Category Archives: new york elections

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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Private Employment By State and Metro Area:  NYC Is Still in the Cellar, and It May Be About to Rain

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released re-benchmarked Current Employment Survey data last week, and the data shows that New York City is still trailing the rest of the country in recovering jobs lost during the COVID-19 shutdowns.  Only Hawaii is hurting as much, not surprising given that state’s dependence on the tourism industry.  The annual rebenchmarking process corrects the past employment data that was reported each month, based on the actual unemployment tax records of businesses.  Large-scale revisions are released each March.  Last year I found that New York City had lost more private jobs during 2020, the year of the COVID-19 shutdowns, than any other metro of significant size and (for those states without them) any state other than Hawaii.

And this year I find that NYC lags in recovering those lost jobs, with only Hawaii faring worse.  But NYC still has more private sector jobs than it had in any year prior to 2015, and there is a new positive trend in the Downstate Suburbs.

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Sold Out Futures:  A State-By-State Comparison of State and Local Government Debts, Past Infrastructure Investment, and Unfunded Pension Liabilities Through FY 2019

In two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, with society under stress, we have seen increasingly strident political fights over whose cultural attitudes and preferences should be imposed on others, who should get to contribute less to the community, and who should get to take out more.  In the shadows, however, is a bipartisan consensus as to who should be made worse off and be sacrificed the rest of their lives to pay for it all.  Ordinary people in later born generations, those who will be living in the United States in the future.   The pandemic has given politicians of all alleged views, and the interest groups that back them, an excuse to do, to an even greater extent, what they have done for 40 years.  Cash in the common future to address the perpetual “emergency” of the present.

So it was in Washington in 2020 when The Donald and the Republicans, having already sent the federal debt soaring to cut taxes for the rich and then ran a federal deficit equal to one-quarter of the U.S. economy.

And so it is in Washington today, where Biden in the Democrats claim their plans will be “paid for” – meaning the burden shifted to the future would only be as great as it was under Trump and the Republicans.

It is in this context that for the fifth time, I have reprised an analysis of state and local government finance data from the U.S. Census Bureau, for all states and for New York City and the Rest of New York State separately, with data over 49 years, to determine the extent to which each state’s future had been sold out due to state and local government debts, inadequate past infrastructure investment, and underfunded and retroactively enriched public employee pensions.   You’d think that the extent of disadvantage for the later-born, and who benefitted from creating it, would be the number one issue in every state election, and the number one topic of debate in the media.  Instead, it remains under Omerta, especially here in New York.  Shouted down under the comforting culture war issues that Generation Greed prefers.  So, although standing up for the later born and common future may amount to nothing more than standing on the beach shouting into a hurricane as a social tsunami heads for shore, over the past month I have updated the “Sold Out Future” analysis with data through FY 2019.  This post, a national summary and explanation of where the data comes from and how it was used, and the next three, will show what I found.

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Comparative Public School Spending from FY 1997 to FY 2019: In New York The More They Get, the More They Feel Entitled To, and The Less They Provide in Return

Let’s start this post the way the prior one ended, with the quote from the ACLU, referring to the level of public school funding in New York in FY 2019.

https://www.nyclu.org/en/news/ny-cheating-its-schools-out-billions-dollars

Every year, the government of New York shirks its legal responsibility to adequately fund our public schools.

In 2006, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled New York was violating students’ constitutional right to a “sound and basic education” by not putting enough money into its schools. The court ordered that schools were entitled to $5.5 billion more in unrestricted state funding, known as Foundation Aid….

But year after year, state lawmakers substituted politics for the Foundation Aid Formula, shortchanging schools and hurting students who need the money most.

That is, simply put, not true.  In the 1990s New York City school spending was low, in part because a state school aid formula discriminated against the city’s children.  Judge Leland DeGrasse ordered the city’s school aid to be increased by $1.9 billion, based on the low funding levels of the time.

https://trellis.law/judge/leland.g.degrasse

As a trial judge, he ruled against New York’s system for financing public schools in Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State. Ultimately, the decision, which sought to overhaul the state aid-to-education formulas, was appealed to the New York Court of Appeals, which resulted in an additional $1.9 billion in state aid awarded to New York City schools.

I know this history because I provided data to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the same kind of data that will be discussed below.  Much to my disappointment, however, CFE turned out not to be interested in either fiscal equity or better schools – just a richer deal for those working in the public school system.  So despite another $1.9 billion (and another $1.9 billion and another $1.9 billion and another $1.9 billion) they kept suing. In exchange for political support for his election for Governor, Eliot Spitzer then settled the suit for even more money.  No judge ever ordered it, or found that was what was required. It was a political deal, with a massive increase in pension benefits for teachers as part of the same deal, not better education.

That deal, which multiplied by a bunch of prior retroactive pension increase deals (now starting up yet again), was for me a kind of last straw. So what was the level of school spending in NYC, by category and compared with other places and the past, in FY 2019 when the ACLU claimed that the people of New York were cheating those who worked in education out of $billions?  Read on and find out.

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DeBlasio’s Last New York City Budget: He Predicts Even More Inequality and Gentrification, or Else NYC is Toast, Because Those Cashing in And Moving Out Will Take More Off the Top No Matter What

Mayor Bill DeBlasio released his last budget recently, and it assumes that pre-pandemic trends will continue.  The rich will continue to get richer and the stock market bubble will continue to inflate, thanks to the federal government doing whatever it takes, regardless of the long-term cost, to prevent asset prices from going down.  Despite higher and higher taxes, the rich will stay in New York City and just keep paying.  So will hundreds of thousands of young adults, who will continue to live in less and less space for higher and higher rents and accept higher taxes, fees and fares and diminished public services, including crowding and unreliable service on the subways no elected official is in charge of.  More and more economic activity and educated workers will be concentrated in New York City compared with the suburbs, and in metro New York compared with the rest of the country.

All this will offset the extent to which DeBlasio’s (and all the other NY politicians) public union and contractor supporters will continue to get richer and richer, compared with other workers.   Other workers whose lower pay will keep the cost of living down for public workers and retirees, as the overall inflation rate remains below the long-term trend.  Based on these assumptions, the total city budget will grow more slowly than the total personal income of NYC residents over the long term.  Even if the average New Yorker continues to become worse off, because there will be more and more working adults.

But if that is what has happened, and will continue to happen, then why have NY’s state and local taxes been increased, over and over, and risen as a percent of personal income?  Instead of falling.  Why are debts continually increasing, and with interest payments rising as a share of city residents’ personal income despite rock bottom interest rates (also assumed to be permanent)?   Instead of debts being paid down.  Why does the Mayor plan to hand early retirement deals to city workers age 55 and over yet again, to “prevent layoffs,” after having already agreed to no-layoff guarantees? And why, in this Mayoral campaign, is no one asking questions about any of this – in the place with the highest state and local tax burden in the country, where the media is full of claims that we deserve even less in return because we aren’t paying enough – notably by the police and teachers?

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Homeless Hypocrisy Always Has A Home in New York – and Elsewhere

Governor Andrew Cuomo just announced the NYC subway would return to 24/7 service, following a shutdown that was supposedly about cleaning to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but coincidently followed an act of arson, allegedly by a homeless person who has been charged with murder, that left a subway train car destroyed and a train operator dead.

https://www.thecity.nyc/2020/3/27/21210390/motorman-s-death-in-subway-fire-adds-to-transit-worker-fears

Multiple sources told The City that authorities discovered a charred shopping cart with a possible accelerant inside the second car of a northbound No. 2 train that filled with smoke and flames as it pulled into the Central Park North-110th Street station at 3:14 a.m — around the same time as three other fires in and around the subway system.

More recently, another train operator has been suspended for photographing homeless people in the subway, and putting out the photos on Twitter.

https://www.thecity.nyc/2020/11/1/21544690/nyc-subway-motorman-mta-first-amendment-homeless

Recently there has been an article calling for the very limited number of public restrooms in the subway to be re-opened.

https://www.thecity.nyc/life/2021/5/2/22411841/nyc-subway-bathrooms-closed-pandemic-reopening

The article is exclusively about having the subway be the place that homeless people use the bathroom. Not about having subway restrooms for use by anyone else.  And not about having restroom facilities available anywhere else for homeless people to use the bathroom.

If not for past debts and pension increases, along with the need for more and more city workers to do the same (or less) work during the DeBlasio Administration (cops, teachers), the city might have the $ required to rent storefronts with restrooms and other services specifically for the homeless throughout the city.  Then it would just be a matter of deciding in whose neighborhood to site them.  The City apparently believes the subway is that neighborhood. The subway and jail — that’s the de facto homeless policy, except for now not jail.  Elsewhere the policy is exclude and ship away to somewhere else.

But then trying, and failing, to figure out what to do with troubled and troubling people like this has a very, very long history in New York – and elsewhere.  One filled with failure and folly.  Yet you have people today saying the same things, proposing the same things, that were tried and failed years ago.  If you are under 50, don’t know this history, and are prepared to face some tough realities, read on and follow the links below.

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Bureau of Economic Analysis Local Area Personal Income Data for 2019: So This is What Was Meant by the “Fairest City in America!”

Two kinds of people have been getting richer.  The top executives who sit on each other’s boards of directors and vote each other a higher and higher share of private sector pay, to the detriment of investors, consumers, and other workers.  And retired and soon-to-retire public employees in places like New York City, who cut deals with the politicians they control to retroactively increase their already comparatively rich pensions, to the detriment of public service recipients and taxpayers.  There is the executive/financial class, the political/union class, and the serfs.  

The serfs continue to become worse off, adjusted for whatever point we are in the economic cycle.  In fact the economic cycle is part of what the executive/financial class and the political/union class use to put the serfs further down.  At the peak of a boom, they sign irrevocable deals to give themselves more because there is “plenty of money” and no one needs to be made worse off to pay for it.  But then a recession hits, and the serfs end up with higher taxes, diminished services and public benefits, and diminished pay and benefits funded by their employer, due to “circumstances beyond our control.”  Those cutting the deals never give anything back, since they have “a contract” that others, who received nothing in exchange, have to make good on.  Among the worst off victims – those in later-born generations, since those in older, earlier-born generations generally “grandfather” themselves from all related sacrifices as well.

Bureau of Economic Analysis Local Area Personal Income data was recently released for 2019, almost certainly the peak of the economic cycle that started from the bottom in 2010.  And it shows that here in Downstate New York, we have reached a milestone.  The average (mean) earnings (cash plus employer benefits) those working in the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate sectors (including both employees and the self-employed) was $122,813 that year. The rest of the private sector averaged $81,575.  The mean earnings for state and local government workers Downstate, meanwhile, was $124,095.  That is not only 52.1% higher than the mean for the rest of the private sector, including all the one-percenters outside finance, a record high difference.  But also – for the first time – more than the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate sectors. So that is what was meant by “fairness” around here!

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Census Bureau Education Finances Data: The FY 2018 Data for New York City is Wrong

In the past few years I’ve come across multiple instances when federal data on City of New York expenditures, and only City of New York expenditures, has been incorrect.   Always in a way that make it seem as if those expenditures are lower, public employment per 100,000 people lower, and NYC public workers less well paid than they actually are.  The data affected has been the public employee pension data aggregated by the Census Bureau, population data at the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and state and local government earnings data aggregated by the BEA.  At the local level some key information has been eliminated altogether, notably the “full agency cost” table.   I’ve been following the data for decades, and haven’t seen much like it.

Given that I’ve just completed a comprehensive analysis of state and local government finances based largely on the 2017 Census of Governments, I hadn’t planned to re-doing an analysis of education finances for FY 2018. But I decided to check to see if something funky happened to those numbers as well.  It has.  According to data reported to the Census Bureau, the wages and salaries of NYC elementary and secondary school workers were $373 million lower in FY 2018 than they had been in FY 2017, with a reduction of $205.6 million for instructional workers.  I checked around to see if there was something that could explain this. Here is what I found.

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Overview of State and Local Government Expenditures: 2017 Census of Governments Data

In FY 2017, according to data from the Census of Governments, U.S. states directly spent, on average, $85.41 per $1,000 of the personal income of all U.S. residents, or $87.76 if unemployment insurance and worker compensation payments are included.   Spending by local governments equaled $110.85 per $1,000 of personal income.  This spending was funded by state and local taxes, charges for services, aid from the federal government, as described in the prior two posts, and money borrowed.  Taken together, state and local government spending equaled $198.71 per $1,000 of personal income, or 19.9% of the income (including fringe benefit income) of everyone living in the United States. That is about one dollar in five to/from the government, not including money the federal government directly spends rather than passes on to the states.

The State of New York directly spent $86.36 per $1,000 of the personal income of New York State residents’ personal income, or $89.28 including unemployment insurance and worker compensation payments.   Local governments in New York City spent $181.24 per $1,000 of city residents’ personal income, and local governments in the rest of New York State spent $129.20 per $1,000 or the income of people living there.   Assuming the burden of State of New York expenditures was distributed between the two areas in proportion to personal income, that is $270.52 per $1,000 of personal income spent for New York City, and $218.48 per $1,000 of personal income for the rest of the state.  Or 27.1% and 21.8% of personal income, respectively.

The rest of this post will summarize the government functions this money was spent on.   Posts on individual government functions, with comparisons over time and across the country, will follow.

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Bureaucracy: 2017 Census of Governments Employment & Payroll Data

This post will complete my series on different government functions based on employment and payroll data from the Census of Governments, for March 2017 and previous years. It includes data for the kind of general government and legal workers one might generally expect to find hanging around in city and town halls, and county seats and courthouses, reviewing applications, keeping records, handling cases and doing inspections, rather than providing services.  At the local government level the functions included are, as delineated by the U.S. Census Bureau, Health, Financial Administration, Other Local Government Administration, Judicial and Legal, and Other and Unallocable. At the state level there are two additional functions:  Social Insurance Administration, basically state Departments of Labor, and “Other Education,” which includes oversight agencies such as the New York State Department of Education and Board of Regents.

For decades I’ve been making the case that for public employment and expenditures alike there is not much to see here. New York State is about average when you add everything up, and no part of the state is really out of line. Today, however, things have changed enough in one part of the state that this time around I don’t feel that to be true anymore.

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