Archive for June 2010

NY’s GOP squandered the convention – By George J. Marlin

June 20, 2010

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

Angry voters throughout the nation are coming out in droves to punish incumbents they believe have betrayed them.  Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Bob Bennett of Utah are just two of the political heavyweights that the electorate has sent packing.

A USA Today study released in early June claims that the Tea Party populist movement has also inspired record numbers of political novices to seek public office.  In 33 state primary elections, there has been a 35 percent increase in the total number running for congressional seats.  Of the 1,500 candidates, Republican outnumbers Democrats two to one.  In North Carolina, for instance, 66 people battled it out for house seat nominations – double the number of two years ago.

New Yorkers have also been expressing their wrath at the ballot box.  Last fall they voted out a slew of local incumbents including the Nassau and Westchester county executives.

I have not seen New York voters in such a state since 1970 when James L. Buckley was elected U.S. senator on the Conservative Party line beating Republican Charles Goodell and Democrat Richard Ottinger.  Back then, voters were furious over crime in the streets and college kids rioting against the Vietnam War.  This year their anger is very different; it’s directed toward shameless, corrupt tax-and-spend pols who are captives of public-service employee unions.

Since Democrats control every branch of the state government and every statewide office, one would think that anti-incumbent sentiment would bode well for New York’s Republican Party.  Sadly, this does not appear to be the case.

At their June convention, which was rife with vicious infighting, the Republicans proved they have not recovered from 12 years of Gov. George Pataki’s deliberate smothering of the state GOP organization. Pataki, who abandoned principle in favor of cronyism and patronage, preferred an impotent party to one that would train new talent not subject to Pataki control.

Convinced the GOP political bench was bare, the party’s desperate novice chairman, Ed Cox, talked a Democrat, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, into seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination only weeks before the party convention. Both were humiliated when the convention roll call revealed that Chairman Cox delivered only 28 percent of the vote for Levy, far short of the required 51 percent.  Cox, who was expected to pump new life and funds into his moribund party, has proven to be a political empty suit.

The poster boy for the financially and intellectually bankrupt New York GOP is its designated candidate to face Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand – Bruce Blakeman. In 1998 Blakeman was creamed in his statewide run against Comptroller Carl McCall, receiving only 33 percent of the vote.  The next year, Nassau voters booted Blakeman from his county Legislature seat because he failed to grasp that voting to raise property taxes was not the best way to fix the county’s fiscal woes.

Blakeman, who has been campaigning since last fall and has raised very little money, boasts he is well qualified to sit in the U.S. Senate because he has a certificate in Homeland Security from Long Island University.  I recently learned that anyone can audit this program, including Osama bin Laden, because it’s offered online.

If the Conservative Party Senate candidate, former Congressman Joe DioGuardi, successfully petitions himself into the September GOP primary, expect him to beat Blakeman.  If DioGuardi runs solely on the Conservative line in November, he could very well receive more votes than the hapless Blakeman.

New Yorkers are demanding strong, bold leadership to fix a broke, dysfunctional state.  By failing to meet those demands at their convention, the Republicans have squandered an opportunity to take back control of state government and may have consigned themselves to a permanent minority status following redistricting.  Overtaxed New Yorkers deserve better.

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NY GOP Suicide – By George J. Marlin

June 14, 2010

This article I wrote appears in the New York Post on June 14, 2010.

NY mandates strangle local governments – By George J. Marlin

June 4, 2010

The following appears in the June 4-10 issue of the Long Island Business News:

In a recent meeting held to discuss suburban problems, the county executives of Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester agreed that unfunded state mandates are consuming too big a share of their budgets. Nassau’s Ed Mangano, speaking for the group, said, “None of us can afford one more unfunded mandate. We want to make that clear.”

For years governors and state legislators have been evading the responsibility of funding programs they wanted by ordering municipalities and school districts to provide and pay for a host of services. To comply with these unfunded mandates, local governments are forced to raise billions in taxes. This, in part, explains why New York’s local per capita taxes are the highest in the nation.

Studies have revealed that New York imposes more mandates than any other state – over 2,000. These mandates consume on average 60 percent of county government budgets.

The Citizens Budget Commission has explained that the main reason for the crippling level of taxation is state policies on Medicaid, education and collective bargaining between unions and local governments.

The Manhattan Institute’s E.J. McMahon agreed: “What this underscores is that the problem we have is a four-letter word: cost. The costs are driven primarily out of Albany, by the state Legislature and the governor. But though the costs are dictated by Albany, Albany does not have to foot the whole bill; that’s the main problem. All they do in Albany is cash the campaign contributions from all the interest groups that benefit from their spending, primarily the unions.”

Medicaid is the poster child for unfunded mandates. Created during the “Great Society” heyday, Title 19 of the Social Security Act of 1965 established guidelines for a Medicaid program that states could adopt to provide medical services for the poor. The federal government would cover half the cost and the states would have to pay the other half.

New York quickly signed on to the program, added numerous amendments that made dependency a way of life and decreed that Albany would pick up only half the state’s portion of Medicaid costs; the rest of the financial burden would have to be shouldered by local governments. As a result, today the average New York county devotes about half of its property taxes to covering its imposed share of Medicaid costs. In Nassau County, the local share of Medicaid is nearly $250 million annually, in Suffolk $230 million – roughly 30 percent of their property tax collections.

The other cause of local government’s skyrocketing cost: New York’s public sector labor laws.

With employee salaries and benefits accounting for about 75 percent of municipal and school district operating expenses, possessing the power to effectively negotiate fair contracts is essential. Unfortunately this is not the case in New York. Over the years the state Legislature, succumbing to the demands of public employee unions, has enacted legislation that puts municipal employers at a disadvantage at the bargaining table.

Here are a few examples: The Public Employee Relations Board hinders municipal employers from implementing cost-saving policies such as subcontracting of services. The Triborough Amendment forbids employers from altering “terms and conditions of employment” after a contract has expired. As a result, teacher unions, for example, have no incentive to seriously negotiate since their members are guaranteed pay increases even in the absence of a contract.

These and scores of other laws, rules and regulations that favor municipal unions explains why the average salary of government workers is higher than private sector employees and why government benefits exceed those in the private sector.

Because time after time Albany’s “powers that be” have, for short-term political advantage, forced mandates without regard to potential consequences, New York’s local governments and school districts are on the edge of a fiscal abyss.

As Goes Pennsylvania. . .? – By George J. Marlin

June 3, 2010

This article I wrote appeared on The Catholic Thing web site on June 2, 2010.