Friday, February 26, 2010

Independent Path

The Politicker has an interesting article on the course being charted by the Independence Party-and the party leader Frank McKay takes aim at the charge that he's in the tank for landlords: "Mr. MacKay bristles at the notion that his party is synonymous with any one particular industry in the business community, which is what his counterpart in the labor-backed Working Families Party, Dan Cantor, is saying. Mr. Cantor even has a nickname for Mr. MacKay’s organization: “The Landlord Party.” Mr. MacKay doesn’t appreciate it."

McKay demurs: "When he talks about landlords, he’s probably referring to our relationship with business groups,” Mr. MacKay said. “There are business groups all over the state that are coming to us,” he said. “The LIA is a group that we’re working with and talking with, constantly. Certainly they don’t have anything to do with landlords,” he said, referring to the Long Island Association, a business membership organization. “We’re the party of business,” continued Mr. MacKay. “We’re proud to say we’re the party of small business. Half the jobs in New York State are created by small business, and we would love to be known as the party of small business,” he said."

This is, in our view, just the right direction for the Independents to be taking-but they need to do more work identifying those small businesses and organizations that would lend credibility to the party's big tent pretensions. If they do, however,they could become potent political force; and in the process it would behoove them to take direct aim at the WFP's real constituency, the public sector unions.

Public sector unions are symbolic of the biggest issue that will be facing the voters in the fall-the size, scope and cost of the government at all levels. As one astute observer points out, the public sector is the "fourth rail" of today's politics: "Entitlement programs or, more specifically, reforming them before they bankrupt the nation, is considered the Third Rail of Politics. We now have, however, a Fourth Rail, just as pernicious, doing just as much damage to our national financial well-being and perhaps threatening our liberty even more than Social Security and Medicare. That Fourth Rail is the growth of the public sector work force, i.e. employees of federal, state, and local governments, and the massive money- and power-hungry unions which represent them."

And, while unemployment is epidemic in the private sector, the situation among public employees is much less dire-to say the least: "The growth of federal (civilian, not military) compensation is even more pronounced, as another Edwards study shows. In 2000, the average federal civilian worker made two-thirds more than the average private sector worker. By 2008, the federal worker was making double -- yes double -- the private sector worker."

And the pension and benefit obligations are sinking us rapidly: "According to a new study by the Pew Center on the States, "A $1 trillion gap… exists between the $3.35 trillion in pension, health care and other retirement benefits states have promised their current and retired workers as of fiscal year 2008 and the $2.35 trillion they have on hand to pay for them." So, the growth of government head-count and compensation is not only costing taxpayers over a hundred billion dollars a year now, but it's also burdening our children with massive future liabilities."

But as pernicious is the public sector union's defense of big government-as if every demand to roll back the cost is a threat to your safety as well as to your child's educational future: "It remains the standard tactic of liberals, government workers, and other leeches off your earnings to demonize anyone who wants to reduce the cost and intrusiveness of government by saying that teachers and policemen will lose their jobs."

Of course, the expansion of the educational bureaucracy and rising teacher salaries hasn't exactly lead to Nirvana, has it? And the folks are beginning to catch on-a fact that could become the wind at the sails of a newly invigorated Independence Party: "It is time for citizens to force government at all levels to live within our means. The good news is that much of the problem is at the state and local level, where small numbers of citizens can have bigger impact than on the federal level. Cutting back the metastasizing public sector is the Fourth Rail of politics. It is time for a few well-grounded politicians and citizens to step on that rail before we turn into France -- or even worse, into Greece."

And New York State already has its own Greek tragedy in play-a situation that can only advance the fortunes of the Independents. As McKay tells it: “We’re getting a dialogue together with businesses, and we’re attracting more voters who are concerned with business and economic issues, and fiscal responsibility,” said Mr. MacKay. “And they’re looking at both major parties and not seeing that, but it’s a dialogue.”

With independents playing a bigger role on all levels of American politics, the NYS Independence Party is well placed to play a major role come November. If it stays its current course, it will be a boon for the beleaguered tax payers and small businesses of New York

Sorry Charlie

Like the tuna of the same name, it is time to throw Charlie Rangel back-a too long tenure has blinded him to observing even the most minimal ethical standards. And now, a House that observes ethics mostly in their breach, has admonished the veteran law maker for the least serious of his transgressions.

As the NY Times reports: "The House ethics committee said on Thursday that it had admonished Representative Charles B. Rangel for violating Congressional gift rules by accepting corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008. But the ethics panel, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, did not issue findings in its continuing inquiries into more serious matters concerning Mr. Rangel’s fund-raising, his failure to pay federal taxes on rental income from a Dominican villa, and his use of four rent-stabilized apartments provided by a Manhattan real estate developer."

It wasn't a good day for Harlem politicians-and the Republicans, who ritualistically called for Speaker Pelosi to remove Rangel from the chair of the powerful Ways and Means committee, should only hope she doesn't-because Rangel provides the opposition wit a wonderful foil in its effort to regain control of the majority. After all, the Dems rose to power running against the corruption of their predecessors-and solemnly promising to do better.

As Pelosi once famously said: "Our goal is to restore accountability, honesty and openness at all levels of government. To do so, we will create and enforce rules that demand the highest ethics from every public servant, sever unethical ties between lawmakers and lobbyists, and establish clear standards that prevent the trading of official business for gifts." (Nancy Pelosi’s “A New Direction for America,” Page 21)."

So much for political promises. The real question, however, is whether or not the eighty year old Rangel will even run for re-election. While he and Governor Paterson come from the same Harlem district, no one ever accused the wily Rangel of incompetence. Still, whether venal or bumbling, the voters of Harlem can sure use some new blood to better represent their interests.

High Priced Coffey: Patricianage at Work

Tom Robbins has a great expose in this week's Village Voice on the tawdry hiring practices of the one chief executive in NYC history that doesn't let politics or personal favor enter into his governing equation-just ask him. In fact, reading the piece is nauseating in the way it details the manner in which Bloomberg treats city government like some kind of personal fiefdom,hiring incompetent friends or children of friends like some Tammany ward boss.

Robbins focuses in on one Christopher Coffey; someone with no discernible talent, lacking in any education pedigree whatsoever: "A few days before he announced that things are so bad that he needs to lay off thousands of city workers and close 20 firehouses, Michael Bloomberg put the son of a good friend on the city payroll. Christopher Coffey, 30, was hired in early January at the unit now known as NYC Media. The office has the essential mission of putting together city television and radio shows. Coffey was installed at a desk on an upper floor at the Municipal Building, where he was given the lofty title of Director of External Affairs and a salary of $114,000 a year."

That's what friends are for, right? But that's not really the kind of politics Mike Bloomberg has been selling, and selling and...well, you get the picture: "Being able to hire friends and family is one of the great perks of being the boss, especially when it is someone who might otherwise have a hard time landing a job. This rule apparently holds true even for New York's richest citizen, the mayor who pledged to always deliver progress, not politics."

But young Mr. Coffey was eminently qualified-picked after an exhaustive national search: "Coffey's fans say he is a hard worker, and this may be true, despite grumblings by co-workers that he does more boasting about his connections than rolling up his sleeves. But it also doesn't hurt that his mother is a leading figure in the upper reaches of New York society who is close to Bloomberg and first deputy mayor Patti Harris."

Progress over politics, heh? But about that resume: " But what's interesting about Chris Coffey's employment history is that he has found his way to a new six-figure job on the taxpayer's dime at a time of intense fiscal crisis without having a college degree—and despite an incident a couple of years ago that would have derailed the careers of those less well-connected."

Robbins refers to a drunken episode where Coffey was found drunk inside a running auto owned by the city-but what's a youthful indiscretion among good friends? And when it comes to friends of the billionaire, well, the normal rules and procedures get suspended: "Coffey sailed right into the job. Under agency personnel procedures, vacancies are supposed to be posted for at least 10 days. The rules specify that a minimum of four candidates must be interviewed and evaluated before anyone is hired. These guidelines are considered so basic that they're printed twice in the city's "Internal Personnel Action Request" rules—both times in boldface. But in Coffey's case, he was hired on the very first day that the vacancy notice for his job was posted. That's because he was also the only one considered, officials acknowledged."

That's the essence of Bloomberg world-upper class hacks with little or no expertise. We're back in the Gilded Age for God's sake-and bless Dan Janison for coming up with the right description of this back to the future tawdriness-"patrcianage." The hiring of the rich and socially connected; along with the conveying of city property to the billionaire friends of the mayor.

The irony here is that all of this putrescent policy making has a certain distinctive coloration to it: "But others noted that all of the new hires were white, while several minorities were either laid off or bumped aside. "There's just been a 'white-out,' " said one employee. As required, NYC Media posts its Equal Opportunity report right on its website. Not that it does much good. Officials didn't even bother to list three of the jobs it filled—including Coffey's—on the report. Like other city employment documents, it declares in bold that "The City of New York Is an Equal Opportunity Employer." In the Bloomberg Era, some are just more equal than others."

Imagine if Rudy Giuliani was doing this, Rev. Al would be yelling himself horse-but we think he's too busy cashing those checks to have time for a little even handed rabble rousing. So Bloomberg plows on-and rumors have begun once again that he may try his hand at that presidential thing in 2012. We hope he does, and not just because it will keep him away from NYC for an extended period of time.

The hope here is that Mike will make that national foray and be fully exposed for being what he has always been-the rich man's replica of that small man of no real discernible talent who hid behind the curtain and scared the little girl from Kansas.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Re: Regs or Dregs?

As a follow up to our earlier post on the announcement that the state tax department was advancing regulations to enforce the tax laws against Indian retailers, we need to make the following additional point. These regs do not issue the tax coupons to the Indians that would provide the simplest and surest method of enforcement.

Under the announced regulatory scenario that is posted on Capitol Confidential, there would be an elaborate quota system put in place: "Probable demand shall be determined by reference to, among other data, the United States average cigarette consumption per capita, as compiled for the most recently completed calendar or fiscal year, multiplied by the number of qualified Indians for each such affected Indian nation or tribe."

Setting aside the complexity of this process, what happens after the quotas are determined? Let's say, as the posted draft regs do, that Poospatuck (Unkechauge) have a quarterly consumption of 8,100 packs. Just how will this be enforced? And with multiple tax stamp agents authorized to ship cigarettes who will monitor compliance when, let's say, six or seven companies ship out the quota max to each tribe?

Enough of the obfuscation and delay. What the guv needs to do-and do immediately-is issue tax stamp coupons based on the quota to each tribe; and do so as part of an emergency measure related to the state's severe budget deficit. Once this is done, he should direct the AG to go into court and ask for the injunction against enforcement to be lifted.

The current methodology takes us into an entirely new legal path-and could be subjected to at least two additional years of litigation. The coupon issuance path, however, is already settled, and less vulnerable to the inevitable legal challenges by the Senecas. Enough "negotiation." What we need is the governor to act as a leader and collect the tax now!

Pouring it On

The NY Daily News reports this morning on another new Bloomberg tax initiative; and like so many others, this liquor levy involves an attempt to control how people behave: "Getting drunk in New York could get more expensive.The Health Department is mulling a new tax increase on alcohol - which supporters say would make New Yorkers drink less and get healthier."

Even before all of the party hats were put back on the shelf from the going away party we
held for the departure of former health commissioner, Mother Tom Frieden, we have a successor who wants to micromanage all of our personal behavior in order to, of course, save us from ourselves: "Frieden was replaced by Commissioner Thomas Farley, who wrote in 2005 that "the simplest and single most effective step we could take to cut drinking is to raise prices by taxing alcohol more." The city counted 1,700 alcohol-related deaths in 2008, and wants to reduce high school drinking by 16% and booze-fueled hospitalizations 19% by 2012."

And this is policy behavior that is encouraged by the mayor-whose philosophy is right out of the totalitarian playbook of Rousseau who once said famously that you need to, "force people to be free." As the Daily News tells us: "Mayor Bloomberg hasn't weighed in on the idea. But he is a big fan of raising taxes on cigarettes and sugary sodas to improve health - so higher booze taxes would fit right in. "The surest pathway to changing behavior is through the wallet," Bloomberg said last month."

Now, here is a mayor who is presiding over the worst recession that we've seen in a generation, and yet who remains obsessed with imposing an even greater tax burden on seriously overtaxed New Yorkers. What he fails to realize, as the advocates tell us that the higher tax will reduce consumption, is that his economic policies are literally driving people to drink. People who are unemployed or underemployed, are frightened; and alcohol is one of those traditional methods of self medicating.

What greatly disturbs us, is that this charlatan got re-elected because of an economic crisis that he bears some significant responsibility for-and his mindset makes him, in the words of the philosophers of hoops, "self-checked." His remedies for economic recovery fall far short; and in fact never really approach the core underlying reasons why the city is doing so poorly because they are inherently misdirected.

Yet he continues to enable the health fascists who themselves have little or no connection to the real world of work-and hurt-that most New Yorkers are immersed in. He does, however, have time to drag out the bully pulpit on one policy initiative-limiting executive pay: "New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the government should not get involved in how much Wall Street executives get paid and says it's a Soviet Union-style concept. The mayor was asked Wednesday about a report this week showing that Wall Street bonuses grew 17 percent in 2009 to $20.3 billion."

"Soviet Union-style concept!" What does he think he's doing, taking a page out of the National Socialist policy agenda? What hypocrisy and chutzpah! He understands the overbearing reach of government only when it is directed at his Wall Street cohort-and turns around unselfconsciously to employ the same heavy handed Big Brother methods when it comes to controlling what New Yorkers should or shouldn't consume.

Well, the one good piece of news in all of this is that the city can't proceed unilaterally: "Any city increase would need approval from state lawmakers in Albany." With the controversy over the soda tax already raging, the last thing that the state legislature needs is another sin tax to consider.

Regs or Dregs?

The Governor's office has issued the draft regulations for collecting the Indian cigarette tax, and the outstanding question is whether this is a real step forward or just another stalling tactic? As Capitol Confidential reports: "Tax regulations that would result in collections associated with sales at Native American stores in New York are getting signed by Acting Tax Commissioner Jamie Woodward today, according to an official familiar with the plan. The regs, which Gov. David Paterson promised in addresses earlier this year, will require suppliers to Indian merchants to provide cigarettes with tax stamps, cutting off the supply of non-stamped products and theoretically leveling the playing field with off-reservation stores. Indian merchants can get unstamped products for sale to tribal members."

Theoretically is right. The draft regs are to be posted in the middle of next month and there's a 45 day comment period after that. Can anyone say rope-a-dope? It appears to us that Paterson, by delaying the regulations in this fashion-and announcing them at least two or three weeks before they actually get posted-is giving the cash rich Senecas a good heads up to gear up; and can a multi-million ad campaign be far behind?

We asked a real knowledgeable veteran senate staffer to take a look at the regs and comment on them. This is someone who had been intimately involved in the 1994 dust-up that led to the US Supreme Court ratifying the right of NY State to tax Indian cigarettes in the first place. And he told us that they are just about the same regs that were promulgated 16 years ago-so much for the need for a prolonged comment period.

The reality is that, given the state's budget crisis, Paterson could have issued emergency regulations and not initiated a long drawn out affair that will needlessly delay the cash influx that New York desperately needs. And the following from CC doesn't inspire us with confidence: "Paterson’s aides have maintained that negotiations with representatives of tribes will continue to resolve disputes involving taxation."

What is this, a hostage exchange? What do these Indian cigarette sellers have that we need to be negotiating about the enforcement of the law. It makes one suspect that this is more about electoral cash than much needed tax revenue. We're just saying.

We'll have more discussion of this in the days ahead, but we can foresee just how the governor's dilatory tactics can frustrate the process. Now's not the time to do any end zone dancing-and Tuesday's press conference for the newly formed coalition to collect the tax is much needed in order to continue to hold Paterson's feet to the fire.

Here's Crain's Insider's announcement (subsc. only) of the press event: "A new organization will be launched in Albany on Tuesday to pressure the state to collect taxes on cigarettes sold on Indian land to non-Indians. The Enforce the Law/Collect the Tax Coalition, featuring business, labor and civic groups, will push Gov. Paterson and the Legislature to deliver on the promise Paterson made in January. Nicholas & Lence Communications is aiding the effort. Collecting the taxes due could raise $1 billion annually. Supporters worry that Paterson won't follow through because his proposed budget includes no revenue from the tax."

With more taxes-like the one on soda-in the works, it behooves the legislature to continue to full court press the Indian collection. There's simply too much money being left on the table for any laissez faire attitude to be exhibited. Paterson needs to be forced into simply enforcing the law in an expeditious and not a cavalier manner.

InFatuated With Taxes

The beverage and retail coalition is fighting back on the governor's "Fat Tax" proposal-in an air war with the health coalition that wants to remain fat at the tax payer's expense. As Daily Politics reports: "On the heels of a statewide media blitz by a coalition of labor, health care religious and non-profit interests that support Gov. David Paterson's proposal to tax sugary drinks comes a pushback from the NY Beverage Association, which, unsurprisingly, is very much in opposition."

And the pushback hits against the obsessive compulsive-and unscientific notion-that soda (much like cigarettes and cancer) causes obesity: "Whereas the Alliance for Healthier New York as cast this as a "life or death tax," touting the fact that some of the revenue it generates will be used to combat obesity, New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes argues: "(Taxes don't make people healthy; Exercise and a balanced diet do that."

Of course, not only does soda have no causal relationship with obesity it is, as we have pointed out, unhealthy for tax payers and all of the small businesses that are in the beverage distribution chain. Just because you practice this three card monte version of tax dependency, one that seeks to hide the tax pea in a shell labelled health, doesn't change the Fiorella Laggard observation: "No matter how you slice it, it's still baloney.!"

And it doesn't somehow reduce the deleterious impact of yet another tax-in a state that is sinking into the Hudson with its current overbearing tax burden. And the ad cites our good friend Nelson Eusebio who tells is like it is: We are committed to going toe-to-toe with the special interests to defeat this new tax on working families," said Nelson Eusebio, chairman of New Yorkers Against Unfair taxes. "This tax will cost New Yorkers jobs and will not deliver any of the alleged benefits. This is nothing more than a money grab and we are confident the legislature will reject it."

Last year's budget was an abomination-even with all of the stimulus money-of more taxes and fees. For the lame duck to keep on quacking this tune is a further indication of the cluelessness that will eventually send him packing off into retirement. In the meantime, it's up to the legislature to inject some sobriety into the budget process. It is our economy that's on life support. No new taxes!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Food Vendors Get Pissy

Mobile Food vendors are in a pissy fit over the crackdown against one of their cohort for leaving his food unattended on the street. As the NY post reported yesterday-in a story that reeked with misplaced sympathy for the poor peddler: "Street vendors be warned: Take a bathroom break, and it may be your business that gets flushed down the toilet.That's what happened to Shiraj Islam, a nut vendor for 12 years, who suddenly found himself without a livelihood. Health inspectors, cracking down on unattended vendor carts across the city, revoked his permit last week when a bathroom emergency forced him to leave his stand in lower Manhattan."

To which we say, "It's about time." Food stores and their employees-supermarkets, delis, bodegas and fruit stands-are subject to strict health standards on both their products as well as themselves. Food sold on the street-particularly fruits and vegetables-is not subject to rigorous oversight; and this is a threat to consumers.

Bathrooms in supermarkets are subject to DOH inspections and employees are monitored to insure that they wash their hands and keep clean generally. Street vendors are not subject to the same rigorous review, so that the current enforcement brouhaha is simply outrageous-designed to use a show of force to reduce cart and peddler oversight.

And yesterday's demonstration is a case in point. Once again, the Post provides the details: "Hell no, we have to go! Street vendors were fighting for their right to potty yesterday, rallying outside the city Department of Health's headquarters in Manhattan to protest a crackdown on long bathroom breaks with signs proclaiming, "We need to pee like everyone else." As the Post reported yesterday, when longtime nut vendor Shiraj Islam took a bathroom break last week, health inspectors took away his cart's permit, claiming he shouldn't have left it unattended for so long."

The city is in the throes of a severe retail crisis-with store closings and vacancies at record levels. The proliferation of peddlers in front of the tax paying retail outlets is a contributing factor to the loss of both store revenue as well as the tax revenues that the retailers fork over to the government. If you're going to do business on the street for a very small license fee, than you're going to have to follow the regulations-just as the thousands of city food retailers are forced to do.

And we're always amazed that this "Street Vendor Project" is able to generate scores of protesters in the middle of the day-could the demonstrators all have been on long bathroom breaks from their carts? But the overriding issue is health-of not only consumers, but of the small businesses that are being rocked by the Great Recession.

Ultimately the streets belong, not to peddlers, but to the folks who live in the neighborhood-and the stores that support the services that we all depend on. No one has a God given right to do business on the street, and if given permission, they must abide by the law or face the consequences.

Ramp Cramp

Crain's has more on the revamping of the Willets Point ramp report-and our only question is how does URS, the team that fumbled the original report, get to take a mulligan on it? Are they going to get paid time and a half as well to absorb Brian Ketcham's critique into a new report that is so contorted that it promises to look like a Picasso painting?

Here's what Crain's tells us: "The original environmental impact statement, or EIS, showed the massive Willets Point project would generate heavy traffic, but a recent report on the proposed ramps showed a much sunnier picture. The ramp study—an “access modification report,” or AMR, which is technical documentation to support federal and state decisions on whether to approve the ramps—is being redone after Mr. Ketcham used traffic data from the environmental impact statement to demonstrate that the ramps would make a bad situation worse. The entire redevelopment, with 9 million buildable square feet, is projected to generate 80,000 vehicle trips daily."

And that's after Ketcham plugged URS' own data into a traffic simulation model-data that no one can figure out any paternity for; and the AMR resembles nothing like the original traffic report for the ULURP application that unfortunately passed the city council in the fall of 2008: "“Our problem is that [the ramp study] is so incredibly different from the environmental impact statement,” Mr. Ketcham wrote in an e-mail message. “The EIS reports Willets Point will create gridlock throughout community; AMR reports free-flow traffic. An incredible contrast.”

So, can NYSDOT rely on the faulty folks from URS to remodel the condemned house? Or, is new construction more than warranted in the case of the gifted factotums of fudge? Certainly, when a URS engineer tells Ketcham that his model is different than the one that was used in the original report, we recognize an attempt at three card monte: "Mr. Ketcham is being paid by project opponents, but his assessment that the access modification report underestimates the traffic impact stems from common modeling software that the state Department of Transportation trusts. The opponents see the department as a potential ally because the agency cannot afford to build all the new road capacity demanded of it."

And, for its part, DOT has only one responsibility-the state of the Van Wyck, and whether the ramps degrade or improve traffic flow. Think about it, two ramps are being proposed to facilitate a local mega-project that will potentially retard traffic on the expressway. If the ramps slow things down, on what grounds does the state agency give them the green light?

In the Crain's article what really stands out is the following statement from our BFF Dave Lombino: "We will be submitting a revised draft in the upcoming weeks that is responsive to the comments and issues raised by state DOT and the Federal Highway Administration, as well as those from Willets Point opponents,” said David Lombino, a spokesman for the Bloomberg administration’s Economic Development Corp., the lead agency on Willets Point."

As the late Phil Rizzuto would have said, "Holy Cow!" Lombino gives the Alliance an "A" for its sharp critique of the work of the EDC hired gun. But is this a fifth grade spelling pre-test we're seeing enacted here? Maybe EDC should retain Ketcham-but we doubt they'd be thrilled with his withering honesty. It seems to us, however, that NYSDOT sent EDC back to the woodshed, err, we mean drawing board.

This gets us back to the original question of whether the state traffic agency should buy a used AMR report from these URS salesmen. Which brings us to the Crain's Westway analogy-a project that a young Brian Ketcham sank into the Hudson River: "The controversial Westway project would have turned much of New York’s West Side Highway into an underground roadway, and added landfill along the Hudson River, allowing park expansions and nearby real estate development. It was abandoned in 1985 after years of litigation. Mr. Ketcham and a colleague filed the initial suit against the project and continued the battle for years until Mayor Edward Koch and Gov. Mario Cuomo gave up. Eventually a more modest, at-grade boulevard was built, along with a biking and walking path between the road and the Hudson River."

Can the Flushing River be far behind? And, you know what? Bike paths along 126th Street abutting the newly constructed industrial park would look very nice to us. The Bloomberg Automotive Center and Industrial Development Area has a resonant ring to us.

Keating Critiques Quinn

In yesterday's NY Post Ray Keating analyzed the State of the City speech of Speaker Chris Quinn-the one the reprised James Carville's famous line, "It's the economy stupid."

Keating feels that the speaker really doesn't get the extent to which this city is a lousy place to do business in because of its incredible tax burden: "New York City is a lousy place to start up, run or invest in a small business, but city officials don't seem to have a clue as to what to do about it. Economic growth, innovation and job creation are overwhelmingly about entrepreneurs, along with the investors willing to supply capital to entrepreneurial ventures. According to the US Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy, small businesses created about two-thirds of net new jobs over the last decade and a half. But Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council have done little to lower the cost of innovating, building businesses -- small or otherwise -- and creating jobs."

Cluelessness seems to be a bigger epidemic in NYC than the touted obesity plague-the one that is spawning, what else, another tax to already overtaxed New Yorkers. And, as we commented in an earlier post last week, while the speaker recognizes the need for a, "new tax environment," she doesn't really understand what that would mean: "This kind of proposal doesn't begin to scratch the surface of what needs to be done to make the city business-friendly. In fact, when it comes to taxes, the city arguably ranks as the most hostile place in the nation for entrepreneurs. They not only face higher costs for rent, power and other basics, but sky-high income-tax rates literally punish the crucial acts of starting up, building and investing in successful businesses, and working for these ventures."

The litany is truly endless: "If an entrepreneur sets up as an unincorporated business -- as a sole proprietorship, partnership or limited-liability company, as most small firms do -- he or she pays a state personal income tax with a top rate of 8.97 percent (one of the highest among the states), not to mention a city-imposed personal income tax with a top rate of 3.648 percent. That's a combined rate of 12.618 percent -- a big bite out of the bottom line. Investors also pay this same high tax rate on capital gains -- a clear disincentive for investment in new or expanding businesses."

Yet, we give Quinn credit for even starting the tax environment conversation-where the mayor was on this is anyone's guess, but will venture Bermuda. Still an even greater honesty is needed-the tax problem is that severe: "Unfortunately, there's more. The city piles on many of these important risk-takers an unincorporated business tax. That's another 4 percent income levy, raising the top rate on these businesses to 16.618 percent. But don't get the impression that incorporating allows business to escape crushing taxes. The state corporate tax, plus the business-tax surcharge that helps fund the MTA, combine for a corporate income-tax rate of 8.307 percent. The city adds an 8.85 percent tax, for a top combined rate of 16.857 percent."

Is your head hurting yet? A radical revamping is needed-and the city, along with the farblongjid Bloomberg needs to be weened from its job killing mindset: "New York once was a city of cutting-edge entrepreneurs, but it hasn't been for decades. It won't become one again until city government provides deep and broad tax relief. Eliminating the unincorporated business tax, the extra taxes on S corporations and capital-gains levies would be an excellent start. Cutting city personal and corporate income-tax rates at least in half would help, too."

But this would mean that the economic guru who's purchased a third term based on his risible expertise in this area, would have to become radicalized against the true culprit for NYC's dire straights-big government: "In the end, city politicians must choose between big government and constrained entrepreneurship or smaller government and an expansive environment for entrepreneurs and the businesses and jobs they create."

When Hell freezes over.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Willets Point Off Ramps

Crain's Insider is reporting (subs.) on the meeting between Willets Point United and NYSDOT-and raising the specter that the ramp approvals won't be a slam dunk: "Striped bass and a dogged traffic engineer helped kill Westway, a massive West Side highway project during the Koch administration. Could two highway ramps and the same engineer doom Mayor Bloomberg's vaunted Willets Point redevelopment?"

It could, unless the EDC consultants all of a sudden become contortionists-something that the agency is all too famous for: "Local property owners fighting it have been making that case for months—it's a key element of their Article 78 lawsuit challenging the project's environmental impact statement—and appear to have some momentum. Their traffic engineer, Westway nemesis Brian Ketcham, determined that the two proposed ramps would worsen traffic on the Van Wyck Expressway. The Bloomberg administration has argued that the ramps are necessary to prevent a traffic nightmare at the site."

Sunlight being the best disinfectant, WPU has been pushing for state senate hearings on the overall traffic in general that the project will generate, as well as whether the ramps mitigate or exacerbate the gridlock: "The original EIS showed the massive Willets Point project would generate heavy traffic, but a recent report on the proposed ramps showed a much sunnier picture. The ramp report is being redone after Ketcham used traffic data from the EIS to gauge the impact of the ramps."

WPU now moves on to meet with the Federal Highway Administration this week, since that agency must approve the ramps in the final disposition of the issue: "Ketcham is being paid by project opponents, but his traffic projection comes from common modeling software that the state DOT trusts. The opponents see DOT as a potential ally because the agency cannot afford to build all the new road capacity demanded of it. The ramps require state and federal approval, and it is possible that the project could not proceed without the nod. The opponents are meeting Thursday with the Federal Highway Administration and will ask for an independent review."

Clearly, the smooth sailing along with concocted traffic data is at an end: “At the very least, we have put this off by six months,” claims Richard Lipsky, the lobbyist for the property owners group, Willets Point United." If this is decided on the merits, well, the entire project may turn out to be a ramp to nowhere.

Bloombucking and Ducking

Wayne Barrett really digs in on the Bloomberg's election three card monte game-picking up on Adam Lisberg's sharp reporting: "​Even Mike Bloomberg's lawyers say he broke election law when he gave $1.2 million to the Independence Party right before the November election. The mayor's media guru, Howard Wolfson, and his elections lawyer Ken Gross told the Daily News that Bloomberg's two, $600,000 personal checks to the party were used for poll-watchers, drivers, cellphones and food for election day. In their eagerness to account for the missing money -- most of which went to a mysterious, unincorporated firm now under investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance -- the two unwittingly admitted to an apparent violation of city and state campaign finance laws."

Is this even criminal? Well, it just might be-and Bloomberg gets indicted by his own lawyer, who argued in August that the money that Bloomberg poneyed up to all of the party bosses was exempt from campaign finance filings: "Gross argued in a 14-page response to Thompson that Bloomberg's "campaign committee is only required to report as expenditures those contributions it made to other committees for the purpose of furthering his re-election campaign." That was a good argument then -- since Gross was contending that the committees that got Bloomberg's personal largess didn't spend the money to benefit his campaign. Not so good now, however, when Gross concedes that Bloomberg's donation to the Independence Party was used precisely for that purpose."

Which means that: "Laurence Laufer, the attorney who filed the complaint for Thompson, says that there is a third legal issue, beyond the CFB and the housekeeping issues. Laufer says that even if Bloomberg chose to make the contributions personally, he still had to report them as a candidate to the city and state Board of Elections. Laufer says there's "a reporting obligation on the mayor's part" under section 14104 of the state election law even if, by some quirk, he was not required to report the donations to the finance board."

And if he didn't? ""If the expenditures were to aid the campaign," said Laufer, Bloomberg "had to report them either one way or the other," as a committee expenditure or the personal expenditure of a candidate. The section cited by Laufer makes it a Class A misdemeanor for "any candidate" not to file a sworn statement "as to all moneys paid, given or expended to aid his own nomination or election," and specifically includes "contributions to political committees."

A "Class A misdemeanor!" Who said that the mayor lacked class? And while we're ridding ourselves of politicians who commit misdemeanors, let's not simply stop in Jackson Heights/Corona. But Mike, you got some"splaining" to do. Something he appears to be loath to do.

As Daily Politics points out, the mayor has become more laconic than usual-lockjaw has set in: "Assessment Generally speaking, Mayor Bloomberg is a man who has opinions and is not at all reluctant to share them. But the usually voluble mayor was uncharacteristically mum today when it came to questions about both the management and spending (by a campaign volunteer) of his own money."

Maybe he'll be more forthcoming in front of a Grand Jury. Oh, we forgot, Bloomberg is held to a hire standard. He has hired everyone, so there no one left to testify against him. But we jest. This is all emblematic of the corrupting presence of vast wealth injected into a political system and finance structure that is ill-equipped to deal with its excesses. Maybe Cy Vance can do it.

Truth Defying "Life or Death" Tax

Daily Politics is reporting that a health advocacy coalition is going up on the airways in support of a soda tax-a, "life or death matter," in their rather jaundiced view: "The Alliance for a Healthier New York, a coalition of labor unions, health care, religious and non-profit groups that support the so-called "fat tax" on sugary drinks proposed by Gov. David Paterson, has launched a statewide campaign urging the Legislature to pass the measure."

But all health issues aside, this is all about the money since the tax funds would be dedicated to the health industry infrastructure: "The campaign takes its name from the fact that Paterson has called for a penny-per-ounce excise tax on non-diet sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages and wants to use the resulting revenue both to fund anti-obesity programs and reduce the need for need cuts in state health care spending. (Which explains why SEIU/1199 and the GNYHA, among other health care interests that stand to lose from the cuts Paterson has proposed, are part of this coalition)."

As for the health side of things, let's just say that hyperbole is at play-as the following narrative from the ad highlights: "Randi Brook: I see overweight and obese kids everyday.

Dr. Lisa Altshuler: I know what their future holds:

Dr. Philip Ozuah: Diabetes, heart disease, cancer.

Altshuler: It's an epidemic...and it's preventable.

Narrator: Over 10 million New Yorkers are dangerously overweight. By adding pennies to the cost of sugary sodas and drinks, we can help reduce obesity and we can use the money to stop devastating healthcare cuts in Albany.

Ozuah: Helping New Yorkers lose weight is a matter of life and death.

Narrator: Tell Albany to pass the Soda Tax. Make New York healthier."

Of course, unable to provide the evidence of causation the proponents of the tax cite correlation of soda drinking with obesity-and we could with little effort find hundreds of other correlatives-fried food, candy bars, Big Macs, etc.-that don't in any way cause obesity. And the health of the city's economy doesn't concern the health folks at all.

In our view, no matter how you market this idea, it comes down to being just another job killing tax. To try to say anything else, is simply putting lipstick on a pig.

Flake's Trojan Wal-Mart Horse

Overlooked in the controversy surrounding the Aqueduct deal-and the role of Reverend Floyd Flake-is the coveted 200 acres outside of the Racino itself. As Crain's points out, however, the good reverend hasn't lost his deft touch, and knows that those are God's little 200 acres: "The shadow being cast over his reputation by his Aqueduct involvement makes Mr. Flake angry, and he finds it ironic. “I am at best the most minor party [in AEG],” he says, sitting in his well-appointed second-floor office at the Allen church. His stake in AEG amounts to 0.6%, worth a mere $625,000 (no money has yet changed hands—the deal is still pending), and he insists his role is strictly limited to consulting on community affairs and affordable housing. In fact, Mr. Flake, who says he doesn't gamble himself, isn't interested in Aqueduct's 4,500 slot machines but in its 200 acres of land. “It is one of the few last opportunities in my mind to build homes and provide jobs to my community,” says Mr. Flake. “That is what I have done all these years.”

One of the last great opportunities for this good old fashioned booty capitalist-a true heir to the legacy of Reverend Ike: "“He knows how to navigate the city and state government,” says Patrick Jenkins, a Democratic consultant. “It gives him a leg up over some other developers.” Today, the pastor oversees a congregation with an annual budget of $12 million, as well as the Greater Allen Development Corp., an umbrella for 15 nonprofit and for-profit entities that builds housing, manages commercial properties and operates other community services in the area."

Yes Flake, "The Great Navigator," and as we pointed out a number of years ago, ready, villain and able to do business with the Walmonster. And if the land in question can be made exempt to the city's ULURP process, well, you get the picture. We will have a replication of Wal-Mart on the West Side of Chicago where another booty capitalist is fronting for the giant retailer.

Is it any wonder that Flake has endorsed every Republican incumbent he can? Not when he's negotiating for his own little empire. Here' a classic example of how a man of the cloth has been diverted from his spiritual mission. Imagine, a minister who actually promotes gambling.

And then there's Flake's alter ego Ed Reed: "Harder to explain are his ties with Edwin Reed, a longtime employee of the Allen church and its development company who stands accused of being linked to New Direction. “Reed has been close to Flake since being his congressional chief of staff,” says Mr. Boehm. “Everything you do ends up being related to the person you're serving.” Mr. Flake argues that with an operation the size of Allen church, he didn't keep track of Mr. Reed." “I don't know what he does outside,” says Mr. Flake. “I am not a micromanager.”

Well Jiminy Cricket he's not, that's for sure. But Reed has been fronting for Flake since we can remember-why else did the Port Authority hire him as its "community consultant" when the Air Train project was wending its way forward-against the wishes of hundreds of aggrieved African-American homeowners?

So, aside from all of the questions about how the AEG bid was let, we add the issue of what the Flakes are gonna do with those two hundred acres-the real local prize that hasn't been given the same kind of scrutiny as the governor's ADD-style decision making. Is there a Wal-Mart in Southeast Queens' future?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bloomberg's Jerry McGuire Moment?

Adam Lisberg continues his incisive reporting on the fate of the Bloombucks that got funneled off to a shady GOP operative-and then apparently disappeared: "By now, we all know how much Mayor Bloomberg spent to win office: $108 million last year, $85 million in 2005, $73 million in 2001. However, we still don't know where it all went. Prosecutors are asking what happened to $750,000 paid last year to a shell company run by Queens operative John Haggerty, six days before he bought a $1.6 million house. Haggerty was supposed to hire Election Day poll watchers, but can't account for as much as $400,000 of it. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has subpoenaed him to find out more."

Here's a toast to the Manhattan DA: Good hunting, Cy-and don't stop with this pittance. Why not get a forensic accountant to examine all of the Bloomberg charitable giving in order to determine whether or not the mayor has used his vast wealth to suborn the city's democratic process. And, while you're at it Cy, why not convene an investigation if, a has been reported, Ron Lauder is named to chair the new Charter Revision Commission; an example of outright political bribery if we've ever seen one.

Bloomberg has been allowed to play by his own rules for far too long-with the press standing by at parade rest far too often as well; particularly the sycophant owner of the NY Daily News (do you think Mort's gonna editorialize on the Lisberg reporting anytime soon?). It's time, not for a Charter Commission, but for a Truth Commission.

Enforce the Indian Tax Coalition Grows

A growing coalition of diverse forces is gathering on the need for the governor to enforce the tax laws against Indian cigarette dealers-and a new group, Enforce the Law—Collect the Tax is -trying to bring everyone together.

As the groups points out in its mission statement: "New York today faces a catastrophic budget crisis. It is a crisis that may well lead to deep budget cuts affecting essential government services like education, healthcare and transportation. Some in Albany are even talking about higher taxes. But something is seriously wrong with this picture. New York stands virtually alone among all other states in its practice of not collecting any excise taxes on cigarettes sold through Native American reservations to non-tribal members. This non-enforcement policy has never made sense. Today – in the midst of a budget crisis in which teachers and police officers may lose jobs – this policy is simply absurd."

Of course, we agree, and everyone concerned with the state's fiscal mess should be joining with us on this collection crusade-as is the Business Council of Westchester, whose president Barbara Gordon penned the following for the Westchester Journal News: "Westchester residents awoke on a recent morning to news that Westchester County is facing a $60 million budget hole...But even higher state taxes are on their way...There's no question about it: New York state has become a taxing machine. We've taxed everything in sight; we're even going after soda pop now. So with all the budget pain and new tax proposals out there, one would think that the state would actually be collecting the revenue it is due. Well, one would be wrong."

The one sacrosanct area is the Indian cigarette exemption: "An estimated $1 billion in cigarette taxes goes uncollected every year in New York. Some estimate the unrealized revenue as high as $1.6 billion.The lost taxes are from cigarettes sold on Native American reservations in New York or online (even though that's illegal in New York) by Native American tribes.This is not a matter of sovereignty. New York has the power to collect tax on cigarettes that are sold to New Yorkers — whether those cigarettes come from another state, another country or even a reservation.The Supreme Court said so."

And if this money was collected, according to Gordon, there would be less pain all around: "Gov. Paterson could begin collecting these tax dollars tomorrow and a.) eliminate his proposed tax increases, b.) restore funding to our schools, or c.) eliminate the planned health-care cuts. What is he waiting for?"

Indeed, why the wait? And why, on top of the non-enforcement, would you increase the tax on a pack of smokes? As Gordon also wonders: "Gov. Paterson just proposed another $1 per-pack tax hike on cigarettes sold here. It will only exacerbate an already terrible problem. The higher the taxes, the higher the incentive to avoid the tax."

And the budget gap that Gordon writes about in Westchester is being replicated in counties all over the state. So, while this collection of an overdue Indian cigarette levy is no panacea, it will do every county and municipality-not to mention the state treasury-a heck of a lot of good.

We'll give Gordon the last word: "High taxes and spending are ruining New York state. But with the deficits we're facing now, it defies reason not to collect taxes already on the books, taxes that are legally owed. We can't afford to wait any longer, Gov. Paterson. We need you to step up and start collecting the cigarette taxes now."

Backing Up on the Willets Point Ramps

So, we met with the NYSDOT on Friday-and some of the good folks from URS and EDC joined us as well-the topic of the meeting was to discuss the alleged flaws in the AMR report (ramp traffic evaluation) that was submitted by URS to DOT on behalf if the city's economic development agency. The allegations were contained in about 70 pages of documentation provided by Willets Point United traffic consultant Brian Ketcham, who also prepared and gave a power point presentation on his findings.

Now there wasn't really a whole lot of pushback from the URS folks but Gill Mosseri, the architect of the AMR, did have some areas of expressed disagreements with the Ketcham presentation-but mostly on the margins since EDC and URS determined that the Ketcham analysis needed a more deliberate analysis, and not any immediate knee jerk reaction. So the meeting lacked any real contentiousness.

What NYSDOT seemed to want from the gathering was the opening of a dialogue-and it appeared that the agency was truly disturbed by some of Ketcham's evaluations and is looking to get this ramp approval process right. And a follow up meeting of the technical folks on both sides is being planned-a further indication that Ketcham's extensive critique of the original AMR is not being dismissed out of hand.

But the one truly revealing aspect of the meeting-more of a shock to us-was the information that the original AMR report was being re-drafted; and the process apparently may have begun soon after the NYSDOT received Ketcham's preliminary critique in a three page letter sent on January 4th. Our question about when the revamping (pun intended) of the AMR was begun-i.e., before or after the receipt of the Ketcham letter-was left unanswered.

Clearly, it is our view, the the Ketcham involvement in this approval process has led to a more deliberative, and less speedy review procedure. Whether-sans Ketcham-this review would have been all but completed by now, and an approval shortly coming soon thereafter, we may never know. But there's little doubt that from this point on, NYSDOT is going to proceed in this matter in a very scrupulous manner-and that's a tribute to Ketcham's professionalism.

But the issue of the stark discrepancy between the original FGEIS and the first AMR, cannot be easily wished away-and the ability of Mosseri to continue to act like the Master of the House ("...rooking the guests, and cooking the books.") should be in the past. And we still have the Federal Highway Administration yet to weigh in on all of this, with a preliminary meeting scheduled for next week.

But, if the redrafted AMR differs starkly from its original iteration, than the rancid nature of the entire EDC/URS relationship needs to be emphasized-and NYSDOT and the FHWA must be pressed to get at least a third opinion. In that case, the URS data presentation must be seen as thoroughly suspect.

Therefore, given what has gone on up until this point-and the now acknowledged deficiencies of the first AMR-pressure will be building to initiate an independent traffic and environmental review under the aegis of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). The data that Ketcham has put forward-particularly in regards to how the ramps will deteriorate, and not alleviate, the highway traffic flow-needs to be given the kind of scrutiny that was lacking in the original URS submission.

But it appears to us, that all of the technical reviews done for this project have been substandard-and consciously designed to minimize the extremely severe traffic impacts on both the arterials surrounding the proposed development, and the local roads that will be inundated by the 80,000 vehicle trips per day generated by 1.9 million new square feet of the Willets Point project.

So, while the NYSDOT tries to resolve the discrepancies, and fairly determine whether these ramps will do more harm than good, it is incumbent on federal, state and local elected leaders to weigh in here to insure that-as the Appellate Court found in the Columbia expansion case-the fix isn't in; and that a fair and thorough evaluation of the real impacts of the Willets Point development is done on behalf of the people of NYC.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ramping Up Willets Point Opposition

Representatives of Willets Point United-joined by traffic expert Brian Ketcham-will be meeting with the regional staff of NYSDOT today to discuss just why the group believes that the agency shouldn't approve the city's (actually EDC's) application to build ramps off of the Van Wyck Expressway. This should be quite an interesting get together.

Initially, NYSDOT had cancelled the originally scheduled meeting when it found out that representatives of state elected officials planned to attend in order to learn more about why WPU felt that the ramps were not feasible. The implication for the cancellation was that the meeting was becoming, "too political."

This is a situation that genuinely puzzled us. In close to thirty years of lobbying city and state agencies, we have never seen such skittishness about who's coming to a meeting-and the need to micromanage who should or shouldn't be there. Subsequent to the original cancellation, NYSDOT has tried to further restrict attendance-claiming that we shouldn't be there because the meeting is purely, "technical." Yet EDC, the lead political agency for the development, will be represented.

So what's motivating this need to restrict? In our view, it appears that EDC is playing an overbearing role-and if what we suspect is true, than the above board nature of the approval process is thrown into doubt. Now we know that NYSDOT doesn't have the in-house capacity to evaluate the work of URS, EDC's traffic consultants. And in the absence of that capacity, the agency is normally inclined to (relatively) uncritically accept the proffered work.

WPU has thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into the normal review process by submitting-with today's power point presentation by forty year veteran Ketcham-a detailed rebuttal to the URS assertions. And the flawed nature of the submission will be revealed in an extremely harsh light. Put simply, the traffic ramp report (AMR) so thoroughly contradicts the original traffic study done for the ULURP EIS, that the good intentions of EDC must be called into question.

As Ketcham will argue, the ramps cannot be approved because:

(1)There are simply too many discrepancies between the AMR and the FGEIS for the AMR to be reliable assessment of ramps;

(2)The FGEIS reports severe traffic impacts even with ramp; the AMR reports no problems;

(3)Field observations confirms the FGEIS;

(4)AMR greatly under reports future traffic growth;

(5) AMR does not account for all Willets Point trips;

(6)AMR shows that ramps make no difference;

(7)Modeling demonstrates the Van Wyck Ramps are counter-productive for the highway system, violating federal guidelines.

(8) In the face of all of this what other choice is there? NYSDOT must disapprove the AMR!

A damning rebuttal that underscores why the state traffic agency is nervous-perhaps feeling caught between a Bloomberg rock and a Ketcham hard place. But it gets worse, in our view.

What makes this worse, is that the proposal before the NYSDOT is a chimera-a creature that lacks genuine form or substance. The fact remains that there is no Willets Point plan, and the NYSDOT is being asked to approve ramps for a project that is simply not of any real substance-and could, from a traffic standpoint be much worse if, let's say, the Islanders are re-located to the area.

One thing we know for sure. The glossy depiction of Willets Point's future is a figment of EDC's imagination-and if there eventually is development there. it will bear little resemblance to the plans that made up the original ULURP application. Even now, the hotel and convention center-the linchpin for much of the political support-is rumored to be off of the table; and local pols are peeved as hell.

So NYDOT is being asked to buy a pig in a poke; and we don't believe that the agency can approve ramps for a project whose traffic projections might turn out to be starkly different than they are today-even assuming the accuracy of URS's data!

But, with that accuracy being called into question by a seasoned professional, NYSDOT-and the federal highway officials as well-need to go back to the drawing board and obtain independent data before it can render a proper judgment on the feasibility-and propriety-of building ramps off of the Van Wyck. Any attempt to rubber stamp the EDC application can be seen as nothing but an arbitrary and capricious act.

Land Use and Community Benefits

As we have commented, Comptroller John Liu is looking to devise ways to make the process of crafting community benefits agreements more rational-and community friendly as well. In yesterday's NY Daily News he outlined his case: "One of the main reasons why many CBAs in New York City have been disappointing - and have been singled out nationally as examples of what not to do - is that they forgot one important factor: the community. It would, however, be a mistake to consider CBAs a lost cause. In fact, CBA success stories are sweeping across the country."

In making his case, Liu points to a litany of failed CBAs-many of which we were right in the middle of. Our particular favorite? The Bronx Terminal Market: "At Bronx Terminal Market, community benefits depended on developer actions that were largely voluntary and, to date, still have not happened." Which raises an important corollary-something that the Comptroller gets as well.

CBAs are complementary and can enhance the development process if done correctly: "Moreover, CBAs should never become a substitute for responsible government policy on development issues. CBAs should complement policy." If, as in the case of the BTM, the entire process was tainted, no community benefits agreement will be able to rescue the effort from its failed underpinnings. And, in the case of that particular Bronx malling, the CBA process managed to make a bad development worse-so it's not surprising that the terms of the CBA have not been lived up to.

Which gets us to a central conundrum: Who represents the community and therefore gets to negotiate on its behalf? Liu posits the following: "Community groups, elected officials and other parties negotiating with developers must be truly representative of the community, and the benefits from the project to the community should be appropriate to its needs and the impact of the development upon it."

Ah, yes-but how do we decide who is, "truly representative?" It is difficult to see what kind of criteria should be used-and the Liu task force certainly has its work cut out for it-to determine the quality of representativeness. Perhaps, just as Supreme Court Justice Stewart famously remarked about pornography: "I'll know it when I see it"

Certainly it was in place during last year's Kingsbridge Armory battle-as KARA comprised a wide array of community stakeholders. But this gets us to the other sticking point, one that we mentioned in an earlier post-how to coordinate a CBA negotiating process with ULURP: "On a procedural level, negotiating a CBA is complicated by the fact that any discussions need to take place alongside of the mandated ULURP process-a procedure with a clear cut time frame that can't be modified once it commences. So, creating clear cut parameters may have to be done simultaneously with amending the ULURP process itself-something we have recommended but that is subject to mayoral approval."

If coordination is lacking, the negotiation of a benefits agreement becomes slipshod and haphazard-and the Armory debacle is a case in point since the haughty developer, a long time mayoral favorite, was content to play rope-a-dope as the ULURP clock ticked away. In the end, this haughtiness, and the ad hoc nature of the CBA process as well, combined to defeat the entire development.

So, much work needs to be done on this important issue-and the Liu task force is a big step in the right direction. Ultimately, however, the mayor and the city council will need to be brought in, since devising an official status for CBAs needs to be done legislatively and in tandem with reform of ULURP; and with the consent of the mayor as well, the man who has veto over any changes in the city's land use law.

But the Liu task force should begin to bring the CBA issue into the spotlight-and we'll give the comptroller the last word: "This task force will be a partnership with representatives of the community, business and labor who will help shed light through the smoke-filled rooms and work to ensure that CBAs contain clear standards so New York City can once again become a model for effective and equitable economic development."

Overcoming Economic Stupidity

According to the Politicker, Council Speaker Chris Quinn used her "State of the City" address to really hone in on the economy: "Christine Quinn delivered her State of the City speech in City Hall today, and was entirely about boosting the economy and creating jobs.How many? She didn't name a specific target goal (probably smart, politically speaking)."

How is she planning to do this-particularly because the council's mandate is really circumscribed by the powers of the mayor? It's a bit unclear, but we did like her emphasis on regulatory reform: "reduce 'excessive and burdensome regulation.' On this point, Quinn said the city has to "change the way we think about the inspection process" and stop "looking for an excuse to write them a ticket."

That's good as far as it goes, but we've seen that the mayor is projecting huge revenue increases from enhanced enforcement-and has added on the folks to do the enforcement and collection. So is Quinn going to challenge the mayor here, and make a clear delineation between the two? That would be salutary for all of the small businesses that are being targeted for battery; but it would mean a rather stark departure from how she and Bloomberg have so adroitly worked in tandem over the past four years-so we remain somewhat skeptical that real change will be effected.

And then there are taxes: "Quinn said she wanted to create a more supportive tax structure, and revamp the process by which applicants sign up and prepare for GED tests." Now the juxtaposition of taxes with GEDs is likely to be the work of Azi rather than Quinn, but we're intrigued by the speaker's view of what a, "supportive tax structure," would look like.

According to Daily Politics, Quinn sees taxes as follows: "Her four-point plan includes: Cultivating an "economy of innovation", bolstering small businesses, creating a "tax environment" that enables rapid expansion and job creation and ensuring New Yorkers have the skills employers are seeking."

Does this mean that Quinn will be challenging the high tax, big government policies of the mayor-and calling for streamlining of the municipal work force as a concomitant of a huge tax cut for city businesses? In our view, the circumlocution, "tax environment," can be viewed as a clever speech writing way to equivocate while only appearing to be devising a pro-business tax policy. Does Quinn have the ability and insight to tack in a more pro-growth direction that is in tension with the mayor's clearly understood proclivities?

Perhaps she does. As Crain's reports: "On taxes, Ms. Quinn said the increases over the past two years are temporary, and that they will be scaled back once the downturn ends. She said she'll work to win a corporate tax exemption for 19,000 mom-and-pop retailers, including newsstands, hardware stores, flower shops and delis, saving them $3,400 each per year."

But, while Quinn reprises the Carville line that, "It's the economy, stupid," she would be naive to think that the folks-and particularly the businesses themselves-aren't aware of just how awful a place NYC is to be doing business of any kind. If she charts a contrapuntal course to that of the mayor-in the direction of addressing this lamentable state of affairs, we will be glad to re-evaluate some of our less than kind observations about her heretofore obsequiousness to Mike Bloomberg. NYC sure could use this kind of creative tension in its political class.