Archive for April 2012

New York state taxes: Long Island loses again – By George J. Marlin

April 20, 2012

The following appears in the April 20-26, 2012 issue of the Long Island Business News:

Last December New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his merry band of downstate suburban Republican senators enthusiastically embraced Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s so-called tax-reform legislation. The reality, however, is that the enacted law, which projects $2 billion in additional tax revenue, actually raises taxes on many overburdened suburban taxpayers.

The downstate senators apparently did not grasp the consequences of their actions. By yielding to the temptation of political expediency (an apt motto for the group is Oscar Wilde’s epigram, “I can resist everything but temptation”) they are hurting the very constituents who elected them to office. Not only will higher taxes drive more of suburbia’s wealthiest to lower-tax states, those left behind will forfeit more of their income to Albany and will get in return proportionally less in state-funded aid.

Every year New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance collects approximately $80 billion in fees and taxes on personal income, corporate profits and sales. The bulk of those dollars are then distributed to fund various local programs and services throughout the state. Services include education, transportation, public safety and health care.

A recent study commissioned by the Citizens Budget Commission and performed by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government at SUNY Albany confirmed what most Long Islanders have long suspected: “New York City and the downstate suburbs give far more to Albany in revenues that they get in state-funded expenditures.”

Downstate suburbia contributes about 27 percent of the total tax dollars that go into the state coffers but receives about 17 percent of state aid. In other words, for every dollar paid in taxes, only 72 cents returns in the form of state aid.

Upstate residents benefit the most. For every $1 they send to Albany they receive back $1.69. That explains why upstate Republican legislators – who hypocritically swear allegiance to the principles of fiscal conservatism – happily vote for higher state taxes. They know their regions will benefit the most and will be required to spend the least. That’s because most of the wealthiest in the state live in New York City or its suburban bedroom communities.

When it comes to state aid to public schools, downstate suburban counties are also shortchanged. In fiscal year 2009-2010, for example, Nassau County received $935 million in school aid or $692 per capita, and Suffolk County received $1.795 billion or $1,183 per capita. Western New York’s Erie County, however, received $1.213 billion, which translates into $1,382 per capita.

Get the picture? Long Islanders are paying more to get less from Albany.  And thanks to income tax increases that go into effect this year, they will be contributing even more to state coffers.

Skelos and his suburban confreres were rolled last December. Instead of taking deep bows they should be hanging their heads in shame.

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NY’s Nanny State: Denying Religious and Personal Liberties – By George J. Marlin

April 19, 2012

This article I wrote appeared on The Catholic Thing web site on April 18, 2012.

NY’s public integrity problems persist – By George J. Marlin

April 8, 2012

 The following appears in the April 6-12, 2012 issue of the Long Island Business News:

The first-ever state corruption risk investigation performed by the Center for Public Integrity has been released, and the findings are depressing.

After examining state government anticorruption programs and policies, and accountability and transparency standards utilizing 330 integrity indicators, the center concluded that not a single state deserved an A grade. Five states were awarded a B, 19 a C, 18 a D and eight states received an F.

The primary reason for the poor grades: Ethic laws, disclosure procedures, open records and enforcement policies lack the bite needed to effectively combat the culture of corruption that has infested the inner sanctums of many state governments.

The most surprising grade was New Jersey’s B+.  Jersey, which has been the mecca of corruption, investigations and indictments, did well because in recent years it has enacted “some of the toughest anticorruption laws in the nation.” It boasts a transparent pension fund, a powerful and aggressive ethics enforcement agency, detailed financial disclosure requirements for the governor and other state officials, and genuine anti-pay-to-play laws for contractors.

Sadly, New York came in 36th place with an overall grade of D.

This poor grade should not be a surprise to New York taxpayers who have watched the membership of Albany’s Gallery of Rogues grow by leaps and bounds in recent years. Seventeen state legislators have left office to confront corruption charges or to check into prisons during the last 11 years.

The latest gallery nominee, former state Sen. Pedro Espada Jr., is on trial in federal court answering charges of six counts of embezzlement and theft totaling millions of dollars. If convicted, he will become New York’s poster boy for corruption.

One count of the indictment accuses Espada of stealing more than $200,000 from Soundview, a government-supported charity, between 2005 and 2009. This indictment alleges that the money was used to pay for lavish dinners, Broadway show tickets and a down payment on a Bentley. He’s even accused of pressuring a videographer, who filmed his grandson’s birthday party, to bill the Community Expansion Development Corp., a cleaning company controlled by Espada, and to call the party a “Children’s Community Outreach” event.

While Albany’s wrongdoings get most of the media attention, New York’s local municipal employees and officials are not immune from criminality. Just this past week a former assistant commissioner in New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development pleaded guilty to accepting $600,000 in bribes and kickbacks.

A University of Illinois Institute of Government Affairs report, released in February, named New York the most corrupt state in the nation. Department of Justice public corruption convictions compiled by the Institute revealed that between 1976 and 2010, 2,522 public employees were found guilty of crimes. Runners-up were California and Illinois, which had 2,345 and 1,828 convictions, respectively.

Until New York creates a truly independent public ethics commission and really tough and transparent disclosure, accountability and campaign finance laws, all of which keep political foxes out of Albany’s henhouse, expect the state to continue receiving poor and failing grades on the Corruption Risk Report Card.