Author Archives: larrylittlefield

About larrylittlefield

A blogger on state and local government and related issues in Brooklyn NY.

The Last Post from a Party of One

It has been a little more than 16 years since I loaded up my first post on Room Eight, a group blog, after being asked to do so by Ben Smith, then of the New York Observer, later of the Daily NewsPoliticoBuzzfeed, the New York Times, and now something else.  At the time Tom Suozzi was running for Governor, but every special interest in the state had gotten together and decided to make Eliot Spitzer Governor, and they demanded that Suozzi drop out so an actual election could be avoided.  But that would have meant that those who agreed with Suozzi would not have had a chance to express themselves by voting.  Suozzi did the right thing, stayed in, and lost.  Spitzer resigned in a prostitution scandal sometime later.

Suozzi has won and lost a variety of elections for a variety of offices in the years since, until once again running for Governor this year.  And once again all the special interests got together and decided whom to appoint as Governor and as state legislators, and once again demanded that Suozzi drop out to avoid an election, even monkeying with the dates to ensure as few people voted in the primary as possible.  Once again Suozzi defied them, stayed, in and lost.  Once again this was the right thing to do.  You take your shot, speak your piece, and when you lose, you lose.

That could the theme for this blog too.  Because after 16 years of rowing into a social tsunami, and shouting into a social hurricane, I find I know longer have the heart and energy to keep grinding out what are, in effect, research reports in my spare time, while also working full time doing something very similar.  This will be my last post for the foreseeable future, and quite possibly ever.  It explains why I have done this, and why I will now stop.

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Inflation and Asset Prices:  I’m Tired of the Whining

When it comes to state and local government in New York, the primary subject of this blog, it is now reasonable to be unreasonable.  Because after decades of being reasonable and fair minded, willing to pay more in taxes and accept less in services while being supportive of the “heroes,” we find that we have been robbed and robbed and robbed.  Things have gone so far that demanding more, and demanding that we pay less, including a demand that the State of New York, City of New York, and related agencies declare bankruptcy — and shirk their obligations to those who have shirked their obligations to us — is now a fair-minded thing to so.  And the reverse – expecting that we’ll be forced to pay and pay and pay even more, while getting less and less and less in exchange, and be required to provide what used to be public services for ourselves, bike riding instead of transit, homeschooling co-ops instead of schools, neighborhood watches instead of police – is now the sensible thing for those who choose to live here.

On the other hand, with regard to the current whining about inflation, in general and with regard to specific goods and services, and decreasing asset prices, I have the opposite attitude.  What seems to be happening is that those who benefitted from their own past inflation, for decades, at the expense of those (people, groups of people, generations, industries) left poorer and facing personal deflation, now find that the serfs, and the lowest-wage workers in particular, have briefly gotten a little more at their expense.  And demand that something be done – by force through the government, rather than through voluntary action by themselves in the marketplace — to restore the natural order of things.

Question:   did the super-rich, today’s seniors – the richest in history, those working in industries that have been raising prices far faster than the average for decades, existing homeowners that bought their houses decades ago at far lower prices, and the political/union class in places such as New York, ever, during the past four decades, really concern themselves with those who have been facing personal deflation to offset their own personal inflation?  Those who were being left further behind so those cutting the deals could get further ahead?  The average later-born worker, and the lowest wage workers in particular, have been falling behind overall inflation, compared with those at the top and the generations that preceded them, for decades.  Yet only now, when the self-dealing winners of the past four decades are paying more, that is a national crisis that requires drastic measures?   And if an economic era is now ending, is that really a bad thing?  Bad for whom?

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For Guns, My Neighborhood is a “Sensitive Area”

The Supreme Court, while also having ruled that abortion is up to the states, nonetheless ruled that regulations for carrying firearms are not up the states.  Someone other than a complete cynic might had expected a little more consistency one way or the other, though one might say the new inconsistency is a mirror image of the old one.   

The court seems not to care about the difference between a firearm (or bomb or chemical, biological or nuclear weapon) on one hand, and a knife, sword, club or baseball bat on the other.  If someone uses a knife, sword, club or baseball bat to defend themselves – or just swings them around to feel macho and intimidating – they are not likely to kill or injure someone they did not intend.  Whereas volley of bullets from a firearm – shot at someone in self-defense, just popped off for the fun of it, or set off by accident — can travel a long distance and strike unintended targets.  The likelihood of firearms killing or injuring people those carrying it did not intend, but didn’t really care to avoid, depends on the density of people at a given time and location.

Immediately there has been a reaction that the upper middle class suburbs must be protected.  Those who live in private, gated communities, ride in private SUVs to private parking lots at private shopping centers or office parks, and work out at private health and recreation facilities, should be able to do so without fear that some depressed, angry hot head who is locked and loaded (and perhaps also loaded), might get into a dispute and start shooting.

Hochul…said she also wants to “create a system where the default position is for a private business that a concealed carry is not allowed unless they affirmatively offer the right to someone to come in with a concealed carry.”

Or be harassed in other ways.  The private property owners, in suburban and Sunbelt America, have a right to set rules.  The public in urban America does not.

I have a different suggestion.

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Comparative Public Education Finances in FY 2000 and FY 2020:  A Brief Review

As everyone who has gotten their information from New York’s local media over the past 20 years is aware, the New York City schools and its unionized teachers owe the children of New York City nothing, because the schools are underfunded and understaffed, and teachers unsupported by the rest of us, leading to large class sizes and teachers leaving for better jobs.  There is a constant stream of press releases to this effect, and no elected official seeking to maintain perpetual incumbency dares to contradict it.   And those seeking to advocate for more school funding or better conditions for teachers elsewhere would prefer that the New York City public schools not be discussed at all.

So, it has been left to this unpaid avocational blogger to tabulate and publish the readily available data released by the Census Bureau each year on how much New York City schools actually spend, compared with other places and with the past.  Since others are paid to not make this information available.

The past two years, years of pandemic, have been unusual and unrepresentative, and perhaps not relevant to any discussion of choices that have been made.  Therefore, I’m not going to go into the kind of detailed multi-post comparisons I did last year based on FY 2019 data, and two years before that based on FY 2017 data.  But perhaps a simple FY 2020 to FY 2000 comparison will be easier to digest.  A discussion of seven nine charts (sorry, can’t help myself), a correlation analysis, and spreadsheets with data for every school district in New York and New Jersey for FY 2020 and for FY 2000 (adjusted for inflation into $2020) follow.

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The Human Dilemma

Human beings are social animals.  We didn’t come to dominate the planet by overcoming lions, tigers and bears on our own as individuals.  We did it by working together, helping each other, learning from each other, sharing in groups large and small.  We need each other, and our institutions from the smallest (the family) to the largest (the nation) to those in between (businesses, communities, friends, state and local governments).

But contributing to those groups carries risks.  Risks of being exploited, caring without being cared out, being misunderstood, cheated, neglected, deceived.  Because others might exploit those personal and social and business and government relationships to their own ends, taking as much out, and putting as little in, as possible.  Since that is also part of human nature – to see everything through the prism of self-interest.

To live and work together, human beings require trust.  But trust can be exploited, abused, betrayed.  That’s the human dilemma.  It has been for thousands of years.  Societies where people can trust each other, and their leaders, thrive.  People who betray that trust can come out ahead — until everyone is doing it.  And then the very social foundation that makes that betrayal possible crumbles to dust, taking all with it.  And here we are.

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The DeBlasio and Cuomo Administrations:  Leadership

Governments enact rules to force people to do and not do things, or force them to pay taxes and use the money to do things for them.  You have the political power, the monopoly of legitimate violence, and the economic power, using incentives to made it harder to do one thing and easier to do another.  That’s public policy.  But what about all the choices people make in their own lives, with regard to how to live, how to live with each other, and how to act in society?  This can be influenced through leadership.

In a democratic society a politician is not the leader, the way they are in a totalitarian society. But a politician could be aleader, one of many.   At one time, in addition to elected officials, Americans looked to poets, preachers and priests, philoseophers and artists for direction.  At one time even architects and city planners aspired to leadership, creating buildings and communities that facilitated a certain lifestyle and society.  And then there were parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, back when more people spent their lives nestled in a large web of family relationships. Not anymore.  

But that doesn’t mean that people, most of whom don’t really figure things out for themselves, aren’t being led and influenced.  Celebrities and paid influencers have taken the place of the prior sources of leadership.  Who is providing meaning and direction in people’s lives?  Who is deciding what it means to live a good life, or to be a good community?  The advertising industry, which means that a good life ends up costing more and more and more for people who have (in inflation-adjusted dollars) been paid less and less, generation by generation.  Did Governor Cuomo and Mayor DeBlasio try provide an alternative?  Not really.

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A Review of the DeBlasio Administration:  Spot Zoning, Unjustifiable Restrictions, and the Soft Corruption of New York’s Land Use Regulations, and Other Regulations

What would I have spent my career doing if I had stayed at the New York City Department of City Planning, instead of leaving 21 years ago?  Nothing good, based on what I know, and it’s a good thing I got out when I did.  New York City is gradually becoming a giant co-op board, with different rules based on who you are, and who you pay.  There are plenty of obsolete and unjustifyable restrictions and exclusions on the books, many dating from the early 1960s when city planners decided the city would have to become a second-rate suburb to survive.  And as I increasingly discover, any rules at all are optional for those on the political inside.

In fairness, New York City has never been a place of simple, fair rules strongly enforced against everyone.  The trend of pretending to be tolerant and open because you only oppose the businesses and buildings the lesser people might patronize, not the people themselves, not only pre-dates the DeBlasio Administration, it goes back hundreds of years.  In the 1850s, according to the book Gotham, snobs wanted to prohibit the sale of alcohol on Sunday, the only day off for working class Irish and German immigrants to gather in their pubs and beer gardens for a beer.  “Reform” mayor Fernando Wood gave them the rules they wanted, then used selective enforcement as a source of graft.  Astute reformers noted that Wood’s anti-vice crusades were highly selective.  His men rounded up streetwalkers but left brothels alone, raided the grubbier gambling dens but not the fashionable establishments, and bypassed Sunday saloonkeepers who voted the right way.

Still, the trend toward regulation by special deals for the special people got worse under special interest-backed Mayor Bill DeBlasio, and based on who is contributing money to whom, and what even 21st century “progressives” are like, the trend toward different rules for different people is likely to continue to get worse.

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DeBlasio and Cuomo Administration Management: A Review

Imagine it’s 10:30 am on a typical weekday during the school year.  At that time New York City is paying 211,843 members of the NYC teachers’ retirement system (or was a couple of years ago).  What are they doing?  If you made a pie chart, what would it look like?  How many are retired? (We know that, it was 88,507, or 41.8% of the total).  How many are out sick?  How many are in preparation periods?  How many are on break?  How many are in out of classroom assignments or administrative posts?  How many are on release time?  How many are on sabbatical?  How many are the second pedagogical employee in a classroom?  How many are doing not much useful because they are waiting for something from someone else, because of some disorganization that wasted their time?  And finally, how many are actually doing something useful with regard to the education and child care of children?

What if, instead of the pie chart being based on the number of people, it were based on the total cost of the NYCTRS members in each category – their cash pay or pension, their health benefits, their other benefits?  Now imagine the same charts being produced for all the other city and state agencies – police, sanitation, fire, transit, corrections, judiciary, parks, social services, hospitals, etc.  

Good management seeks to ensure that workers have the qualifications, motivation, training, tools, organization and scheduling to do useful work almost all the time they are being paid, and to limit the amount going to those not doing such work, to the extent possible.  So that the workdays fly by, and the maximum (or at least a fair) amount in services is produced for a given about of cost.  By that standard, how good was the management in the Cuomo and DeBlasio Administrations?  How fair is the deal the employees and contractors of the City and State of New York provide to other New Yorkers, compared with what public employees, retirees, contractors and their retirees expect to be provided with by private sector workers in exchange?  What would happen if an organization such as Consumers Union (Consumer Reports) were to examine the quality and value of public services provided by state and local governments the same way it looks at the goods and services provided by private corporations?  That is the topic of this post.

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DeBlasio and Cuomo Administration Fiscal Policies: A Review

Have you seen all those ads from candidates for Governor?  I can’t seem to avoid them.  You turn the channel and you run into another one.  I’m here to tell you that if you are just a regular person living their life, what is said on the commercials doesn’t matter.  What matters is:

  1. Who paid for them?
  2. What, during the real campaign that takes place in secret, were they promised in exchange?
  3. How and when will you be made even worse off to pay for this?

I’m not in a position to answer those questions about the future.  The deals are secret, and stay under Omerta for eternity.  What we can do is see who the DeBlasio and Cuomo Administrations, with help from the state legislature and NYC council (always eager to cash in the future of the serfs) did in the past. At least to the extent that Comptrollers Stringer and DiNapoli didn’t completely fudge the data they reported to the Census Bureau, also in exchange for consideration, this post will attempt to find out.

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The DeBlasio and Cuomo Administrations: A Review

A public chief executive has three jobs: policy, management, and leadership. With leadership being using one’s influence as a public figure, in competition with celebrities and marketing influencers, to change what people voluntarily do on their own, rather than what the government forces them to do or does for them.  For state and local government, the key policy is the budget — who is made to pay how much, and what it is spent on, compared with the past and compared with other places.  Management determines how much in services and benefits people actually get for that spending.

Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo spent much of their tenures feuding.  They would have you believe it was over policy and ideological differences.  I believe their primary ideology is careerism, the advancement of their own careers to higher office, and this made them rivals — and the rest of us and our futures pawns.  Perhaps that’s why both “President” DeBlasio and “President” Cuomo left office widely despised.  

But what did they actually do?  Even as we just had an election for Mayor, and are currently having an election for Governor, the media doesn’t seem to be talking about it, other than issues of the moment such as bail reform.

Most people can’t do it, but one ought to separate what the pols do from the broader situation. DeBlasio and Cuomo didn’t cause the opioid epidemic, the surge in homelessness, or the COVID-19 pandemic, or in Cuomo’s case, the long-term economic decline of Upstate New York.  But they didn’t cause the economic boom and soaring federal debt that allowed them to pander to every special interest group without completely screwing anyone else except transit riders and the later-born (until the future) either.  With regard to the budget, I’ve created some charts that make a fair and perhaps telling comparison.  This post will briefly describe what I plan to do, with additional posts making the comparisons to follow.

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