Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Fiight for the Working Families of New York

It has always bemused us how the Working Families Party has been able to camouflage its high tax, pro big government philosophy behind a party label that implies almost the exact opposite of what its aims really are. In fact, as the NY Times reported yesterday, the party's mindset puts it at complete odds with the hard working, tax paying homeowners and small businesses of New York State.

As the Times tells it: "Bill de Blasio, New York City’s new public advocate, is a lifelong Democrat and a likely future mayoral contender. But ask him to name the most innovative political force in the state, and he points to the Working Families Party. “On the issues they care about, from minimum wage to tenant issues to development, they are absolutely definitional — they can set the debate at the city and the state level,” Mr. de Blasio said."

What any of those issues have to do with the interests of the bulk of the state's working families is anyone's guess-and the fact that de Blasio left civic, homeowner and small business groups out of his inaugural press conference as Public Advocate is all telling. In "dragging the Democratic Party to the left," the WFP sets itself up as an enemy of those middle class folks who support the ever expanding government apparatus.

A quick glance at the Party's roster of supporters underscores this point: "The party’s influential members include the United Automobile Workers, the Communication Workers of America, the United Federation of Teachers and the health-care workers union 1199 S.E.I.U., as well as tenant and community organizing groups like Acorn."

And when we examine the fiscal crisis that NY State is facing, is the WFP's policy medicine a cure-or simply a cure that's worse than the disease? Here's the NY Daily News' Bill Hammond on the state's budgetary woes: "Is it possible that Albany lawmakers could resolve the state's budget crisis without massive tax hikes, without meat-ax spending cuts and without fiscal gimmickry that would dig New York deeper into the hole? A thought-provoking report from a fiscally conservative think tank says yes, they can - and spells out exactly how in hard dollars and cents. It should be required reading for Gov. Paterson and all 212 members of the Legislature...The biggest of McMahon and Barro's big ideas: freezing the wages of government workers across the board. That single, dramatic step - last taken during the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s - would save the state, local governments and school districts $1.6 billion in the first year alone."

The WFP's response? Higher wages for municipal workers and more taxes on the so-called wealthy. After all, they represent the very public sector workers who are doing quite well during the current downturn-especially in comparison with their private sector colleagues. But, as Hammond points out, the wage and pensions of public employees are simply no longer sustainable: "Public employee unions will no doubt go ballistic at the very idea of suspending their contracts. But asking their members to make do with their current salaries is hardly Draconian, given that lots of private-sector workers are living with stagnant or plunging wages - if they have jobs at all."

And, as for E. J. McMahon himself, the main remedy he envisions is tax cutting-not the hiking that the WFP promotes, leading to the current exodus of tax payers from NY. As he wrote in the NY Post: "Last but not least, the blueprint outlines tax reforms to put New York in a better position to grow its way out of the budget hole. In the short term, the top priority is to allow last year's personal income-tax hike to expire on schedule at the end of 2011 and to stop stealth tax hikes by "indexing" income-tax brackets, exemptions and standard deductions to inflation."

So, in our view, and the view was apparently affirmed by state voters in two suburban elections for county executive last November, we need to reduce the size of government-an idea that has to be an anathema to the WFP that is comprised of public sector unions. We simply can't afford the size-and dysfunction as well-of the government we now have. Hammond nails the point: "It's about time. New York's state government is one of the most bloated in the country, burning through 33% more tax dollars per capita than the national average - on top of heavy local outlays. Albany spends 73% more per capita on Medicaid health coverage for the poor and disabled, 65% more on public schools and almost double the national average on mental health and the courts."

Our economy cannot afford this level of government profligacy-and the concomitant tax burden has been a bus ticket out of town for many of the state's most productive citizens. But all of this economic realism runs directly up against the ideology of the WFP-and the Party needs to be challenged before it becomes a statewide albatross for Democrats.

And challenges have already started to manifest themselves. As the Times points out: "Some real estate professionals, intent on a direct challenge to the Working Families Party, have taken partial control of the Independence Party. They poured about $700,000 into races in 2009. Mention this threat and Mr. Cantor cracks a smile. He is wary of having his party pegged as tax-hungry. “But a tenant-oriented party against a party of landlords?” he said. “I’ll take my chances.”

And. as we have said elsewhere, Cantor is right. A party of landlords is not the way to challenge the party of public sector sycophants. But there is a growing unease about the state, and it is being directed at an out-of-control government. The landlords didn't elect Rob Astorino in Westchester and Ed Mangano in Nassau County-a populace that is hurting economically and fed up with the high cost of government did that.

So it is that grass roots sentiment that needs to be tapped-and if it is, we would hate to be saddled with the "Party of Government" label that the WFP tail is grafting to the Democratic dog. 2010 will be an interesting year for the playing out of this historic ideological battle. In our crystal ball, we see the triumph of the real working families.