Archive for the ‘Blank Slate Media’ category

Rich targeted to fund Albany’s spending frenzy – By George J. Marlin

April 7, 2021

The following appeared on Monday, April 5, 2021 on The Island Now’s website:

Shortly after Gov. Andrew Cuomo closed down New York’s economy in March 2020, he whined that the state’s budget deficits in 2020 and 2021 could be $12 billion to $14 billion due to declining tax revenues.

Well, what did he expect? After all, hundreds of thousands of people were laid off, tens of thousands of small businesses closed (many forever) and tourism came to a halt.

Sales taxes from restaurants alone were down over $2 billion in 2020.

In addition, people fleeing New York City caused rental apartment vacancies to increase to 5 percent in January 2021 vs. 2 percent a year earlier.

As for commercial real estate, with huge numbers of white-collar workers operating remotely from home, scores of companies downsized their office space as leases expired. In Manhattan, new leases dropped 70 percent in 2020 and the vacancy rate hit 13 percent —the highest level in 24 years.

As a result, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli reported a 10 percent drop in billable assessed commercial property taxes. This phenomenon, DiNapoli noted, is the biggest decline in the recorded history of New York commercial real estate.

Even Mayor Bill de Blasio had to step out of his ideological bubble and recognize this growing problem. In his budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2021, he has projected a $2.5 billion drop in commercial real estate tax collections. And that number is probably too low.

It should be noted, that Gov. Cuomo exaggerated when he claimed that deficits could hit $12 billion to $14 billion. Because Cuomo did not factor in $6 billion in reserves that could be tapped in extraordinary times, the deficits would be in the range of $6 billion to $7 billion.

No doubt Cuomo threw out inflated numbers to pressure the Feds for plenty of stimulus aid. (Getting north of $12 billion in one-shot dollars would balance the budget for the fiscal year that ended March 31 and the budget for the next fiscal year, which is coincidentally an election year.

In March, Cuomo lucked out. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was able to procure $12.6 billion in unrestricted funding, permitting Cuomo to announce there was no need for tax increases or spending cuts.

But that good news fell on deaf ears in Albany. Spending $177 billion in the 2020-2021 fiscal year — which is twice the expense budget of Florida, with 22.2 million people vs. our 19.3 million — is too little for the Legislature’s Democratic majority.

Leftists are calling for a 22 percent spending increase to be funded by higher taxes on the so-called rich that include: raising the millionaires tax to 9.85 percent for incomes over $1 million, growing to 11.85 percent for people earning more than $25 million annually; increasing the estate tax from 16.5 percent to 20 percent; a 1 percent capital gains tax on people earning more than $1 million annually; a tax on New York City second homes.

Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute has pointed out that these proposed taxes on “a single filer with $1 million in income would see a 23 percent state tax hike…. A filer making $10 million would see a 48 percent hike….”

Combined state and New York City income taxes for a millionaire would hit an astounding 15.75 percent. Adding the expected increase in federal income tax rates to 40 percent means a person’s total payout would be 55.75 percent.

Sadly, a letter to Albany officials signed by 250 business leaders that employ 1.5 million people warning that “ultimately these new taxes may trigger a major loss of economic activity and revenues as companies are pressured to relocate operations to where the talent wants to live and work” has been ignored.

And since the top 1 percent of taxpayers — about 60,000 filers — pay 43 percent of the state’s personal income tax, if only 5,000 move out, New York’s tax base could be wrecked.

As I write this column on Saturday, April 3, New York missed the March 31 deadline to pass a budget. Hence, the fiscal picture is very fluid. But Cuomo, weakened by the nursing home scandal, may surrender to the radicals to maintain his lease on the governor’s mansion.

If the “soak-the-rich” ideology prevails, New York will not be able to sustain its spending spree and will hit a state of fiscal despair once the one-shot federal stimulus money runs dry.

Cuomo reminds us like father, like son – By George J. Marlin

February 22, 2021

The following appeared on Monday, February 22, 2021 on The Island Now’s website:

With the nursing home scandal roiling the Cuomo administration, it appears the governor’s management style—stonewalling, trusting no one, being secretive, instilling fear in his senior staff, badgering journalists and public officials—has finally caught up with him.

Why has Andrew Cuomo’s governing style approach been so heavy-handed?

Because he is his father’s son.

To understand Andrew, you must understand the man whose footsteps he followed, Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Outside of his family, Mario Cuomo trusted no one. When the journalist Jimmy Breslin, was asked about the governor’s inner circle, he replied: “There’s not enough people to form a circle.”

Similarly, Andrew only trusted Joe Percoco, the man he referred to in his father’s eulogy as Mario’s “third son.” But with Percoco doing time in a federal prison, there has not been anyone who could say to Andrew “No, that’s a stupid idea.” Instead he’s surrounded by sycophants that say “aye, aye, sir” to every ludicrous command.

Mario Cuomo was secretive. Although he claimed his government was transparent, reporters had a hard time prying information out of the administration.

Ditto Andrew Cuomo. The Empire Center for Public Policy had to sue the governor to obtain the true number of COVID nursing home deaths.

When dealing with the press, Mario insisted on being the principal spokesman for his administration. But he distained them. “Reporters,” he said, “are like epidemics. They follow catastrophes.” Another time, the New York Times reported that Mario said “he is adept at talking to schoolchildren…because he deals with them the same way he does with reporters.” He added, “Only the children get it right.”

Watching Andrew’s daily press conferences during the pandemic, it was obvious to me that Andrew had little regard for journalists and treated them like kindergarteners.

Andrew also adopted Mario’s practice of badgering and threatening journalists and public officials.

Mario Cuomo could be verbally brutal with those who disagreed with him. He was known to call reporters or editors at their homes late at night or very early in the morning to complain about their stories. The Times reported that “the governor has berated writers, accused them of doing the bidding of editorial boards and attacked their ethics.”

On one occasion, Mario threatened Times reporter Jeffrey Schmaltz. “I could end your career,” he said. “Your publisher doesn’t even know who you are.”

On another occasion, the noted Times journalist, Adam Nagourney (then the Daily News Albany bureau chief), had an “intense, at times unpleasant” argument with Cuomo, during which the governor said, “I could destroy you if I wanted.”

Andrew Cuomo is also well-known for threatening perceived enemies. A recent example is the call he made to Queens Assemblyman Ron Kim about the nursing home scandal. Kim alleges that Cuomo yelled at him for 10 minutes and threatened to destroy his political career.

Yes, the paranoid governing style of Mario and Andrew is remarkably similar. Nevertheless, there is one major difference between them which may help explain why Mario left public office with honor and why Andrew may not.

Mario Cuomo’s political model was St. Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers, statesmen and politicians, because he was, in Cuomo’s judgment, a combination of “noble hopes and goals and personal weakness.”

And while Andrew displays in Albany the copy of the Holbein portrait of More that hung in Mario’s office throughout his tenure as governor, Andrew’s political model is a man Thomas More abhorred, Niccolò Machiavelli.

In an essay titled “How a leader’s philosophy directly affects an organization culture,” Peter DeMarco, a former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development employee, wrote: “One of Cuomo’s first acts after taking over as secretary of HUD in 1997 was to distribute the book by Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, to his key aides telling them: ‘This is my leadership philosophy.’”

Machiavelli is the man the renowned 20th century political philosopher, Leo Strauss, called “a teacher of evil” because he stooped “to teach maxims of public and private gangsterism.”

Machiavelli’s best-known maxim is “the ends justify the means.” And if Andrew employed that “gangster” precept to rationalize the nursing home cover-up, he will be guilty of licentious conduct, will dishonor his family name and will go down in the annals of New York history as a political blackguard.

Business as usual for Hempstead GOP – By George J. Marlin

December 29, 2020

The following appeared on Monday, December 28, 2020 on The Island Now’s website:

In recent years, Nassau’s Republicans have suffered serious political setbacks.  Not only have they lost the county executive post, state Senate and Assembly seats, many of their political stars have been found guilty of various criminal offenses.

Have GOP leaders learned from electoral defeats and criminal misconduct?  I think not.

When longtime GOP boss Joe Mondello resigned, his successor, Joe Cairo, insisted on keeping his $198,000-a-year job as CEO of Nassau’s Off-Track Betting Corporation and his law practice.  He also accepted a salary as the Republican county leader.

The New York Post reported Cairo ignored fiscal watchdog warnings that “allowing people to simultaneously hold top positions in government and parties opens the doors to conflicts of interests and potential corruption.”

In other words, Republican Party business as usual.

Which brings me to GOP activities in the Town of Hempstead.

In 2017, Hempstead voters, tired of Republicans being more concerned with rewarding cronies and favored contractors, elected reform candidate Laura Gillen as their town supervisor.

The loser, incumbent Anthony Santino, was rewarded for failure by the GOP with a $160,000-a-year job at the County Board of Elections.  He was soon joined by current Hempstead Councilman Anthony D’Esposito.  In this patronage position, D’Esposito collects a taxpayer-funded, six-figure salary as an “administrative assistant,” plus the $71,000 he receives from taxpayers as councilman.

Before Santino departed, he and the Republican-controlled town board rammed through resolutions that prevented their lackeys from being fired and gave away about $2 million in raises and new hires.

For the next two years, vicious Republicans on the town board blocked most of Gillen’s reform efforts.  But, after releasing the shocking legal fees paid to GOP Chairman Mondello’s law firm, Gillen was able to shame the board into passing reform legislation that established procurement procedures for professional contracts.

Sadly, in a tightly contested 2019 election, the tenacious Gillen lost to Republican Don Clavin, a pol in good standing with GOP bosses.

And in 2020, it was back to Republican business as usual.

Four months after taking office, Clavin—during the height of the COVID pandemic that left thousands of his constituents unemployed—approved raises for political cronies and new hires.

In October, while state orders declared gatherings of more than 50 people a public health violation, Clavin hosted a political fund-raiser for over 200 contributors at a local beer garden.

At the December 8 board meeting, Republicans dismantled Gillen’s procurement reforms.  They also diverted approximately 53 percent of federal CARES funds, gifted to help address COVID hardships, to the town itself to plug budget gaps.

In response, Long Island office holders, including Congresswoman Kathleen Rice and County Executive Laura Curran, sent a letter to the U.S. Treasury requesting an investigation into how the Town of Hempstead spent $133 million in federal stimulus money.

The letter said: “The lack of transparency with regard to how CARES ACT funding is being spent by the town and the length of time it has taken the town to spend this money … necessitates an immediate investigation.”

Less than a week later, the U.S. Treasury Department agreed to investigate how Hempstead spent the money, particularly the $70 million allocated to payroll expenses.

Another example of business as usual:  On December 8, the Republican-controlled Hempstead board also gifted a brand new, 15-year, no bid contract to Dover Gourmet Corporation of Freeport to operate the town-owned Malibu Beach Club.

Republicans claimed the contract was gifted to settle a lawsuit between Dover and the town and was in the “best interests” of taxpayers to settle.

In that litigation, Dover asked the court to declare that a five-year extension of its 2009 contract entered without town board approval in 2019 was valid.  The town, in response, sought about $1 million in unpaid rent from Dover.  Republicans failed to explain how it came to conclude it was best to settle the case when the lawsuit was still in its very early stages and when Dover’s history of nonpayment was not in dispute.

There appears to be no real benefit to the town in this settlement.  While the arrears are to be paid off, the credits exceed the arrears payments, plus Dover pays no interest, no late fees and has until 2022 to pay off the arrears it has sat on for years.

Interestingly, a lawyer for Dover is none other than GOP boss Joe Cairo and Dover’s “consultant” is Cairo’s son.  Newsday has reported they have received more than “$1 million over 10 years for legal and project management work at Malibu.”

In addition, in August 2019 the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District subpoenaed the town for all records concerning the Dover corporation.

Other observations concerning the Malibu-Dover relationship:

  • The annual license fee under the 2009 contract was originally $400,000 per year but had increased to $560,000 by 2019. The new 15-year agreement fixes the annual license fee at $560,290 for the entire term, escalating only if cabana tenants’ rents are raised.
  • The original 2009 contract called for $10 million in improvements. There was no provision in that contract that gives Dover any right to offset payments owed to the town for extra capital improvements.  However, in the new Dover deal, the board gave it a $2.4 million credit for past improvements.  These will reduce its rent under the new deal to $400,000 per year—the original 2009 rate.

Yes, it looks like business as usual for Hempstead Republicans.

The question now is how long will overburdened taxpayers put up with these shenanigans.

Christmas books for political buffs – By George J. Marlin

December 17, 2020

The following appeared on Monday, December 14, 2020 on The Island Now’s website:

For people who give books as Christmas presents to political junkie friends, here are my 2020 gift book picks:

Last Subway: The Long Wait for the Next Train in New York City by Philip Mark Plotch

For readers interested in understanding New York’s sad transit history, this is the book to crack open. In readable prose, Plotch exposes politicians of every stripe who made great promises and failed to deliver on upgrading and expanding the region’s mass transportation system. Last Subway focuses on the greatest boondoggle of all: the Second Avenue subway extension. What was to be the “most modern futuristic subway in the world,” faced delays for decades, soaring cost overruns, and project cutbacks. The first three stations, finally completed in 2017 and opened to much fanfare by Gov. Cuomo, cost an astounding $4.6 billion. Plotch points out that the 1.5-mile subway line “cost more than four times as much as new subway lines in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris and Tokyo.”

The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser

Baker was one lucky guy. A friendship nurtured on the tennis courts of the Houston Country Club with George H.W. Bush catapulted him into the inner sanctum of Washington power centers. He would go on to manage five Republican presidential campaigns between 1976 and 1992, serve as Reagan’s chief of staff and Treasury secretary, and as Bush’s secretary of state. In 2000, he led the Florida recount legal team for George W. Bush.

Like other Texas political icons—Speaker Sam Rayburn and President Lyndon Johnson—Baker understood power and was not afraid to use it. He was ruthless in protecting his political turf and did not hesitate to throw friends and foes under the bus.

Baker was a political survivor, but an unlikeable one. He was an “avatar of pragmatism over purity and deal making over division, a lost art in today’s fractured nation.”

The Crisis of Liberalism: Prelude to Trump by Fred Siegel

Dr. Siegel, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a City Journal contributing editor, is the nation’s top social scientist. His 2014 work, The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class, is must reading for anyone interested in understanding our political milieu.

The Crisis of Liberalism, is a collection of Siegel’s most trenchant essays focusing on the 1960s liberal crack-up and the left’s growing disdain for America’s working-class.

“These essays,” the distinguished historian Vincent Cannato has observed, “are deeply relevant to understanding the turbulence and divisions that plague our nation today.”

The Daughters of Yalta: The Churchills, Roosevelts and Harrimans: A Story of Love and War by Catherine Grace Katz

This is a pleasant, behind the scenes, narrative of the famous Yalta conference in February 1945 that created the roadmap for the post-war world. While much has been written on the last Roosevelt-Churchill-Stalin meeting, this book is different. It centers on the three women—Anna Roosevelt, Sarah Churchill and Catherine Harriman, daughter of U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Averell Harriman—who accompanied their fathers. Daughters of Yalta describes how these politically astute women aided and protected their fathers during the grueling conference.

Trump’s Democrats by Jon A. Shields and Stephanie Muravchik

Since the late 1960s, working-class New Deal Democrats, feeling unwanted by their party’s elitist leadership, have been shifting their political allegiance to Republicans. This shift was most evident in 2016 when millions of rust-belt Democrats cast the votes that put Trump over the top in the Electoral College. While Trump lost in 2020, these “deplorables”—as Hillary Clinton called them — stuck with Trump.

In Trump’s Democrats, the authors, who spent time interviewing folks in small communities populated by white working-class citizens, explain why these voters have viewed Trump as the best president since John F. Kennedy. And they reveal that, unlike most cosmopolitan Democrats, their “primary political allegiances are to their town or country — not racial identity.”

Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man by George J. Marlin

Please pardon a bit of self-promotion: Readers interested in understanding why among all the 56 men who have served as New York governors, Mario Cuomo was the most complicated, endearing, brilliant, pugilistic, and exasperating, should pick up a copy of my new book.

Happy reading in 2021!

New York’s 2020 Political Winners and Losers – By George J. Marlin

December 3, 2020

The following appeared on Monday, November 30, 2020 on The Island Now’s website:

Here is my take on the political winners and losers in this year’s game of New York politics.

Winners:

Peter King: As a member of Congress for 28 years, King has served his nation and his constituents with distinction. He proved that being civil in the political arena pays off. A public official since he was elected to the Hempstead Town Council in 1971, King should be the model for politicians of every stripe.

Tom DiNapoli: The state comptroller has used his audit powers effectively to expose government incompetence, waste and corruption. He determined that the Empire State Development Corporation squandered hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in high-technology projects that have not produced intended results. He revealed the state’s Medicaid leviathan made more than $700 million in unnecessary costs and overpayments. And he has been alerting state and local governments to the devastating impact the economic shutdown is having on their operating budgets.

Laura Curran: In fiscal 2019, the county executive achieved the first balanced budget according to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles in a long time. In 2020, she has worked effectively with the Nassau Interim Finance Board to address the fiscal crisis caused by the governor’s shutdown of the economy.

Lee Zeldin: Contrary to Democratic Party expectations, Zeldin was re-elected in a landslide, receiving 61 percent of the vote. The voters rewarded him because as The Almanac of American Politics has pointed out, “he was responsive to local sentiments, including his opposition to Republican tax cuts that capped the deduction for state and local taxes employed by his affluent and highly taxed constituents.”

Andrew Garbarino: The Republican state assemblyman defied the pundits and kept Peter King’s congressional seat in the red column. Hopefully, Garbarino’s predecessor serves as his model when he gets to Washington in January.

Losers:

Andrew Cuomo: The governor refuses to admit that he made a reckless policy decision that cost the lives of over 6,000 seniors in nursing homes throughout the state. His book promoting his leadership skills during the pandemic is an insult to the memory of the nursing home victims and their grieving families.

Bill de Blasio: The city’s lazy and incompetent mayor has been unable to come to grips with the gravity of the issues New Yorkers are grappling with. If Gov. Cuomo does not reactivate the Financial Control Board to seize control of the city’s finances, he will be guilty of permitting the city, under the insouciant leadership of de Blasio, to continue on the treadmill to fiscal, economic and social oblivion.

Rudy Giuliani: His ludicrous “election fraud” antics on national television destroyed his reputation as “America’s Mayor.” Going forward, he should limit his appearances to his favorite watering hole, The Club Macanudo, located on Manhattan’s fashionable Upper East Side.

Jack Schnirman: Nassau’s county’s comptroller, a self-proclaimed “fiscal watchdog,” appears to have been asleep in the dog house. When he left his post as Long Beach City manager, he didn’t figure out he was overpaid $53,000 in severance pay. How absurd is that for someone who claims he knows the buck? The DA’s probe justifiably concluded that Schnirman and other Long Beach officials were guilty of “egregious incompetence.” Another blunder: the county’s inspector general reported in November that “a fraud scam against the Nassau’s comptroller’s office found controls were ‘not effective’ in preventing a scheme in which $2.1 million in payments were approved for transfer to a fraudster’s bank account.”

Richard Nicolello: The longtime county legislator, who voted for budgets in the 1990s that brought the county to the edge of bankruptcy and subsequently voted for the creation of NIFA to rescue it, is now trying to prevent NIFA from helping the county save millions of dollars in debt interest payments. His reason for stonewalling: NIFA members had been mean to a Republican county executive. He’s referring to the convicted felon and fiscal bungler Ed Mangano. How sad is that excuse for inaction?

Kevin Law: Suffolk County’s MTA board member came up with the dopiest idea of the year: to address the transportation agency’s projected $16 billion deficit through 2024, he called for cutting fares in 2021 “to generate more revenues by increasing ridership than if we increase fares and continued the depressed ridership.” Apparently, Law fails to grasp that LIRR ridership is down over 75 percent because people are working remotely and safely from home with their employer’s blessing. Hence, dropping the fare a buck or two will not convince these mostly white-collar workers to become dashing commuters. In addition, cutting fares will be a slap in the face to first responders and essential workers who have risked their lives taking public transportation throughout the pandemic while paying full fares.