Friday, April 25, 2008

What's A County Exec To Do?

Today's Democrat & Chronicle contained an editorial regarding the County budget and Maggie Brook's options for solving the deficit given the defeat of her F.A.I.R. plan solution.

The D&C editorialists called for "bold solutions" and "seeking consensus". Consensus is code for doing what the County Democrats want; namely: have Maggie raise property taxes so that they can take power after disgruntled taxpayers vote out the GOP Legislature. Its truly funny that they pretend that a reassessment of the Morin-Ryan deal is possible.

There is little doubt that the deal should be revisited. There is even less doubt, however, that David Gantt and Assembly Democrats will never allow any revision. Lets not forget, it was Gantt and Co. who announced Maggie's effort to get an increase in the sales tax "dead on arrival". No, Mr. Gantt and the Democrats will block any effort to close the budget deficit that does not include property tax increases, since that is the Dem's route to a Leg. majority. I am quite tired of the fact that the D&C and the Dems criticise Brooks and the GOP for partisanship while ignoring the political efforts of Democrat politicians.

I am also tired of the D&C repeated blather regarding government consolidation as the panacea for our fiscal problems. These pundits claim without evidence that consolidation will save us money but they never speak of the other side of the equation which is the reductions in service which will go hand-in-hand with consolidation. If taxpayers get an opportunity to vote on consolidation with full disclosure about costs and service, I'm not sure local government consolidation would be accepted.

Moreover, that approach has it backward, in my mind. The real culprit in New York regarding high taxes is the State government. On average, local government taxes are less than a third of your state and local tax bill. Yet, I would bet that over two thirds of our most vital services are provided by local government. I want reform in Albany before someone tries to take away my town police department.

The D&C editorial board is sure it knows best, however, since local government consolidation has been their horse for a very long time and they mean to ride it as long as possible.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tax And Spend Tipping Point?

There have been a number of articles, essays, and reports in the news lately, which have me wondering if we are nearing "armageddon" with regard to taxation and government spending.

Today's Democrat & Chronicle had a headline regarding Gov. Paterson's musings about curtailing the S.T.A.R. tax relief program as part of his efforts to cut State spending. Yesterday, the D&C carried a guest essay by GOP Chairman Steve Minarik who wrote that community leaders need to recognize that their requests for State and Federal dollars for local projects are inconsistent with their calls for reduced taxation and government spending.

The D&C has also been in the forefront of the movement to consolidate (or eliminate) local government programs. Meanwhile, the Governor's Commission on Local Government Consolidation is due out next month.

We all understand that we are heavily taxed in New York. I have previously argued that the real problem is State spending, not local government costs. I still believe that, but it is increasingly clear to me that we are on a collision course with a fiscal disaster if we do not begin to rein in spending at all levels.

How can this be done? I don't claim to have any specific answers, except that we (meaning taxpayer/voters) need to start paying attention and asking serious questions. We also need some leaders who are unafraid to point out that there is no "free lunch". If we really want government spending to slow (or, dare I say it, go down) we, as consumers of government services need to reduce our demands on government.

We need politicians, community leaders, the media, and the public, to take a close look at what government spends our money on. I think its fair to say we cannot afford everything we are "buying" right now, since so many levels of government are relying on "deficit spending". But we can't just blame our leaders. They are just giving us what we are demanding. We need to re-set priorities and rethink what is appropriate to expect government to do.

It is easy to blame these problems on straw men like "unfunded mandates". It is true that unfunded mandates shift burdens from the State to local government. But does it really matter to us out of which pocket or to what government we pay taxes? The questions are: Do we want the services provided by the "unfunded mandates"? Are those "mandated" expenditures vital? If the answers are yes, then we have to agree to pay for them.

Similarly, the S.T.A.R. program is the flip side of unfunded mandates. S.T.A.R. is an unreimbursed State credit against a local government expenditure. Is there any real reason that the State should give local property tax credits to us regarding our local school tax bills? Where does that money come from? And, what has been the result? Despite S.T.A.R., and record amounts of State aid to schools, school spending has risen well above inflation during the time S.T.A.R. has been in place. Yet, I haven't heard any taxpayer calls to end that program.

It appears that we are reaching the end of our ability to pay for all of the government we have. Sadly, I believe that this inability to afford government will lead us to give up our local governments for consolidated "metro" government, without realizing that those local governments are actually more efficient and responsive to our needs. Instead, we will lose local control and direct service to distant and unresponsive entities. The crisis may be put off, but it won't be solved.

Our only hope is to quickly start to demand real reform in Albany. The "three men in a room" approach has led us to our current crisis. I hope it is not too late, and that we are not too complacent, to save ourselves.

Still Here

To those few of you who may have noticed, sorry for the long time between posts. That darn work thing just gets in the way of blogging.

I wish I was smart enough to figure out how to get paid for blogging.

I hope to post a bit more often over the next few weeks. After all, I don't want to risk losing any of my 3-4 reader fan base!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Which Group Am I Talking To, Again?

Barack Obama showed, once again, that he's not really that different a type of politician when he made the following remarks about "bitter" middle-class voters:

"[T]he truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

You can read all about it in this Huffington Post article.

Obama made the remarks while he was in San Fransisco, speaking to a group of upper-class donors. One can't help contrast the kinds of things he says to his "elite" supporters with his comical attempts to "be one with" the regular Joe's at the bowling alley in PA. It appears that he already "regrets" the remarks, since Hillary has hammered him about the hypocrisy.

He doesn't really regret the remarks; its obvious he truly feels this way. He regrets the fact that his remarks were heard and broadcast to those "bitter" types that he might just need to get elected.

HT to PowerLine.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Obama "Strikes" Out

Did you see video or read the story about Barack Obama's recent trip to the lanes?

Sen. Obama decided to rub elbows with the "common man" by doing a little bowling while campaigning in Pennsylvania. He manged a 37 through 7 frames, at which point, mercifully, he had to move on to another campaign appearance. Its not clear what was worse; his incredibly lame score or the fact that he bowled (ala Richard Nixon) wearing a tie.

This followed quickly on the heels of a stop at a famous chocolate factory in Lilitz, PA, where Obama refused to sample the wares, much to the chagrin of the locals. This is in dramatic contrast to some of the great campaigners of our time. Nelson Rockefeller, for example, never met a kinish or an Italian sausage he didn't eat.

Maybe Obama should limit his appearances to college campuses where he can sip lattes with effete academes. It looks like he'd be more comfortable in that setting than in the blue collar venues.