Archive for January 2011

NIFA – Time to set the record straight – By George J. Marlin

January 14, 2011

The following appears in the January 14-20, 2011 issue of the Long Island Business News:

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority has been much in the news of late due to the county’s fiscal crisis. Because there has been considerable misinformation circulating about NIFA as well as claims that it is only a “so-called watchdog agency,” as a NIFA board member I believe it is appropriate to devote my LIBN column this week to setting the historical record straight.

Back in 2000, to help restore the county’s fiscal health, which had been suffering for years due to mismanagement and corruption, the Nassau County Legislature unanimously approved a home-rule message requesting Albany to create a state oversight panel with the power to guide the county’s budget policies. Both Nassau Legislator Peter Schmitt and then-Legislator Ed Mangano voted for the measure.

Responding to this request, then-Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli, D-Great Neck, and state Sen. Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, crafted NIFA legislation that was intended to fix Nassau’s financial mess and to protect taxpayers from future irresponsible political behavior.

The state Legislature adopted the act to fulfill its constitutional duty “to restrict the power of taxation, assessment, borrowing money, contracting indebtedness and loaning the credit of municipalities so as to prevent abuses in taxation and assessments and in the contracting and loaning of credit by the county.” This visionary bipartisan bill was signed into law by Republican Gov. George Pataki on June 23, 2000.

Modeled on New York City’s Emergency Financial Control Board and the Municipal Assistance Corp. (which were created in the 1970s to address the city’s fiscal nightmare), NIFA is an independent public authority that has had budgetary oversight responsibilities and the power to provide the county with budgetary relief, to transmit state assistance grants and to issue NIFA bonds.

The authority’s governing body consists of seven members who serve without compensation and are appointed by the governor, Senate majority leader, Assembly speaker and the state comptroller. At the present time there is one vacancy.

Most of the public’s attention has been focused on NIFA’s power to declare a “control period” over county finances. Section 3669 of NIFA’s authorizing legislation states NIFA “shall impose a control period upon its determination at any time…. that there is a substantial likelihood and imminence [that] … the county shall have incurred a major operating funds deficit of 1 percent or more in the aggregate results of operations of such funds during its fiscal year assuming all revenues and expenditures are reported in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles.”

The phrase “substantial likelihood and imminence” means that NIFA has the authority to impose a control period based on the county’s budget not only when an operating deficit is incurred. In other words, NIFA must declare a control period if it concludes that the county’s budget does not meet the standards to project a balanced budget due to the degree of risk in various projected revenue sources and expects the deficit to be greater than 1 percent, or about $26 million on a budget of $2.6 billion.

If this were ever to occur, NIFA would work with the county in the preparation and implementation of a balanced financial plan. The county’s elected officials would continue to make all policy decisions and maintain direct responsibility for the day-to-day operations of county services. And when it is determined that the budget imbalance has been eliminated, NIFA would lift the control period.

Contrary to all the bombastic rhetoric heard in the public square, NIFA was created at the request of local elected officials in order to provide Nassau County with the opportunity to meet its obligations and to continue to function independently as a municipal entity.

Poland: Crucified Between Two Thieves – By George J. Marlin

January 12, 2011

This article I wrote appears on The Catholic Thing web site on January 12, 2011.

The Kessel NYPA Watch, January 7, 2010 – By George J. Marlin

January 7, 2011

Special State of the State Edition

 Happy Days are Here Again!

The long and storied history of the Power Authority has been written by great men such as Robert Moses and John Dyson under the leadership of Governors such as Al Smith, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Tom Dewey, Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo.

Sadly, the leadership of NYPA has been recently debased and reached new lows as its current CEO and President has dismantled what was once one of the greatest public utilities in the nation and incurred the ire of customers, elected officials and NYPA’s workforce.

But the inauguration of Governor Andrew Cuomo has brought new hope to the customers of NYPA and taxpayers of the State. Yesterday, Governor Cuomo announced that he had nominated John Dyson for another term as NYPA board member. Dyson’s nomination is subject to Senate confirmation but that is expected to be pro forma.

After talking with its correspondents in Albany, White Plains and Long Island, here’s what Street Corner Conservative foresees—

First, Dyson, a former NYPA Chair who has held many important posts in the US Army, and State and New York City governments, surely did not accept the Governor’s offer to be just another board member. We expect that Dyson will be named NYPA Chair next month.

Street Corner believes that Kessel was able to thwart the gullible Governor Paterson from appointing Dyson during Paterson’s thankfully completed term. In fact, Kessel was able to convince Paterson to make a holdover Pataki appointee NYPA Chair. Kessel pushed Paterson to install the Pataki holdover knowing that a grateful Michael Townsend would not question his hijinks.

Second, Street Corner believes that Kessel, who was spotted in Albany Wednesday—the day of Governor Cuomo’s first State of the State address—leaving the Governor’s office, was informed that Dyson was coming in and Richie would soon leave.

If as Street Corner expects, this happy news is soon confirmed, the promise of the new Cuomo Administration will be bright indeed for NYPA.

Street Corner invites its correspondents to send in information on what may be the last days of the Kessel reign.


The No-Labels movement: just another fad – By George J. Marlin

January 6, 2011

The following appears in the December 31, 2010-January 6, 2011 issue of the Long Island Business News:

Plenty of positive media has been showered upon the “No-Labels” political movement founded by Democratic fundraiser Nancy Jacobson, the spouse of uber-pollster Mark Penn, and Republican strategist Mark McKinnon.

This group hopes to attract “enlightened” reformers, “good government” patricians and “genteel” political independents disgusted with Washington gridlock, political extremists, partisanship, blah, blah, blah.

Political wags believe No-Labels is the brainchild of Michael Bloomberg’s political consultants who stand to make a fortune if the mayor, as some speculate, spends a billion dollars running as a third-party presidential candidate in 2012.

Such movements are not new and have been led by disgruntled elitists who couldn’t make it in one of the major parties. In 1980 there was the independent candidacy of John Anderson, who was the darling of college kids thanks to his frequent appearance in the Doonesbury cartoon strip. Anderson, who lectured that a Ronald Reagan presidency would destroy our liberties, received only 5 percent of the vote and retired to political obscurity.

In 1992 and 1996, the sanctimonious flake Ross Perot, who bizarrely claimed President George H.W. Bush sabotaged his daughter’s wedding, ran to stick it to Republican bigwigs. By siphoning off just enough GOP votes, his candidacy enabled Bill Clinton to win both races with pluralities.

An example of a New York No-Labels type is Howard Mills, who in his 2004 race against U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer declared, “I reject [political] labels … I am not into labels.” Mills was not much of anything and the results proved it: He got only 24 percent of the vote.

No-Labels enthusiasts live under the delusion that political clashes and hyperpartisanship over issues are bad for the nation. They fail to grasp that the Founding Fathers created a federalist system of checks and balances to ensure a degree of gridlock.

To avoid mobocracy James Madison, the “Father of the U.S. Constitution,” insisted on a Senate upper chamber, with six-year terms to check the lower House chamber. Madison approved of factions and reasoned that to “divide the trust between different bodies of men, who might watch and check each other … [would prevent] fickleness and passion and [the temptation] to commit injustice on the majority.”

The No-Labels crowd also dismisses honestly held philosophical stands as extreme and does not appreciate the need for first principles – not immutable ideologies – to guide one when making public policy decisions.

As a conservative I insist on such principles and subscribe to these canons found in Russell Kirk’s monumental 1953 work “The Conservative Mind”:

  • Belief that divine intent rules society as well as conscience; that most political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.
  • Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and egalitarianism and utilitarian aims of most radical systems.
  • Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes; that equality before courts of law are recognized, but equality of condition means equality in servitude.
  • Persuasion that property and freedom are inseparably connected, and that economic leveling is not economic progress.
  • Faith in prescription and distrust of, in the phrase of Edmund Burke, “sophisters and calculators.” Tradition and sound prescriptions provide checks upon man’s anarchic impulse.
  • Recognition that change and reform are not identical.

These standards by which all policies are measured have served American conservatives well for generations. President Reagan, for instance, confounded Washington insiders and got 80 percent of his policies enacted precisely because he adhered to them.

Like its predecessors, the No-Labels movement will fizzle out because the issues that move elites – campaign finance reform, nonpartisan elections and publicly funded campaigns – do not energize the public. Expect No-Labels members to be short-lived political morning glories who will run back to the safety of their exclusive clubs and gated communities. Real reform will come from members of the established parties pushing the envelope to fix the nation’s ills.