Long Island Business News:

In mid-July, one of New York’s top lobbyists, Al D’Amato, chastised Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino for daring to attack Gov. Andrew Cuomo. D’Amato demanded that Astorino apologize for calling Cuomo “corrupt” and criticized him for “doing gimmicky press conferences.”

That is awfully nervy considering D’Amato was known for savaging his political opponents and for employing all sorts of gimmicks to generate headlines. I remember when he sang a revised version of “Old McDonald Had a Farm” on the floor of the U.S. Senate and donned undercover clothes to buy illegal drugs in Washington Heights.

D’Amato, who was booted out of the Senate by voters in November 1998, forfeited the right to be a GOP sage years ago. Since leaving public office he has been a lobbyist, paid handsomely to represent the interests of the people that hire him. To further client causes and to enrich himself, D’Amato has endorsed and raised money for liberal Democrats, including Cuomo and last year’s unsuccessful candidate for New York City mayor, Bill Thomson.

Like Cuomo, D’Amato has no core principles and no interest in promoting the common good. He only promotes what’s best for him.

Sadly, I learned earlier this year the self-interest rule also applied when D’Amato was in the Senate. In Richard Ravitch’s memoir, “So Much To Do,” he revealed that D’Amato – the man I and many others supported because of his stark opposition to abortion – was a mountebank on that issue.

Ravitch revealed that at a breakfast, D’Amato had “asked whether I had voted for him. I said that in all my voting history I never pulled a lever for a Right-to-Life candidate. It was okay, [D’Amato] said; he didn’t really believe all that stuff.”

D’Amato is nothing more than a snake oil salesman and his political pronouncements should be dismissed by the public and the media.

It was reported in Newsday this summer that financially strapped Nassau County “paid $26.6 million last year to more than 2,000 part-time seasonal workers, some of whom have political or community ties or hold other governmental jobs.”

Several beneficiaries of County Executive Ed Mangano’s largesse earned more working part-time than their full-time counterparts. One part-timer earned $66,499 as a golf course attendant, while holding a full-time job with the Town of Hempstead that pays $126,000 annually. And the attendant’s part-time income was greater than the combined salaries of three full-time golf course managers.

Think about it. At $50 an hour the attendant would have to clock in 1,328 hours to earn $66,449. Considering golf is seasonal – April through October – about 30 weeks, the part-timer would have to work 44 hours a week. Remember, those hours are on top of a full-time job – what a remarkable feat. Obviously this person requires very little sleep.

That CSEA leader Jerry Laricchiuta was unaware of or unconcerned with these shenanigans is a disgrace. His membership – the lowest-paid county workers who were under a three-year wage freeze that Mangano asked the Nassau Interim Finance Authority to impose – should be outraged.

Taxpayers should also be outraged that Mangano has permitted cronyism to the tune of $26 million to continue when his budget’s structural deficit continues to grow due to smoke-and-mirror revenue and expenditure estimates.

One knows the dog days of August have arrived when former Gov. George Pataki – who left the state in worse financial shape than his predecessor, Mario Cuomo – turns up on television. In a Newsmax TV interview, he refused to rule himself out as a presidential candidate in 2016. That’s as ludicrous as me not ruling out running for pope in the next papal election.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

In spite of these silly season revelations, try to enjoy the rest of the summer.

New York’s Political Silly Season has arrived – By George J. Marlin

Posted August 5, 2014 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: Articles/Essays/Op-Ed

The following appears in the August 1-7, 2014 issue of the Long Island Business News:

It’s that time of year again – British journalist G.K. Chesterton’s “silly season,” when politicians hope that taxpayers are preoccupied with their summer outings and not paying attention to their underhanded antics.

Certainly, there’s no shortage of such follies on Long Island this year. Here are two of my favorites:

The LIRR Soap Opera. There was never going to be a strike. In an election year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was not going to permit it. He had a front-row seat during the LIRR strike of 1994 when his father, Mario, also up for re-election, folded the second day of the walkout, gave away the store and was portrayed as the big loser in the showdown. Cuomo was not about to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Despite the name-calling and headlines announcing collective bargaining stalemates, labor and management were never far apart. The unions wanted 17 percent raises over six years while the MTA wanted it spread over seven years.

But there had to be nail-biting theatrics, so shortly before the threatened walkout, Cuomo could appear to come to the rescue. He called the parties to his office, and mirabile dictum – agreement was reached. The end result? Seventeen percent raises over six-and-a-half years! In academic circles, that’s known as game theory. In Brooklyn, where I grew up, it’s known as splitting the difference.

Cuomo’s involvement was only theater – albeit bad theater. At the press conference announcing he had saved the day, Cuomo revealed how little he knew about the tentative deal when he was unable to answer a media question about contract specifics. Cuomo also admitted the unions got just about everything they wanted.

What LIRR commuters did learn at the press conference is that this deal is retroactive to 2010 and expires on December 16, 2016. That means the management-labor kabuki dance starts all over only two years from now.

Moreland Commission Shenanigans. In a 6,000-word investigative report dated July 23, 2014, The New York Times exposed how the governor’s office “hobbled” the corruption investigation Cuomo empowered to look into “anything it wants to look at,” including himself.

The Times revealed that the governor’s chief-of-staff, Larry Schwartz, blocked the commission from probing parties related to Cuomo’s campaign apparatus. He badgered commission staffers to quash certain subpoenas.

While it’s unlikely the governor or his staff members broke laws, the exposé does give the public an inside view of how the office of the state’s chief executive operates. The staff acts like a bunch of micro-managing thugs. Ranting and threatening is their modus operandi.

Staffers emulate their master, who during his father’s time in office served as the administration’s thug and was called the “prince of darkness” by Albany wags.

What’s more distressing is that when Schwartz tried to block specific probes, none of the district attorneys serving on the commission told him to buzz off. Not one of them had the guts to quit and publicly denounce the unwarranted inference.

The commission’s co-chairs, Nassau County DA Kathleen Rice and Onondaga County DA William Fitzpatrick, were not “Profiles in Courage.” And let’s not let state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman off the hook; he recommended nine commission members and deputized them so their subpoena powers extended beyond the executive branch.

The AG who sat beside Cuomo when he announced the creation of the Moreland Commission on July 2, 2013, has been MIA since the Times story broke. If he has chutzpah, he will investigate the commission the way then-AG Cuomo investigated Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s “Troopergate” fiasco. But don’t hold your breath waiting.

Yes, dear readers, the silly season is in full bloom.

World War I and the Papacy – By George J. Marlin

Posted August 2, 2014 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: The Catholic Thing

This article I wrote appeared on The Catholic Thing web site on August 2, 2014.

Where have all the good-paying jobs gone? – By George J. Marlin

Posted July 25, 2014 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: Articles/Essays/Op-Ed

The following appears in the July 18-24 2014 issue of the Long Island Business News:

If one listens to elected officials, especially Gov. Andrew Cuomo, one would think New York’s economy and job market are chugging along at high speed.

Sadly, this is not the case. In 2013, New York’s GDP ranked 46th among the 50 states, growing only 0.7 percent, the smallest rate of increase in four years. In 2010, the rate of growth was 2.7 percent; in 2011, it was 1.2 percent and in 2012 it was 1.7 percent.

And 2013’s anemic economic results also include billions of dollars in post-Sandy reconstruction spending, particularly on Long Island.

While the median income in the metropolitan region, which includes Long Island, is about $63,000, the Fiscal Policy Institute reported in December that median family income adjusting for inflation declined slightly in 2012 and is $3,800, or 6.5 percent, below the 2008 level. Wages for the state’s 9 million workers, after factoring inflation, declined 4.4 percent between 2010 and 2013.

Forbes economist Joel Kotkin has observed that while Wall Street and the investor class have been on a bull run, “the economy has been, at best, torpid for the vast majority of the population.”

The fact is that since the recovery began, a larger-than-usual portion of New York job growth has been in low-paying service sectors where annual salaries average $25,000. Higher-paying middle-class jobs, particularly in the finance sector, aren’t coming back to pre-2008 levels.

The Economic Policy Institute reported earlier this year that one in 10 New York City workers are now in low-wage jobs, with 37 percent of all wage-earners earning less than $15 an hour.

Nassau and Suffolk counties are, fundamentally, in the same employment boat.

Now, it’s true that Long Island’s recovery has been outpacing the rest of the state, and that this region has not only gained back all the jobs it lost in 2008 but has added about 40,000 more. Nevertheless, almost half the 30,000-plus jobs created on Long Island in 2013 were in the low-wage retail and dining sectors.

“The manufacturing and defense jobs that once defined the region,” according to The Wall Street Journal, “aren’t likely to return after being trimmed during the most recent recession.”

According to the L.I. Index, since 2008, the largest losses in employment are occurring in sectors with the highest average wages. Long Island has lost 10 percent of its manufacturing jobs and 16 percent of its construction jobs. During the same period, finance employment has dropped 4.3 percent, insurance employment has fallen 7 percent and communication service jobs have also declined 7 percent.

Another indication that all is not well is the 9 percent decline in Nassau’s sales tax revenues versus the first six months of 2013. If this trend continues, it could mean layoffs in the retail sector and severe cutbacks in county services and employment – not to mention significant tax increases.

Why do the best-paying jobs continue to decline? The president of the Business Council of New York State blames the state’s tax climate – universally recognized as a problem, but always contentious whenever someone suggests tax reform.

Brian McMahon, executive director of the state’s Economic Development Council, agrees.

“New Yorkers shoulder the highest state and local tax burden in the country,” McMahon says. “The states that are growing fastest are those states with relatively low taxes.”

Yes, contrary to the happy talk of our political class, New York’s economy, particularly on Long Island, remains very fragile. And the fault lays at the feet of these pols. Study after study indicates that high taxes, onerous regulations and other mandates they’ve imposed have frightened away industries that create higher-paying middle-class jobs.

Casinos, VLTs can’t fix unfunded mandates – By George J. Marlin

Posted July 9, 2014 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: Articles/Essays/Op-Ed

The following appears in the July 4-10, 2014 issue of the Long Island Business News:

In 2010, Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised taxpayers he would help municipalities and school districts lighten tax burdens by “undertaking a comprehensive review of [unfunded] state mandates and state laws that otherwise limit the ability of school districts and localities to contain costs.”

Mandates imposed by Albany have been driving many local governments to the brink of insolvency. For instance, Erie County officials told The New York Times their entire property tax levy goes to pay the most costly state mandate: Medicaid. All the revenue is gone, they complained, before the county pays for libraries or snow plows or roads.

Failing to fulfill his promise, Cuomo tried to change the subject by supporting a ballot measure approved by voters last November to permit casino gambling and legislation that expands video lottery terminals in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Approval of these measures, Cuomo insisted, would lower property taxes, create jobs and increase aid to public schools.

Despite the governor’s claims, there’s a consensus among economists that gambling emporiums will not be the panacea for all municipal ills.

Gambling competition in the region – New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts – has become so intense that casinos are failing. In New Jersey, the Atlantic Club closed its doors in January, the Revel has filed for bankruptcy and the Showboat, which employs 2,100 people, announced last week that it’s closing its doors Aug. 31.

New York faces serious problems before casino building plans get off the drawing boards. Recently, two developers canceled plans to bid for casino rights in economically depressed Sullivan County because the more affluent Orange County – which is closer to NYC – is also eligible to compete for a gambling license.

The New York Post reported that “the mere prospect of a casino in Orange County makes it impossible to get financing for a gambling resort in Sullivan County, which has been waiting 40 years for one.”

There’s more bad news. In May 2014, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a 34-page report, “Trends in N.Y.S. Lottery Revenues and Gaming Expansions,” which concluded, “The projected new revenues from casinos, VLT expansions and payments by Native American [casinos] would add slightly less than half a percentage point to the state’s existing non-federal receipts. The permanent jobs projected to be created by new casinos constitute a small addition to the more encompassing broader strategy needed to [strengthen] the Empire State economy especially in struggling upstate communities.”

DiNapoli’s excellent analysis gives a slew of reasons why taxpayers should not have high hopes – the key one being that most gambling revenue will not come from out-of-state tourists but in-state residents.

Let’s face it; most rich people who fly to New York from London or Paris to shop on Fifth Avenue are not going to jump into a limo to travel to a Sullivan County Casino or a Suffolk County VLT.

If most gaming customers are local folks, then, “such activity primarily represents substitution of gambling losses for other consumer purchases rather than net new business,” according to DiNapoli’s report. In other words, instead of disposable income being spent in neighborhood restaurants or cinemas, it will be squandered at a betting parlor.

And then there are the social costs. Studies show that a significant number of locals who gamble at gaming parlors close to home can least afford it. They are seniors on fixed income and low-income workers risking their rent and food money.

Also, state and local governments will have to allocate more tax dollars to publicly funded problem gambling programs. Presently, about 5 percent of New Yorkers suffer from problem gambling and about 28 percent of them have experienced a substance abuse disorder. As casinos and VLTs become more accessible, expect these numbers to rise.

Don’t believe politicians who insist gambling – in whatever form – will be a fiscal game-changer for our local governments. Only genuine unfunded mandate relief will begin to help lessen the burden on New York’s taxpayers.

 

With some groveling, flip-flopping gov wins – By George J. Marlin

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

The following appears in the June 20-26, 2014 issue of the Long Island Business News:

Four years ago, gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo told the radical leftist Working Families Party that if he were to accept its nomination, the party would have to support his “New New York” agenda, which stated that, as governor, Cuomo would “veto any increase in personal or corporate income taxes or sales tax.”

Cuomo made it perfectly clear to the WFP that he was opposed to extending the state’s so-called Millionaire’s Surcharge Tax, which was set to expire at the end of 2011. “I was against it at the time, and I still am,” the candidate told the party. “It’s a new tax. It was supposed to sunset. If it doesn’t sunset, it’s a tax.”

Comparing his refusal to extend the surcharge to his father’s principled opposition to the death penalty in the 1980s, Cuomo stood up to WFP and its “soak the rich” ideology. He let them know it had to be his way or the highway.

Fearful it might fail to get the 50,000 votes required to maintain its legal party status if it ran its own candidate in 2010, WFP capitulated. It chucked its principles and agreed to Cuomo’s conditions.

Fast forward four years and the proverbial political shoe is on the other foot. This year, the WFP would be the one to put conditions on its nomination.

Knowing that Cuomo is desperate to rack up a huge victory – one that not only surpasses Mario Cuomo’s second term total of 64.6 percent but one that could jumpstart a 2016 presidential run, if Hillary Clinton doesn’t enter the race – WFP figured it had the upper hand. Party leaders felt even more empowered when opinion polls indicated that a WFP candidate running against Cuomo and Republican-Conservative Rob Astorino could garner as much as 15 percent of the vote. That high a total could cost Cuomo the election or reduce him to a plurality victory.

Despite the fact that Cuomo had broken his word and raised taxes, this was not good enough for WFP’s members. At their May 31 convention, delegates were out for blood – and many were prepared to support announced challenger Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University law professor.

What did the governor do to fend off a November challenge? He groveled.

The man who ran in 2010 as a centrist did a 180-degree flip-flop and signed onto the WFP’s hard-left platform, which the National Federation of Independent Business has denounced as “completely incompatible with the pro-growth policies New York needs.”

Cuomo pledged to support a $10.10 minimum wage plan that would also permit individual municipalities to increase it an additional 30 percent – a formula guaranteed to kill jobs. He agreed to push through the legislature public campaign financing which the Wall Street Journal pointed out “will further limit political competition and enhance the power of public unions backed by coerced dues.” And he agreed to abandon the coalition of Republicans and independent Democrats that has controlled the Senate – a coalition he boasted time and again was essential in implementing his first-term agenda.

Even though he ate plenty of crow, Cuomo still managed to receive only 58 percent of the delegates’ vote versus 41 percent for the novice Teachout. Dissenting party leaders called him Cuomocchio, a play on Pinocchio. Others said bluntly that they just don’t trust him.

When asked by a reporter if he was now “a true-believing progressive,” the ever-cagey governor dismissed the inquiry and said, “At these political conventions you win or lose. I won.”

Cuomo won, but the price was high. He revealed to the public that he’s a man lacking character and core principles – a political empty suit willing to embrace any heterodoxy to get by.

Good read: Ravitch’s road to fiscal health – By George J. Marlin

Posted June 11, 2014 by streetcornerconservative
Categories: Articles/Essays/Op-Ed

The following appears in the June 6-12, 2014 issue of the Long Island Business News:

Eighty-year-old Richard Ravitch has had a remarkable life. The skilled entrepreneur made a fortune early on in Manhattan real estate, and free of financial woes he went on to serve the people of New York in various capacities – most recently as Gov. David Paterson’s appointed lieutenant governor.

In his memoir, “So Much To Do: A Full Life of Business, Politics and Confronting Fiscal Crisis,” Ravitch describes his contributions during New York’s fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s, his stewardship at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and his role in later years as a “wise man” whose advice on municipal matters has been widely sought.

While his memoir is at times self-serving – all such works are – it is nevertheless filled with lessons taxpayers and elected officials can apply to present-day fiscal challenges.

It all began in 1975, when newly sworn-in Gov. Hugh Carey asked Ravitch to take over the ailing Urban Development Corp. Created by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller in 1968 after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., UDC issued debt, backed with the state’s moral obligations to build housing in “substandard blighted areas.”

But the corporation was poorly run, and the investment community refused to underwrite additional debt. In February 1975, UDC defaulted on $104.5 million worth of notes.

The politically green Ravitch, with Carey’s blessing, brought the bankers together and threatened to file bankruptcy. “The banks blinked,” he writes in his memoir. “They agreed to withdraw their set-offs against UDC accounts.”

Ravitch helped create a plan that remedied the default, affirmed the state’s “moral obligation” to meet UDC’s principal and interest payments to bondholders and prevented chaos in the financial markets.

The UDC defaulted at the same time that New York City was running into fiscal difficulties. In 1975, city expenditures totaled $12.8 billion and revenues $10.9 billion. Fifty-six percent of locally raised taxes were appropriated for debt services, pension and Social Security payments. Years of budgetary gimmicks, phantom revenues, capitalization of expenditures and excessive use of short-term debt to fund daily operations forced the financial markets to close their doors to the city in 1976.

Ravitch was present at the creation of the Municipal Assistance Corp. and the Emergency Financial Control Board, which saved the city from bankruptcy. He also played a key roll in convincing the teachers union to use pension-fund assets to purchase long-term MAC bonds, whose proceeds were used to pay off the city’s heavy load of short-term debt.

One observation Ravitch makes that all New York elected officials, particularly those on Long Island, should heed: “The city’s most egregiously misleading gimmick … was to treat the proceeds of borrowing as revenues and to use these revenues to claim that the budget was in balance.” This gimmick brought NYC to its fiscal knees and may soon do the same to Nassau and Suffolk counties.

As lieutenant governor, he blew the whistle on the state’s cash accounting abuses, “which enables the state to avoid giving the public the bad news that expenditures may be growing faster than recurring revenues.” He has rightly called for state and local municipalities to abandon deceptive cash accounting and to adopt GAAP accrual standards.

Since that time, Ravitch has served on a long list of boards and commissions. After he left public office in 2011, he became co-chairman of the State Budget Crisis Task Force and has continued to make the case that “deceptive budgeting and borrowing practices are crippling our state’s ability to do what they can do – invest in the physical and human infrastructure the country needs to thrive.”

Just this past month, a judge in Michigan overseeing the Detroit bankruptcy case appointed him a special advisor.

If you want to learn what it takes to fix our current fiscal ills, read Ravitch’s memoir.


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