Thursday, April 30, 2009

More Red Ink? Pass the Wine Bottle

Just when we thought that the state's finances were somewhat in order, we get the following bad news: "New York state faces massive budget gaps totaling almost $25 billion over the next three years despite a record high new state budget that increased taxes by some $8 billion, Gov. Paterson's budget experts revealed yesterday."

And the NY Times avers: " The state will face a perilous financial situation when federal stimulus money and temporary state tax increases on the wealthy expire two years from now, according to the financial plan released by the governor’s office on Tuesday." So, will this mean that we get some fiscal discipline from our state leaders?

Not if the spinning from the governor is considered. As the Post points out: "This year's budget represented a first step in the difficult process of putting New York back on sound fiscal footing," Paterson said. He and his budget experts contended the budget had increased state operating-funds spending by 0.7 percent, the smallest increase in 14 years. Independent budget experts, however, have noted that state operating funds represent a relatively small portion of the overall budget, which was up more than 30 times the inflation rate."

Bold leadership is going to be needed; especially if the governor is going to try to find some way out of his own mired down position. And the bad fiscal news is right around the corner-as the Times indicates: "Some fiscal pressures are already making themselves felt. Payments submitted with individual tax returns this month were 30 percent lower than those of last April, according to Laura L. Anglin, the governor’s budget director. Payments submitted with requests for an extension were down 50 percent. While some drop-off has already been built into the current budget, more bad news could come on June 15, when individuals must make quarterly tax payments and corporate tax bills come due."

Which should mean that the legislature will have to return-probably in September-in order to find some way to re-balance an out of whack state budget. Which says to us that it will be necessary to seriously revisit the wine in supermarkets question. That $140 million will be looking irresistible pretty soon now.

Schools Out!

As more and more unfiltered information comes out, the notion that mayoral control of the schools-at least in its current incarnation-has some kind of papal infallibility, is less easy to maintain. The latest comes from this morning's NY Times; where a report on high school drop out rates raises some interesting concerns: "Almost six years after a lawsuit forced the city to pledge to keep better track of students who leave public schools without graduating, the number leaving high schools has continued to climb, according to a report to be released Thursday by the public advocate’s office."

What's interesting to us here, is that the DOE dosn't trash and bash the critique: "David Cantor, a spokesman for the City Education Department, said that while the increases were noteworthy, they reflected the fact that the student population often moves in and out of the city. He said the city’s graduation rate, which is affected by the number of students who drop out but not those discharged, has improved steadily over the last six years. For the class of 2008, the projected discharge rate is 19.2 percent, Mr. Cantor said."

Perhaps he's right, but there's no real documentation of the official position, now is there? And let's not forget that the vaunted graduation rates are boosted by the roll reduction: "One of the most alarming trends, according to the report, is the number of ninth-grade students who are discharged. “This finding is of serious concern, as the goal of the public school system is to provide all students with the support needed to persist and successfully graduate from high school,” the report states, adding, “Schools may be responding to accountability incentives to discharge students earlier in their high school careers.” Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, a senior adviser to the chancellor who oversees research, said department officials had noticed the increase in ninth-grade discharges and were trying to determine its cause."

Curiouser and curiouser, but all of this underscores how important it is to have independent evaluation of the DOE's claims. And let's give credit where it is due; this is one area is where Advocate Gotbaum has really done a public service. And her comments on the report are spot on: "I don’t think anything has gotten any better,” Ms. Gotbaum said Wednesday. “The numbers explaining where these students go is certainly at best questionable and at least a bit wrong. We really don’t understand what all these numbers mean.”

When these figures are combined with the fact that, as Andrew Wolf highlights, the city graduates can't do college work, then the constant ballyhoo over the Bloomberg/Klein regime is seen as sheer hype-as this finding also supports: "According to data provided by the Education Department, roughly 74 percent of the more than 18,000 students discharged from the class of 2007 went to a school outside New York City. But according to the report, there is no evidence in census data to suggest that so many teenagers have left New York in recent years."

So by all means, let's continue to debate the accomplishments of mayoral control-and despite of Malcolm Smith's backtracking, the critical senate report leaked the other day seems more germane than ever. The system needs to be watched; both carefully and independently. How that is done is the devil in the details.

Water Torture Memo

Now that Martha Stark-and her nepotistic payroll-have departed from city government, how about the complete overhaul (should we say dismantling?) of the DEP; where there hasn't been a commissioner named to replace the benighted Emily Lloyd. Here's an agency that also underscores the disconnect between the editorial lionization of Mike Bloomberg's managerial competence, and the harsher reality of oversight failures and political hackdom.

Once again, the DEP is about to sock New Yorkers with a rate hike. As the NY Post reports: "The 14 percent water rate hike on tap this year could be followed by another wallet-crunching 12 percent increase in 2010, officials reported yesterday. That would represent the fourth double-digit boost since 2007 and would propel the annual water bill for typical one-family homeowners past the $1,000 mark for the first time."

What's going on here? Has the agency itself sprung a leak? Here are the comments of Councilman Vacca: "One could say water rates are really out of control," fumed City Councilman Jimmy Vacca (D-Bronx) at a tense City Hall hearing." So what's causing this water logging?

The NY Daily News weighs in on the problem: "A small but angry group of Bronxites charged Tuesday that they're being soaked by the city Water Board. Bronx residents who managed to take time off from work for the afternoon public hearing voiced their opposition to a proposed 14% hike in water rates. "It's ridiculous," said Evelyn Rodriguez, 57. "Don't we pay enough for everything else? Everything goes up, and now they're raising our water. If the measure is approved, this will be the third consecutive year of double-digit rate hikes."

Just another example of why Mike Bloomberg is Mr. Indispensable; after all, no one else could soak the citizens with the same degree of elan-and huff and puff so well that folks are bamboozled over his alleged skillful stewardship of the city. Exhibit #1? The DEP, of course: "Vacca rushed to the Bronx from a hearing at City Hall where City Council members questioned the agency about the rate hikes. "I pointed out savings that the city could make that would mitigate the entire increase," said Vacca. "I pointed out things that they have no answer to." Vacca argued that the DEP has $94 million in a "holding fund" that could be used to offset the rate hikes. He also noted that 12% of the DEP's payroll goes to overtime payments."

Not only that, Jimmy. We still don't have any confidence that these incompetents can accurately gauge anyone's water bill-and the agency is blithely going ahead with planned water shutoffs. To which one commenter at the City Room blog had this to say: "So the city’s record keeping system was atrocious, and now people are being deprived of a basic human need because of it? And at a time when people are losing jobs by the thousands, those who can’t pay a bill are being referred to as “deadbeats”? This is disgusting."

Here's another wise observer's remarks: "When we lived in a single family house in Queens we got a statement of our status on city bills. There was an overdue water bill, so I called to say we’d never gotten it and ask how to pay. The idiot on the other end said “that’s what they all say” and hung up on me. When I called back another person read the address on the bill, which had their office’s zip code instead of ours. She agreed I was a dead beat because, of course, the post office would have figured it out and delivered it to us. My husband had to go in person to straighten it out."

All of which is against the backdrop of the billion dollar amen choir singing, "Four more Years!" Accountability is evanescent when all of the accountants are either on the mayor's dole; or else work over at the DEP.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Braking Mayoral Control

The state senate has issued a report on school governance-and despite the efforts of the NY Post to mock its message-the document clearly identifies the inherent defects of the current mayoral regime: "The draft set of recommendations even calls for resurrecting an "independent" Board of Education that would evaluate the schools chancellor and have more "explicit authority" over budget and policy issues than under the mayoral-dominated system. The report stresses the need to create a "countervailing body as a check on the chancellor."

Which sounds a lot like the critique that we have been outlining over the past year; and it is precisely the message that uber-school expert Diane Ravitch laid out earlier this month in the NY Times: "Not every school problem can be solved by changes in governance. But to establish accountability, transparency and the legitimacy that comes with public participation, the Legislature should act promptly to restore public oversight of public education. As we all learned in civics class, checks and balances are vital to democracy."

A view that was reinforced in Monday's NY Daily News by Andrew Wolf: "Mayoral control of the schools can be a good, bad or indifferent enterprise. It could be a fraud like Enron. But the schools belong not to one official, but to the public. The Legislature must reform the law and put the public back into the public schools, so that any control at the top is subject to the oversight of the people. That's just good business."

All of which leads the Bloomberg/Klein team to regurgitate the stale and tiresome straw man arguments. As the Post points out: "Mayor Bloomberg's office slammed the report as a return to a failed past. "This report, which we have been told is a draft, explicitly advocates a return to an unaccountable central policy-making board. That model failed our kids for decades, and we would not support returning to it," said Bloomberg spokeswoman Dawn Walker."

Which begs the question of just how much of an educational breakthrough the current arrangement really is-tendentious rhetoric aside. Senator Martin Dilan, the lead on the report, gets the last word: ""In striving to achieve a system with more accountability, the law that established mayoral control of school governance has created a system in which the mayor and chancellor have unilateral decision-making authority and are answerable to no one," state Sen. Martin Malavé Dilan, co-chair of the Senate Democratic School Governance Task Force, wrote in his draft report to Smith."

Stark Reality

Well, well, now. The ultimate repository of probity and competence-otherwise known as the Bloomberg administration-has been exposed as, at best, an overstated text book case for good government. With the announced resignation of the city's finance commissioner-the Tammany wannabe Martha Stark-the Bloombergistas have some explaining to do: "Bloomberg had asked the city Conflict of Interest Board and Department of Investigation to look into reports that Stark has a personal relationship with Dara Ottley-Brown, a former assistant finance commissioner who now works at the Board of Standards & Appeals. Ottley-Brown left Finance in November 2006. She divorced her husband the following summer, and he was hired just over two months later by the Finance Department as a $78,000-a-year graphic artist. Stark, who unsuccessfully sought to replace former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi in 2007, has been on the hot seat for weeks, and not just related to this relationship."

So now we are to be afraid of the return of the political hacks, because? And Bloomberg, it should be pointed out, took a very long time to distance himself from this ethically challenged appointee: "Bloomberg initially defended Stark in the wake of reports that she had earned more than $134,000 in 2006 and 2007 for serving as the director of Tarragon Corp., a national real estate company. Stark said she had obtained official approval to sit on Tarragon's board, but resigned after the mayor questioned whether the administration had been properly informed."

So, please do tell us, where was the vaunted managerial expertise of the current administration? And remember that when the issue of her lucrative moonlighting was first exposed, Bloomberg had this to say: "The mayor’s remarks were in contrast to those he made a month ago when Ms. Stark, who is in charge of collecting $22 billion in tax revenues and of assessing $800 billion in taxable property, was found to have earned $90,000 in 2007 for her work as a member of the board of directors of an outside firm. She resigned from the board of that firm and the mayor said, “I have enormous confidence” in her."

That is, until more stuff hit the fan, and even the ever loyal Bloomberg had to realize that there was no more defense for this self server. But it took the Post's expose of her canoodling to get this ethical challenge jump started: "City Finance Commissioner Martha Stark has been dating a former assistant commissioner in her department -- which also hired her lover's ex-husband and three of Stark's family members, The Post has learned."

And, as the Post reports this morning, Stark's improper management style was well known within the finance department: "Current and former Finance employees were elated to hear Stark is leaving. "She should've resigned many years ago because there's been a lot of stuff that she was doing that nobody's caught. She got a lot of people that she knew into positions [even though] they didn't know anything about the jobs," said a former employee."

So it's now the NY Post that is doing the due diligence for the myopic mayor? A further indication, it seems to us, that the term limits extension-once again affirmed by the courts-may be legal; but it sure ain't in the best interests of the people of this fair city.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Bridge Too Far

The latest news from the MTA is not good; and as the deficits keep mounting, it becomes clearer by the day that the tolling of the bridges would be a mere palliative. In fact, the entire bailout exercise is simply, "A Bridge Too Far;" because it mirrors that classic film's failed objective in taking control over Nazi controlled bridges as part of an Allied planned counter offensive in WWII:

"The film tells the story of Operation Market-Garden, and its ultimate failure, the Allied attempt to break through German lines and seize several bridges, with the main objective the bridge over the Lower Rhine (Neder Rijn) River, in the occupied Netherlands during World War II. The name for the film comes from a comment made by British Lieutenant-General Frederick A.M. Browning, deputy commander of the First Allied Airborne Army, who told Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, the operation's architect, before the operation, "I think we may be going a bridge too far."[2]

But we digress. The relevant point here is that the MTA is in such bad shape that the toll proposal is that bridge too far-an unworkable, and unrealistic objective, in spite of the fact that the goal of saving mass transit remains a worthy one indeed. City Room's post on this is illustrative: "Plummeting revenues from ridership, tolls and taxes mean that even after it raises fares by up to 30 percent and slashes service, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority faces a $621 million deficit this year, officials reported on Monday, as they presented a revised budget forecast. According to the new forecast, next year’s deficit will be more than $1 billion."

And this from the NY Post, on the authority's bungling of a post 9/11 security contract: "MTA bumbling has imperiled a massive post-Sept. 11 security project that's months behind schedule and can't be completed, a blockbuster federal lawsuit charges. Lockheed Martin Corp., one of the nation's leading defense contractors, is asking a federal judge to release it from a deal inked in 2005 to install high-tech surveillance equipment to protect subway riders from potential terror attacks."

But all this only underscores the point that we've made already. Devising any MTA bailout plan separate and apart from the state's overall budget is irresponsible. Mass transit is a vital service; and it should be subsumed in the budget negotiations so that new taxes and fees can be earmarked for the expressed purpose of insuring the most efficient and reliable-as well as cost effective-is provided for commuters. Legislators should be forced to choose between an over bloated state government-and even the sacred cow of education-and transit needs.

Instead, we have this fiction of a public authority, whose funding is considered in a parallel political universe. Enough already! Just as an independent BOE was dismantled because it avoided real political oversight, so should the MTA be dismantled-and real political accountability brought back into the panoply of policy choices.

All of the clamor and controversy over tolls, is diversionary; eliding as it does the core issue of political cowardice that lies behind the entire public authority mythos. Let's tear down those walls and rebuild with strong leadership and genuine accountability. At the end of the day the governor should be the person in charge; and all of these efforts to "save" the MTA are only, "A Bridge Too Far."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Audit Please!

The intrepid Andrew Wolf, writing in the NY Daily News, persuasively lays pout the case for not renewing the current form of mayoral control of the schools: "If we can draw an analogy between a certain company and our recent experience with the schools, we might consider the case of Enron. Under mayoral control, the spending of your tax dollars has soared to $21 billion from $13 billion a year. For an increase of this size, we should expect "profits" in terms of better student performance."

What about those increasing test scores? As Wolf says, we better ask who's crafting the exams: "Test scores, we are told, are up. Which scores? On state tests, scores are up. But our state is becoming infamous for "dumbing down" its tests. Like many other states, New York is trying to demonstrate "annual yearly progress" under No Child Left Behind by making its tests easier. With the city administering, grading and analyzing standardized tests, there is nobody to monitor fraud and bogus or inflated claims. That's even less oversight than Enron got!"

Of course, when we examine the results of the more reliable national tests, scores remain flat-in spite of the huge hike in spending: "On the federal government's gold-standard test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, results in the city have been flat since the mayor's programs were implemented. Ironically, greater gains were consistently posted in the final years of the much-maligned Board of Education. Similarly, scores on the SAT have actually declined slightly under the mayor's stewardship."

Graduation rates are also unreliable; and when we take a look at how some of these ersatz graduates actually perform once they get to college, there's clear indications that the system is issuing mail order diplomas: "But the truth ultimately comes out. CUNY reports that more than three-fourths of city high school graduates attending community colleges require remediation. A high school graduate who is not prepared for a community college should not have been awarded a diploma."

The solution? As Wolf underscores: putting the public back into the public schools by insuring that there is proper oversight of the enterprise: "The Legislature must reform the law and put the public back into the public schools, so that any control at the top is subject to the oversight of the people. That's just good business." It would also help if some of the local media would also get back in the business of doing proper oversight.

In this morning's NY Post, the paper highlights just how much influence the UFT has on a group that is challenging mayoral control while claiming grass roots status: "Next week, a coalition of advocacy groups will bus an army of parents into Albany for a "lobby day" against mayoral control of the city's schools -- a prime example of how Randi Weingarten's teachers' union shapes public perception and policy behind the scenes. The May 5 event, part of the Campaign for Better Schools, is meant to show lawmakers that there's massive grass-roots opposition to Mayor Bloomberg's stewardship of the school system."

As it turns out, the union has ponied up hundreds of thousands of dollars for the advocacy group; and we applaud the Post for the investigative digging. But what about Learn NY, a group that supports mayoral control but that also has close financial ties to the mayor? With all of this faux advocacy going on, it's time that the entire school experiment be submitted to an independent evaluator. Marx's admonition is crucial here: "Who will educate the educator?"

Rev. Albatross

Well, it looks as if Governor Davis Paterson may be showing some life after all. As the NY Times reported yesterday: "Faced with an increasingly popular rival in Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo and a growing loss of confidence among top Democrats, Gov. David A. Paterson is making a pointed pitch to New York’s political establishment: I’m not dead yet."

Paterson reminds us of the apocryphal man who fell out of the 12th story window. When he passed the third floor, someone looked at and asked: "How are you doing? " To which he replied: "So far so good!" But of course, if you're in free fall, there's no one better to catch you before you crash land than that old Good Samaritan, the Reverend Al Sharpton.

After all, if there is anyone who can revive the political fortunes of the governor, it's this political miracle worker. As the NY Daily News tells us: "The Rev. Al Sharpton challenged his longtime foe, Republican Rudy Giuliani, to run for governor Saturday, predicting struggling Gov. Paterson will prevail in the next election."Come on and run, Rudy. We want you to run," Sharpton exhorted at his Harlem headquarters, where politicians were rallying for Paterson. "Run, Rudy, run!" the crowd chanted back.

All of which just makes us smile-who else but the reverend could promote a political resurrection this close to Easter? But are we the only ones who see this as the governor's death rattle? As the Times points out: "Underscoring the pressure Mr. Paterson faces, some close friends and allies have privately been discussing — apparently without Mr. Paterson’s knowledge — where the governor might land if he did decide not to run. One idea that has come up is a position at Columbia University, where Mr. Paterson earned his undergraduate degree and where he has been an adjunct instructor, according to some of those involved in the discussion."

The fear, of course, is that Paterson at the top of the Democratic ticket in 2010 will sink the entire enterprise: "But at a moment when Mr. Paterson’s low approval ratings and successive fumbles have many top Democrats concerned that he will drag down the entire party ticket in 2010, the governor appears determined to fight on."

On the other hand Big Al only looks as if he's full of helium-and will promote the Paterson lift off as well as a lead balloon: "Sharpton shot down suggestions that state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo will challenge Paterson in a Democratic primary - a fight a Sienna poll out last week showed Cuomo will win 64% to 11%. "That race is not going to happen. This is not about David and Andrew. This is about David and Rudy Giuliani," Sharpton said. Giuliani, a Republican, would beat Paterson 56% to 29%, the poll found."

But no one, aside from the self serving reverend, thinks that Paterson will even reach the point where he will be able to even face off against the former mayor. There may still be a ways to go, but this kind of miracle probably should be reserved for Lourdes.


As Adam Lisberg reported yesterday, the city needs to find some more revenue-and find it quick in order to balance the municipal budget before June 30th: "Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council have to plug a billion-dollar hole in the budget by the end of June - but they're running out of taxes to raise. Recall that the city raised property taxes 7.5% at the start of the year and axed the $400 property tax rebate, which didn't go over well with Council members who rely on homeowners for votes. They're unlikely to do it again."

So, let's get this straight. After just about eight years in office, and after having raised taxes to levels never before seen in the city's history, Mike Bloomberg finds that his budget once again is out of whack; and needs another cash infusion. This is what happens when you hire a political ingenue, one whose philosophy is steeped in the belief that the government is always a benevolent force. Which is why, for the past seven years, Mike Bloomberg has been adding workers to the public payroll-increasing the size of government while, at the same time, raising taxes and fees for middle class New Yorkers.

E. J. McMahon captures this irresponsible nobless-and he did so over six years ago: "One welcome change in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's preliminary budget is a more accurate count of New York City's enormous municipal workforce. It turns out there are even more city employees than anyone previously thought -- ironically underscoring just how little Mayor Bloomberg is initially proposing in the way of agency workforce reductions, despite all the talk of budgetary "pain." Rather than identifying the size of the workforce as part of the problem, the new mayor benignly characterized it as evidence that New York is simply "more compassionate" than other cities. This kind of compassion doesn't come cheap."

We wonder if Bloomberg will be highlighting this "compassionate side" in his next batch of relentless campaign self promotion? No, we don't believe we'll be seeing this-nor are we sanguine that a supine editorial chorus will be pointing this side of the mayor out when the next round of taxes is proposed. As the News points out: "That property tax increase is just now rippling through other costs, like your electric bill. Half of Con Ed's new 6.4% rate increase is because of the company's rising tax bill. Property taxes and rising utility costs will also help push up rents on New York's 1 million rent-stabilized apartments - so no one is exempt from that pain."

For eight years Mike Bloomberg has squandered any opportunity to rein in the cost of government-hoping to use huge tax increases, Wall Street cash, and his own great wealth to weather the economic storms; and, largely, he has been able to do so because of a relatively quiescent local media, and an equally tame and inept Democratic party. An environment that will likely see him ascend to a third term.

But what Steve Malanga said about him in 2003 is still true today-only more so: "A year later, it’s now clear what the city has gotten with Bloomberg: a political neophyte, presiding haplessly over a government that is rapidly spinning out of control. In a dismaying rerun of Mayor John Lindsay’s 1960s mayoralty, Bloomberg is behaving as if New York were once again the ungovernable city. The mayor has emerged as a guardian of the local status quo, the defender of big government and the municipal workforce. Proclaiming that forces beyond his control are compelling him, he has instituted the largest tax increase in the city’s history, apologized for even the smallest cuts in government services, declared that everything New York City’s massive government does is vitally necessary, and confidently announced that tax increases won’t drive out citizens or businesses."

After performing like the resurrection of John V. Lindsay, he now wants to be re-elected because of his sterling stewardship of the city's economy and government. There could be no greater disconnect than the assertion that the city needs Mike Bloomberg's leadership to help guide us out of the worst recession in 70 years. As my mother-in-law would say: "Like a loch im kopf."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Wholesale Protests

The franchised beer wholesalers went on the war path yesterday to protest the expanded bottle bill. As the Journal News reports, the beer guys are targeting the inception date of June 1st, as well as the NY only bar code: "Several food and beverage businesses in the Lower Hudson Valley pressed their case yesterday against the state's newly amended bottle deposit bill, charging it would cost jobs and raise prices for consumers. Dozens of employees from three regional beer distributorships picketed the offices of state Sens. Andrea Stewart-Cousins in Yonkers and Suzi Oppenheimer in Port Chester. Some carried signs that read, "My job is worth more than 5 cents."

The protesters ridiculed the June 1st date-and one, Heinekin USA, made it clear that imported products couldn't simply turn ships around and change inventory at the drop of a hat: "Meanwhile, three other companies said at a news conference hosted by the Business Council of Westchester in Harrison that the June 1 deadline for implementing the new rules was unworkable. "If we had a magic wand, maybe," said T. Daniel Tearno, senior vice president for Heineken USA Inc. of White Plains. Overseas manufacturers such as Heineken need time to retool their production processes, he said, and many warehouses are stocked with products that cannot be relabeled before the summer."

And then there was the issue of prices rising: "Tearno said the law could raise the price of a case of beer by $1.35 to $2 or more. Mitch Klein, a vice president at Krasdale Foods in West Harrison, said the markup on a case of bottled water resulting from new deposits and fees could top $3." Not all the clamor on prices and costs, however, was righteous.

Here's the franchised beer position: "But D. Bertoline & Sons in Peekskill, the distributor of Budweiser beer products in Westchester and Putnam, uses unredeemed deposits to pay the costs of shipping recycled products to Connecticut, Vice President of Administration John Bertoline said. That lost revenue, plus higher handling fees and a higher beer excise tax imposed by the law, will lead to price increases that get passed along to consumers, he said. That would depress sales, which in turn could reduce employment, he added."

Well, let's get one thing very clear. We were right there when the bottle bill first passed and went into effect in 1981; and the beer wholesalers wasted no time in raising the price of beer by at least $3.00 a case-all for the increased costs associated with implementing the collection and redemption of the empty containers. So now what?

Well, now these very same wholesalers-insulated from real competition by territorial monopolies-want to once again meet the cost of redemption by jacking up the price of a case of beer by another $2! What about the millions of unredeemed deposits that these folks squirreled away over the past twenty seven years? If beer prices are raised, there should be an intervention and investigation by the AG's office into the anti-trust implications of the wholesalers' actions. Additional costs indeed!

That being said, it is simply ludicrous to force all of the deposit companies to use the separate "NY Only" UPC: "Legislative leaders and Gov. David Paterson acknowledged Wednesday that they would need to revisit the bar-code issue, saying they may need to add an amendment to the law over the start date. "We don't want to do anything to hurt the industry while we are trying to clean up the environment," Paterson said."

"If I Were a Rich Man..."

So Mike Bloomberg continues to spend money like a drunken stockbroker-on a pace, according to the NY Times, to once again break all election records for such excess: "Six months before the election, Michael R. Bloomberg has already outspent his leading rival in the mayor’s race by a seven-to-one ratio, despite a commanding lead in the polls. With a fresh wave of television and radio commercials, the mayor has poured $7.5 million into the campaign so far, according to new records obtained by The New York Times. In the process, he is shattering — once again — records for spending in a New York City election and running financial laps around his challengers."

In doing so, the mayor is only trying to be proactive; after all, in the current economic downturn there may be one or two New Yorkers who might feel that Mike Bloomberg lacks the background and personality to really empathize and care about their plight: "The mayor’s new advertising blitz features a tieless Mr. Bloomberg talking to middle-class New Yorkers about their economic anxieties, assuring them he has a plan to protect their jobs and keep the city affordable.The commercials suggest that, despite the mayor’s wealth and the power of incumbency, his campaign is uneasy about how the volatile economy could affect voters’ views of him."

This uneasiness has led to a dramatic case of overkill: "Mr. Bloomberg, a billionaire, has now spent more than the city’s campaign finance laws allow Mr. Thompson — or any other challenger accepting public financing — to use in the race from now until the September primaries." But Bloomberg's using his money for a good cause-the best special interest that money can buy: self aggrandizement.

It's just that some of us remember that Mike Bloomberg said he would never again spend this kind of money-he said that in 2001 when he spent around $80 million to "introduce" himself to the folks who had no idea about who he was. Since than he has lapped the field in 2005, spending similar amounts to get re-elected; and will now do the same to re-introduce himself to the dwindling cohort of voters who might not yet know who he is (or those voters who might mistake Bloomberg for someone who really doesn't care about them. Can you imagine?).

There's another really good rationale for the current mayoral excess. Bloomberg's latent personality traits-if exposed-would pose a threat to his re-election; and the lavish spending blitz effectively insulates him from a Mr Hyde type of exposure, Clyde Haberman captured this the other day, in analyzing the mayor's dyspeptic response to a disabled reporter: "It is this sullen side that New Yorkers have seen a lot lately. The mayor seems to have been in a chronic bad mood for half a year, more or less since he won his battle for a change in the law to give him a shot at a third term. This cannot be good for him. It can only reinforce a common (if not necessarily fair) knock on him: that he does not appreciate the hardships that ordinary New Yorkers endure. In politics, it is usually unwise to buttress negative stereotypes of oneself."

But there's a silver lining in all of this spending-and leave it to the mayor's campaign to ferret it out: "Mayor Bloomberg has never taken a dollar of special interest money, and this November voters will again have an opportunity to support a candidate who is unbought and beholden only to the people of New York,” said Jill Hazelbaker, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s campaign."

Bloomberg is unbought because he is one of those expensive chotskies that, if you have to ask the price, you can't afford to buy it. So, unrestrained by any ties to any New Yorkers-or their tawdry interests-he is held accountable only by the one thing that could possibly restrain his meglomaniacal tendencies: a genuine love and caring for the fate of the average New Yorker. Which lead us to opine-bring back the special interests.

Here Come the Supermarkets?

According to the Obsever's Real Estate blog, the Department of City Planning is about to certify its zoning proposal that is designed to make it easier to site supermarkets in the city-particularly in low income neighborhoods: "Let there be supermarkets. City Planning Director Amanda Burden said Wednesday night that a zoning plan to encourage new grocery stores is just a few weeks away, with her agency planning to certify its proposal and kick off a seven-month public approval process. “We are going to be certifying this month,” she said, speaking at NYU’s Wagner School for its Henry Hart Rice lecture."

How effective the plan will be remains to be seen-and we have posted some reservations a while back. As we said at the time: "Richard Lipsky...said the draft policies were a “good step,” but do not go far enough to counter the forces that are continually shuttering grocery stores citywide. “The more compelling policy issue is the disappearance of existing stores,” he said. He also urged the city to prioritize grocery store uses when selling off city-owned land, which was one of the Planning Department’s own recommendations last fall."

Keep in mind that incentivizing new store construction, without also subsidizing existing markets, can exacerbate the trend of supermarket disappearance but creating an even more unlevel playing field. But the fact that DCP recognizes the problem, and is looking for solutions is a positive step: "The rationale: market failure. The city considers grocery stores to be beneficial to neighborhoods, but, especially in low-income neighborhoods, the numbers haven’t been working for supermarkets, leading to store closures and a lack of food options for residents.
“Hundreds of supermarkets have closed all over the city,” she said. “They cannot compete with Rite Aid and Duane Reade, and this is not only terrible for economic development, but it’s terrible for the health of our city.”

So now the proposed zoning change will be sent to the city council where its pluses and minuses will be thoroughly analyzed and debated. As always, the devil will be in the details. But enough negativity; at least the folks at City Planning is putting their heads together and getting proactive.

Do As I Say: Compulsory Miseducation

The controversy over mayoral control of the NYC schools reveals that the top decision makers-Bloomberg and Klein in this case-have never had a child attend any public education institution. Yet both feel fully qualified and entitled to oversee school policies that they have never deigned to subject their nearest and dearest to. While we don't think this should automatically be a disqualifier, it does raise some issues about mindset and worldviews.

But as suspect as the Bloomberg/Klein/Sharpton regime might be, it pales in comparison to the mischief going on in Washington, DC-where the Congress, in complicity with our "Education President," has canceled a successful voucher program for poor children. As George Will writes: "The District's mayor and school superintendent support the program. But the president has vowed to kill programs that "don't work." He has looked high and low and -- lo and behold -- has found one. By uncanny coincidence, it is detested by the teachers unions that gave approximately four times $15 million to Democratic candidates and liberal causes last year."

And the new education secretary went even further: "Not content with seeing the program set to die after the 2009-10 school year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan (former head of Chicago's school system, which never enrolled an Obama child) gratuitously dashed even the limited hopes of another 200 children and their parents. Duncan, who has sensibly chosen to live with his wife and two children in Virginia rather than in the District, rescinded the scholarships already awarded to those children for the final year of the program, beginning in September. He was, you understand, thinking only of the children and their parents: He would spare them the turmoil of being forced by, well, Duncan and other Democrats to return to terrible public schools after a tantalizing one-year taste of something better. Call that compassionate liberalism."

So we have yet another example of the, "Do as I say, but not as I do," cohort of elected officials-since the president also has had his two daughters opt out of the copious benefits found in the D.C. schools. This is, in our view, beyond shameful-and Juan Williams agrees: "As I watch Washington politics I am not easily given to rage. Washington politics is a game and selfishness, out-sized egos and corruption are predictable. But over the last week I find myself in a fury.
The cause of my upset is watching the key civil rights issue of this generation — improving big city public school education — get tossed overboard by political gamesmanship. If there is one goal that deserves to be held above day-to-day partisanship and pettiness of ordinary politics it is the effort to end the scandalous poor level of academic achievement and abysmally high drop-out rates for America’s black and Hispanic students. The reckless dismantling of the D.C. voucher program does not speak well of the promise by Obama to be the “Education President.”

For this, we have the teacher's union to blame-since there is no effective organized interest that can represent the disenfranchised school kids: "With no living, breathing students profiting from the program to give it a face and stand and defend it the Congress has little political pressure to put new money into the program. The political pressure will be coming exclusively from the teacher’s unions who oppose the vouchers, just as they oppose No Child Left Behind and charter schools and every other effort at reforming public schools that continue to fail the nation’s most vulnerable young people, low income blacks and Hispanics."

So where is Al Sharpton on this outrage? AWOL, as usual, when there's no potential paycheck in the offing. But the deep sixing of the voucher plan is incredible when you consider the response it generated from D.C. parents: "This voucher programs is unique in that it takes no money away from the beleaguered District of Columbia Public Schools. Nationwide, the strongest argument from opponents of vouchers is that it drains hard-to-find dollars from public schools that educate the majority of children. But Congress approved the D.C. plan as an experiment and funded it separately from the D.C. school budget. It is the most generous voucher program in the nation, offering $7,500 per child to help with tuition to a parochial or private school. With that line of attack off the table, critics of vouchers pointed out that even $7,500 is not enough to pay for the full tuition to private schools where the price of a year’s education can easily go beyond $20,000. But nearly 8,000 students applied for the vouchers. And a quarter of them, 1,714 children, won the lottery and took the money as a ticket out of the D.C. public schools."

The best way to provide a better education for poor children, is to give them real choices-something that a pro-competitive voucher program certainly does: "The students, almost all of them black and Hispanic, patched together the voucher money with scholarships, other grants and parents willing to make sacrifices to pay their tuition. What happened, according to a Department of Education study, is that after three years the voucher students scored 3.7 months higher on reading than students who remained in the D.C. schools. In addition, students who came into the D.C. voucher program when it first started had a 19 month advantage in reading after three years in private schools."

So once again we find that the president is rhetoric is simply not walking the walk; and the Duncan Hines school mix is destined to be half-baked.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Will Quinn Face a Challenge?

The Crain's Insider speculates this morning (subscription) on just how City Council Speaker Chris Quinn might get ousted come this November: "A Democratic operative says it might be possible for an enterprising City Council member to cobble together 25 colleagues and oust Christine Quinn from the speakership after the fall elections. Realistically, the chances are slim, one council member says, because “inertia is an incredibly strong force” and no one on the council seems inclined to plot a coup."

Of course, you would need 26 votes, but why quibble? The road to an ouster, as Crains points out, would have to go through Brooklyn: "But if someone does, says the operative, he or she would begin with a coalition of Bronx and Brooklyn members. Brooklyn has a fairly united delegation that generally takes direction from county Democratic leader Vito Lopez, who appears to have become increasingly unhappy with Quinn and is on good terms with fellow assemblyman Carl Heastie, the new Bronx Democratic leader."

But there is a long time between now and then-and who knows what the political landscape will look like at the time when a leadership decision will have to be made. In our view, however, the perpetuation of one man rule in the city needs to be changed; and the only way that will get done is if the city council becomes a real check on mayoral excess-something that won't happen under the current regime if it were to be perpetuated.

Haste Makes Waste

The Poughkeepsie Journal is reporting this morning (via Liz) that there is a good chance that the June 1st implementation date for the expanded bottle bill will be delayed-as we have been lobbying for: "State leaders indicated Wednesday they may need to delay the expansion of the state's bottle-deposit law over concerns from bottlers that companies won't be able to implement the program by the June 1 deadline. The protest from bottlers and breweries is centered on a new state law that would require all recyclable bottles to carry a New York-specific bar code. Bottlers say there is simply no way all the bottles in New York could be changed by the deadline."

Nor has anyone bothered to do even a cursory due diligence over the cost that the proposal will have for the state's small bottlers and distributors; which is why delay is a good thing, because it will allow for the creation of a more rational review process for a number of the proposed changes that were snuck into the expanded container deposit law.

The NY only UPC code at least has gotten the attention of state leaders: "Legislative leaders and Gov. David Paterson acknowledged Wednesday they will need to revisit the bar-code issue, saying they may need to add an amendment to the law to push out the start date. "We don't want to do anything to hurt the industry while we are trying to clean up the environment," Paterson said."

But no one has even bothered to examine just how many of the water companies-just added to the deposit stream-will collect their empty containers. Most don't have a route delivery system, but instead rely on food warehouses to deliver their products. Back hauling garbage on food delivery vehicles, aside from being impractical, is against the law.

So it appears that delay will be inevitable. What else gets changed during the dely process remains to be seen; but we will be marshaling our forces to inform the legislature how important it is to insure that the smallest players in the beverage production and distribution process be protected from the costlier provisions of the expanded law.

Mayoral Performance Anxiety

As the scene shifts in Albany away from the budget and the MTA debacle, the focus of attention will be on the issue not whether or not the mayor of the City of New York-someone whose children never got within miles of public education-should continue to have unfettered control of the governance of the city's schools. A new report highlighted in the NY Times raises questions about the wisdom of giving continued royal prerogatives to Mike Bloomberg in this important area: "The lagging performance of American schoolchildren, particularly among poor and minority students, has had a negative economic impact on the country that exceeds that of the current recession, according to a report released on Wednesday."

When we look at the city's results, the numbers do not tell a tale of stellar achievement: "In New York City, an analysis of 2007 federal test scores for fourth graders showed strikingly stratified achievement levels: While 6 percent of white students in city schools scored below a base achievement level on math, 31 percent of black students and 26 percent of Hispanic students did. In reading, 48 percent of black students and 49 percent of Hispanic students failed to reach that base level, but 19 percent of white students did."

Results that don't, in our view, act as a clarion call for allowing the mayor and Chancellor Klein-another whose children never got the benefit of a public education-continued carte blanche. Klein in particular, a person without a single educational credential should be replaced; whatever happens up in Albany on the governance issue. This foray of his into sociological analysis underscored our point: "The New York City schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, who introduced the findings at the National Press Club in Washington, said the study vindicated the idea that the root cause of test-score disparities was not poverty or family circumstances, but subpar teachers and principals. He pointed to an analysis in the report showing low-income black fourth graders from the city outperformed students in all other major urban districts on reading (they came in second in math)."

At this rate, we're going to have to grant lifetime tenure to-not teachers-but to the mayor and the chancellor; folks whose work will perpetually be graded as incomplete, while they search for the remedies to their continual shortcomings in providing the kind of educational results that Bloomberg told New Yorkers they would get once he was given control of the schools. Oh yes, and he also said that if the results weren't praiseworthy, he didn't deserve to be re-elected (again and again?).

In this context Klein, as adept at three card monte as any New York street performer shifts attention away from meager test scores to graduation rates: "While state test scores have shown improvement since Mr. Klein took office, eighth-grade scores on federal math and reading tests, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, have not shown significant increases since 2002. In an interview after the speech here, Mr. Klein said he would be the first to acknowledge that the city was not where it needed to be in closing the gap, particularly in middle schools. But, he added, there have been signs of progress among younger students, and he believed the city’s four-year graduation rates — 69 percent for white students, 47 percent for black students and 43 percent for Hispanic students — could reach state averages within five or six years."

And in the long run. we're all dead; which is why we need to have this system properly checked and balanced. After all, if this concept was good enough for the founding fathers, shouldn't it be good enough for Mike Bloomberg? But the one structure that was put into the new governance system that was supposed to do just that, has been eviscerated by the man who doesn't really like to be second guessed.

As the Times also reports this morning: "In a nearly empty high school auditorium one evening last month, parents, teachers and cynics marched to the microphone, turned to the collection of volunteers derisively called the Panel for Educational Puppets, and began to scream...It is a ritual that unfolds monthly around the city at each meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy, the oversight group that replaced the independent Board of Education when the State Legislature handed New York’s mayor control of its sprawling school system in 2002. In designing the mayoral takeover, lawmakers viewed the panel as critical to maintaining a “balance of authority,” and promised it would have a “meaningful role” on citywide education policy and approve major contracts, according to the authorizing language that accompanied the bill."

Not! When the panel even threatened a modicum of independence, the city's resident autocrat moved into action: "The board has cast 98 votes over 79 meetings — the vast majority of them unanimous. It has never rejected an administration proposal. The most contentious discussion came in 2004, over the mayor’s plan to hold back third graders who scored poorly on standardized tests, and resulted in the ouster of three dissenting members in what is known in education lore as the Monday Night Massacre."

Now when you have miraculous results from an innovative governing initiative, it is quite appropriate to shush the critics who want to tinker with success. The NYC schools aren't-at least not under the private school devotees-an example of such a success. And the Bloomberg response to the one device that was supposed to provide balance is precisely why change is necessary: "“When people say, ‘How could you have devised a system that gave total authority and absolute autonomy to the mayor?’ My answer to them is, ‘Well, we didn’t,’ ” said former Assemblyman Steven Sanders, who was chairman of the Education Committee at the time the change was made and now is lobbying for major changes in mayoral control for the New York State School Boards Association. “It was supposed to provide a place where there would be real vetting of important issues, where there would be meaningful dialogue and debate and a vote that was not predetermined,” Mr. Sanders said. “It is certainly clear to anyone who looks at the system that that is not the case.”

But the Bloomberg/Klein/Sharpton regime at least knows how to appear to be good. Co-opt a whole bunch of folks with expensive jobs and lucrative consulting gigs, bamboozle a supine tabloid press, and go after critics by accusing them of retrograde political thinking. Meanwhile, Klein tells us-seven and a half years into his transformative reign-that he has found the path to educational enlightenment: "He said it would require a focus on finding ways to recruit high-quality teachers."

These folks need to be shown the door. Their efforts here have proved to be-in the words of the innkeepers wife in Les Miserables-"not much there." But that doesn't stop the tabloids from their strident calls for preserving a system that, if it were a private sector company, would be number one on the bailout list-with its executives being shown the door by an angry president.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

The Observer's Jimmy Vielkind follows up on the growing storm over onerous aspects of the recently expanded bottle bill:

"As environmental advocates feted the state's top legislative leaders this morning at an Earth Day celebration in Washington Park, David Paterson said officials would look at the expanded bottle bill--a centerpiece of the green agenda that was enacted this year in the state budget--which some bottlers have said cannot be feasibly implemented in time. By June 1, bottlers are supposed to begin using New York specific-UPC codes on bottles of water, which will now include bottled water. Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for business groups that oppose the bottle bill who continues to beat the drum against it on his blog, said that this is not feasible, because some small bottlers buy their labels a year in advance."

Indeed they do-among other impracticalities and expensive encumbrances to particularly smaller soda and water companies. The masochistic streak in us simply can't wait till the bill actually is implemented, because the resulting sticker shock, really a thinly disguised regressive tax, is gonna reverberate throughout the state at a time when the folks are already reeling from higher taxes and fees.

Apparently, as Vielkind points out, Governor Paterson has begun to recognize the seriousness of the problem: "There is a concern raised by the industry," Paterson said, after accepting an award for his work on the environment. "We don't want to do anything to hurt the industry while we are trying to clean up the environment, and we are talking to them and if they demonstrate to our satisfaction that they can't undergo this change in time, we'll certainly, one of the reasons that we're in government is that government continues to try to get it right, even more than we have before. We'll be amenable to that."

Better late than never, we suppose; and, as Speaker Silver tells the Observer, there are a number of methods that can be used to ameliorate the situation: "Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said it was a "technical issue" that would be addressed. Lawmakers could write and pass a chapter amendment--a bill which amends the earlier budget bill--moving the deadline back. It could also be included in a budget cleanup bill, which fixes typos and dollar amounts in the now-enacted omnibus spending plan."

How far reaching any changes will be is unpredictable. What is predictable, however, is that we will be found in disagreement with NYPIRG's Laura Haight: "If that happens, bottlers will push for relief for some businesses, Lipsky said. Bottle Bill advocates, including NYPIRG's Laura Haight, said any change should be small and limited."

And, as one commenter to the Observer blog points out, small brewers will also be negatively impacted-underscoring our point that the entire expansion effort is a dagger in the heart of all small beverage companies; at least if no changes are appropriately made: "As a drinker of microbrew beer I have been hearing from retailers who handle hard-to-find brews. They indicate that currently it looks as if small breweries will elect to drop NY rather than set up special labeling and product segregation. And what surprised me, one Albany retailer thought that brewers actually in NY might drop NY and sell to the national market. Particularly the canned beers, like Dale's and Snapperhead, which have to be printed as the can is produced rather than just labeled."

Still, lawmakers appear to be responsive to the legitimate worries of the industry. Now comes the hard part-where the devilish details are fought over. Stay tuned.

Unscrewing the Bottle Tops

As we had urged a few weeks ago, there appears to be a move to amend the recently passed expanded bottle bill. As the Times Union reports (via Liz): "State lawmakers are considering revising New York's expanded bottle deposit law before it takes effect to address problems outlined by retailers and bottlers."

And the problems that are front and center, are precisely those that we had outlined in our original post on the subject-and the ones we have been pressing in our own lobbying efforts on behalf of Good-O Beverage and a host of other small soda companies: "Of particular concern is a requirement that all containers sold in New York carry a state-specific UPC bar code. The provision was intended to prevent fraudulent returns, but many grocers, bottlers and breweries say it would wreak havoc on their production and distribution systems. They also say it could be impossible to meet the deadlines for that provision included in last month's legislation."

And, of course, there is an almost unanimous belief that the June 1st inception date simply cannot be met, as well as a concern about the reverse vending machine regulation: "The objections from retailers and bottlers have focused mainly on three aspects of the legislation: the New York-specific UPC code, which is used to scan prices; a series of near-immediate implementation dates, including June 1 for the UPC code; and a requirement that stores install more reverse-vending machines to collect returned containers."

Fortunatley, our lobbying efforts have not fallen on deaf ears: ""The Senate majority is reviewing concerns that have been brought to our attention, and we are looking at fixing some of these concerns," including the UPC bar code, said Travis Proulx, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith. In a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Smith also acknowledged "the effective date may be an issue."

And the assembly apparently is not immune to making some changes: "Melissa Mansfield, a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, said "we are aware of the concerns and we are looking into it," but declined to elaborate on any potential action." It is clear, however, that a clean up bill is going to be forthcoming on this issue-which behooves all of those impacted to make sure that their voices are heard; or, as the saying goes, "Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace!"

Aside from the issues outlined above, we are looking to exempt smaller companies entirely from some of the onerous provisions in the expansion; and plan to underscore just how job killing and anti-small business they are. The response of the legislators has, so far, been encouraging.

MTA: More Taxes Ahead

The NY Post doesn't like the new senate Democrat MTA bailout plan: "In truth, there's good reason to doubt that Smith's plan could put the MTA on track to long-term fiscal health -- or that it will even pass his own chamber. Clearly, Smith doesn't have even the Senate on board -- which isn't surprising, given that his plan contains something in it for everyone to hate."

But the problem is that the MTA is an absolute mess-and has been so for years but the reality has been taped over by huge real estate fees. As Nicole Gelinas points out: "By now, everybody knows about the state-run MTA's problems. The bubble-era real-estate taxes that have supported the authority in recent years have burst. The MTA is stuck with piles of debt and unsustainable union labor costs that the politicians larded on for years, with no way to pay for it all."

A total cesspool of mismanagement and political patronage-one that the state's leaders manged to separate from the budget negotiations that were just recently concluded. But why? If the state was going to grab stimulus cash and increase taxes and fees, then why wasn't a good chunk of that money directed at mass transit? Instead, we got an increase in overall state spending and a separate negotiation over the transit bailout that will mean additional taxes and fees. Only in New York.

This isn't a question about the irresponsibility of one branch of government, it is the failure of all branches to address the level of spending and the size of state government-and the total irresponsibility of raising taxes in the midst of am economic recession without looking to scale down the Leviathan. In this context, the MTA bailout hue and cry is sheer subtext.

Paterson's Haily Mary

Anne Michaud posts a piece at Newsday on the Paterson formula for victory in 2010; taking off from the following Gershman analysis in New York Magazine: "'The governor, say the aides, will start by mobilizing support from prominent black leaders, including Al Sharpton. He intends to tailor his message more explicitly to minority voters, drawing more attention to his overhaul of the Rockefeller mandatory-drug-sentencing laws. Aides say Paterson also plans to make a more direct appeal for support against his adversaries. “How is it that all of these unions run wild and kick him? It’s a kick at all of us. People in the African-American community are asking why are they doing it. It’s a pride thing,” says a Paterson ally.'"

To which Michaud adds: "Until now, Paterson has played his position as New York's first African-American governor very low-key. Cynics who expected him to appoint Harlem cronies to top government jobs, when he took over in March 2008, have been disappointed. It has proved to be a wise, unifying strategy for Paterson -- and not unlike the race-neutral appeal of Barack Obama's campaign for president."

So, apparently, the governor feels that by racializing the contest-and his appeal-he can keep the hard charging Andrew Cuomo on the sidelines. This strategy depends, however, on his success in raising his dismal poll numbers; because if he doesn't do so, Al Sharpton's army is only going to exacerbate Paterson's dilemma: "If Paterson doesn't step aside to allow Cuomo to grab the Democratic nomination for 2010, it's not at all clear that the attorney general will force the issue and risk raising those bad old feelings."

Ya think? It's all about the numbers. Because if the polls show the governor going down to a putative Giuliani challenge, it will be Black elected officials who will be holding the retirement party for Paterson. In any event, he really has only until the end of the year to craft a miraculous comeback, After that, the call for Cuomo's ascension will be deafening.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Voluntary Commitment

It takes a great deal of chutzpah to launch-with great fanfare and an Uncle Sam replica of the old WW11 poster-a campaign to increase volunteerism during the country's biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression. But Mike Bloomberg certainly knows from chutzpah, and has done just that. As City Room reported yesterday: "From now on, it will be easier for New Yorkers to offer a helping hand. Heeding President Obama’s call for boosting Americans’ engagement in civic service, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced a series of programs and partnerships on Monday to encourage volunteerism among city residents."

What's that old saying about imitation being the sincerest form of fakery? Whatever! The economic timing may not be the best, but the political coatailing is exquisite. As City Room points out: "The announcement came on the eve of Mr. Obama’s signing of the Serve America Act, which will expand AmeriCorps, the nation’s civilian service force, from 75,000 to 250,000 members per years over five years. The legislation essentially mobilizes what former President George W. Bush used to call “armies of compassion” to undertake some of the country’s most urgent social challenges, like shoring up communities hard hit by the recession."

But, as the NY Post underscores, the army of volunteers may be an unwanted diversion from the harsh reality of simply trying to make a living in NYC: "More than a quarter of New Yorkers are spending half their money on rent, Rep. Anthony Weiner said yesterday. He said data shows there are now more than 572,000 people in the city who have to shell out half their income on rental housing. That's up more than 82,000 in six years. "It is a startling proof point . . . that New York is more and more a difficult place to live," said Weiner.

What folks can be doing to make this a better place to live-as millions of enterprising people have done in the past to make America's free enterprise system the greatest economic engine in history-is to start businesses and employ New Yorkers; a point that is made with bite by many of the commenters to the City Room story: "Maybe Bloomberg can volunteer himself to find people what they need right now: JOBS."

And the way to do this is not by employing hundreds, and spending millions on re-election self promotion; or a "five borough economic plan" that elides the fact that NYC is one of the most expensive place to start a business-even more so since Mike Bloomberg came in on his tax raising broom eight years ago. What we need is a mayor who understands that lowering the costs of government is the first step towards economic recovery; and who knows that creating an army of volunteers in the current economic climate is at best cosmetic, but at worst a Machiavellian diversion from the current mayor's failure to have prepared the city for this crisis,

Monday, April 20, 2009


Coming on the heels of the excellent post editorial yesterday, the City Room decided to pose the question: How Likely Are You to Leave New York? Some of the responses are eye opening, and underscore some of the latent anger that's out there over the high cost of living-much of it imposed by government-in New York. As one commenter said: "If I did not have a grade-school aged kid (I am divorced) living with her mother in NYC, I would have left this City and State long ago!! New York State & City have become a cesspool of special interests, greed, corruption and self-serving, elected politicians."

And another respondent has this to say: "I am more inclined to leave New York of late. It seems the city and state governments are not inclined to do anything that will encourage economic growth and job creation. All they want to do is raise taxes and prices (subway) to pay for ridiculous spending programs that should be cut in these lean times."

All of which may mean that the government here-at all levels-may have reached golden goose killing time; and the idea of fair share is pretty much a self serving mantra from folks dependent on a public pay check: "We are moving to Connecticut where property taxes are lower. We think Gov. Paterson and the legislature in Albany have lost their minds. “Good riddance” indeed. With the departure of people like us, taxes for the rest of you go up. Blame it on the political class."

Are these the millionaires fleeing? Of course they're not. But the WFP and company cleverly framed the argument for political consumption. In the long run. however, they may have been too clever by half-what with more than half the jobs in the city coming from the not-for-profit and government sectors. The nagging question ahead: Who's gonna pay the freight. A fair question, if not a fair share issue.

Mayor Gasbag

You have to give Mike Bloomberg credit for consistency-and you do know that consistency is the hobgoblin of mediocre minds, don't you? This time it's the mayor's support for increasing the gas tax: "Say what you will about Mayor Bloomberg's energy policy, but at least it's consistent. Having advocated higher taxes on fuel over the summer, Bloomberg yesterday came out in support of a return to the scary days of $4-a-gallon gasoline -- regardless of its potential impact on the fragile economy."

This is from someone with one of the biggest carbon footprints in the city-you know, that regular guy who rides the subways gauging the popular will. As the NY Post reported last year: "America's greenest mayor generates enough greenhouse gas to choke the Lincoln Tunnel.
Mayor Bloomberg - who has advocated everything from ditching incandescent light bulbs to taxing Midtown commuters to clean the air - produces 364 tons of smog-inducing carbon dioxide a year, according to a Post analysis of the billionaire's trans-Atlantic real estate portfolio and travel style."

How big is the Bloomberg footprint? "That's a carbon footprint larger than what's produced by 18 average Americans, 53 Europeans or 404 Guatemalans. It's equivalent to keeping 69 cars a year on the road or lighting the Empire State Building for 4 ½ days."

But Regular Guy Mike wants the higher tax in order to promote the mass transit he fails to use on his way to privately jetting down to Bermuda; just like he wants the average shlub to pay tolls and congestion taxes to promote the elitist schemes that he himself doesn't want to apply to himself. As the Post pointed out: "Bloomberg's carbon footprint could actually be much larger. The Post did not have enough information to estimate pollution generated by Bloomberg's four personal cars, the propeller-driven airplane he owns, or the company helicopter he's said to use."

So pardon our skepticism; and it's beyond silly to think that Mike Bloomberg has a sincere bone in his regular guy body. So when will the average New Yorker realize that this poseur isn't looking out for their best interests?