Thursday, November 20, 2008

Training Days

According to Liz, the emerging senate majority is going to training camp: "Well, at least they’re not heading to sunny San Juan, nor is it in the middle of the summer track season, but the Senate Democrats later this month and in early December will be heading to a retreat in Saratoga Springs, pictured above, during which they will attend what was described to me as “Majority School.” That means they will be boning up on how to actually run the Senate, which they haven’t done in decades but will have to do in January once they take the majority from the Republicans.Among the topics that Malcolm Smith’s new incoming majority plan to cover: Chamber and Floor management, Committee Structure and Ethics. The seminar will also end with a “mock session” in which the Dems will get to practice gaveling in."

We wonder whether the three amigos have been invited to attend; but, all kidding aside, shouldn't all of our elected officials be concentrating on devising solutions to the state's budgetary meltdown? And many observers are wondering whether the senate as a whole is simply out of touch with the average needs of New Yorkers.

At least that's the opinion of Anne Michaud-now operating out at Newsday: "What do Long Islanders want? The way our state senators are answering that question here this week is worlds away from what people are saying at home. My neighbors and friends want affordable taxes, communities where their kids can buy starter homes, and a reasonable level of service from the government entities around us - schools that teach well, safe streets, a decent train or bus ride, and care for people in need."

Do our senators understand this? "Given the times, most people would understand if state government cut spending. In fact, if that would help us reduce our tax bill, we would be thrilled." Unfortunately, that message isn't getting though, according to Michaud: "But it's impossible to glean what Long Islanders want by watching our senators' actions this week. The delegation of eight Republicans and one Democrat, Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington), blocked cuts to the state budget that Long Islanders would likely support."

Perhaps the municipal unions and the Working Families Party are controlling the narrative-and the WFP's Dan Cantor believes that taxing the wealthy is the answer: "Yes, prudent spending cuts in state spending are a necessity - that much is undeniable. But so far, the governor is asking working families to shoulder the entire burden of the budget deficit alone, while taking any income tax increase on New York's many millionaires off the table."

Perhaps Cantor's unaware of the high levels of existing taxation that New Yorkers suffer with; and the disproportionate burden upper middle, and upper income citizens already are asked to shoulder. Making the state more productive for small businesses and job growth should be priority No. 1.

And Cantor relies on our experience post 9/11 as an exemplar to guide our present action: "In 2003, following the economic downturn caused by the 9/11 attacks, the national recession and the burst of the dot-com bubble, New York relied on modest increases in income tax rates on the wealthy to help close its budget gap. The state employed a temporary top rate of 7.25% for single filers with incomes over $100,000 and 7.7% on income over $500,000. The rich did not leave the state. Instead, the economy rebounded and the number of high income New Yorkers continued to grow."

That recovery, however, was Wall Street driven; and is unlikely to be repeated any time soon. Raising taxes in this recession would be a job killer as well as a budget buster. We need real state leaders who understand just how dire this situation is; and who also comprehend the realistic remedies that we need to pursue. Training our new class of leaders without addressing the core policy issues is simply inane-a non sequitor that elides any solution to the state's problems.