The 2012 legislative session a dud – By George J. Marlin

The following appears in the July 12-19, 2012 issue of the Long Island Business News:

The 2012 session of New York’s state Legislature ended – to borrow the words of  T.S. Eliot  – “Not with a bang but a whimper.”  But this is not what Albany’s potentates would have us believe.

True, they did pass the state budget on time. But that is part of their job description. Legislators don’t deserve pats on the back for simply doing what is expected. That would be like Long Island Rail Road commuters giving conductors rounds of applause for announcing station stops.

The Legislature also increased school aid and Medicaid spending. But that was possible because Albany raised state income taxes last December and used the $2 billion in additional tax revenue to reward teacher and health care unions for failure in an election year.

Lest one forget, New York spends more on Medicaid than Texas, California and Florida… combined.  As for education, New York spends more than any other state in the nation, about $18,000 per student. The results, however, prove that exorbitant spending does not guarantee a good education. New York ranks 39th nationally in the percentage of high school kids that graduates in four years.

The new state pension Tier VI for government employees is neither “bold” nor “transformational” as supporters have been insisting. It is merely an incremental nonstructural change that will affect future employees. E.J. McMahon of the Manhattan Institute has called projections that this new tier will save taxpayers $80 billion during the next three decades, “meaningless and speculative.”

Genuine reform that is financially sustainable will be accomplished when the state implements a defined-contribution model, or 401(k) plan, similar to the one offered to State University of New York employees for the past 50 years. The Empire Center for New York State Policy has pointed out that the successful SUNY plan, which is portable if one leaves government service, “is built on insurance annuity contracts, which deliver a stream of retirement income like a pension, in order to protect against the risk that retirees will outlive their savings.”

Albany failed to give struggling local governments unfunded-mandate relief. For years Albany has been evading its responsibility to fund programs they want by ordering municipalities and school districts to provide and pay for a host of services. Complying with these unfunded mandates has forced scores of municipalities to the edge of a fiscal abyss. Albany’s failure to act may force some cities into insolvency in the coming months. The governor should order a special session of the Legislature to deal with this pressing issue.

Albany also surrendered to union bosses and supported legislation that takes away a court-approved right of parents to receive and review teacher evaluations.

Most disappointing, for registered Conservatives like me, was Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s shameless accusation that New York’s Conservative Party engaged in “extremism” for daring to oppose changes to existing marijuana-possession laws. Cuomo, whose locution was dripping with moral indignation, said, “There is no place in this state for extreme conservative theory.”

If the Conservative Party is a hotbed of extremists, why did Cuomo, as attorney general, speak at the party’s February 2009 Albany conference and urge an alliance to pass his proposed legislation to initiate referendums to reorganize or eliminate inefficient local governments? If Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long is an extremist crackpot, why did Cuomo enthusiastically accept Long’s endorsement of the bill and praise him as a man of principle? And, by the way, am I to suppose that I was the token “extremist” member of Governor-elect Cuomo’s transition team?

If the governor is committed to combating extremism, he might begin by repudiating the ACORN/public employee-controlled Working Families Party, whose endorsement he accepted in 2010. Since he has taken office, those big-government, “soak the rich,” tax-and-spend ideologues have vigorously opposed the implementation of Cuomo’s New New York Agenda to stem the state’s economic hemorrhaging.

As a summer project, the governor should clean out from his own political backyard the extreme left-wing alarmists and cranks who have been hiding in the weeds.

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