Category Archives: new york state legislature corruption, dean skelos, sheldon silver

Term Limits: Impact On The Operation of New York’s Governing Bodies

During my Don Quixote protest campaign against the state legislature back in 2004, the only member of the media who paid attention to what I was trying to say was Erik Engquist, then of the Courier Life papers, now with Crain’s New York Business.   But he didn’t quite get it right. In one column, he said I was someone who cared deeply about the process of government. I e-mailed him and said that to be honest, like most people I never really cared about or paid attention to the process, I only cared about the results. He wrote back and said while that may be so, unless New York gets a better process, it isn’t going to get any better results.

This is the third and last post in a series on New York City’s double-blind experiment with democracy – a City Council that has term limits, and a state legislature that does not. In the first, I noted that thanks to term limits and public campaign financing there are actual elections for the City Council every eight years, with the would-be members forced to pay attention to the general public, whereas in the state legislature competitive contest elections almost never happen.

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2017/09/10/term-limits-new-york-citys-double-blind-test-of-democracy/

In the second I examined the personal and professional background of the City Council and state legislature members, and found less difference than I would have supposed, due in part to a surprisingly large amount of recent turnover in the State Assembly, and due in part to the fact that ordinary citizens cannot, or do not, run for office.

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2017/09/24/term-limits-impact-on-the-characteristics-of-nyc-representatives/

This is post is not about who the members are or how they get there, but what they do when they arrive. With regard to corruption, transparency, and the value they place on the common future, the one interest all of us (other than the most selfish seniors) share.

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Term Limits: Impact on the Characteristics of NYC Representatives

As noted in the prior post in this series, New York City is a double-blind test of the effect on term limits on democracy. Since 1993 the city has represented by term-limited members of the New York City Council, and by unlimited members of the New York State Legislature. The dominant political party, other election laws, and the voting population are the same in each case. One result, as identified in the prior post in this series, which should be read first, is more contested elections for City Council relative to the New York State legislature, which seldom has any.

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2017/09/10/term-limits-new-york-citys-double-blind-test-of-democracy/

In this post I compare selected characteristics of the NYC officeholders in these governing bodies with each other and, in some cases, the population of the city at large. Their race and Hispanic origin. Their sex (male vs. female). Their place of birth. Their age/date of birth/generation. The year when they were first elected to their current position. And their prior job. I don’t usually pay too much attention to New York City’s elected legislative representatives, other than show up every year to vote against the incumbents in my district, so all this information was new to me. Some of it is what I would have expected, but some of it is not.

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Medicaid: The Rest of New York State (Re) Declares War on New York City

After the 1994 election, the one that saw the Republicans take Congress after decades of Democratic dominance, the New York Times published a “portrait of the electorate” based on exit polls. It showed that the 1960s generation was the one most likely to vote Republican that year. “Those hypocrites” I thought. They were “liberals” in their youth when they wanted to get out of serving in Vietnam, and now they are “small government” “conservatives” when they are at their earnings peak and they don’t want to pay taxes, but I’ll bet they’ll be “liberals” again when its time to collect on federal old age benefits. But they surprised me by being even worse than I thought. They still want even more tax cuts for themselves, and even more old age benefits for themselves, such as the Medicare prescription drug benefit. They want to borrow to pay for it. And to ensure our foreign creditors that the money will be paid back by someone else, they also want deep cuts in public services that younger generations need now, and drastic reductions old age benefits — not for themselves but for those to follow them – effective in the future.

With their aging, stagnant populations, the Downstate Suburbs and Upstate New York are now disproportionately occupied by, and almost exclusively represented by, members of Generation Greed. And back in the 1990s I had similar thoughts about their possible upcoming hypocrisy with regard to Medicaid funding, and specifically the local taxpayer share of it. But once again I’ve been surprised, because once again my cynicism was insufficient. They are even worse people than I thought. And it’s past time from them to be called to account for it.

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Local Government Employment in New York: Annual Average Data for 2016

About a month ago, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released 2016 annual average employment data from the monthly Current Employment Survey. It isn’t the most detailed information with regard to local government, but it is the most timely, so I once again put together a series of charts showing the trends.

The data shows that after a period of austerity, local government employment is rising again in New York State. The increases are not large, and in New York City local government employment is still rising more slowly than private sector employment. But in the Rest of New York State the increase in the ratio of private employment to local government has halted. Moreover, elementary and secondary school employment, which soared in the Rest of New York State under former Governor George Pataki’s “everybody onto the payroll to get a pension” policies, is rising again despite (at least according to the latest data I’ve seen) falling school enrollment. And in New York City, private sector (but presumably mostly Medicaid-funded) home health care employment has soared at a pace and to a level that raises questions about what the heck is going on.

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Public School Finance in the Bloomberg Years: A Detailed, Comprehensive Analysis for NYC and Elsewhere

From FY 2002, the last NYC budget before Mike Bloomberg became Mayor, to FY 2014, the last budget of his Mayoralty, New York City’s public school expenditures per student increased by 38.4% in real dollars (adjusted for inflation and for relative private sector wages that year). That is a huge increase in spending on the most expensive public service there is, during a decade when the pay of most private sector workers fell behind inflation. The U.S. average gain in public school spending per student was 3.8%. During the Bloomberg years NYC’s spending on instructional (mostly teachers) compensation per student increased 49.3%, including a 22.4% increase in wages and salaries and 125.0% (more than doubling) on benefits, including pensions. The U.S. average gains were 6.3% for total compensation and 43.9% for benefits, with a 2.4% decrease in instructional wages and salaries per student.

And yet at the end of this period, during the 2013 campaign for Mayor, every candidate but one said either that the schools were no better, or perhaps worse, than they had been before “Education Mayor” Bloomberg and the shift to Mayoral control. Most so-called education advocates agreed. The United Federation of Teachers, which funds many of those advocates, demanded even more money for its members, in exchange for less time spent working with students, and lower expectations as to their level of effort. And got it. And yet there is still extensive resentment, by many of those speaking for those working in education in NYC, toward the people and children of the city. A feeling that they are still being treated unfairly and deserve even more. But is that true? And what was actually received in exchange for all that additional money?

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NYC Subway Service: AM Peak Hour In 1954 and 2014

After years of soaring ridership, the NYC subway has reached the level of patronage that it had immediately after WWII, before the onset of mass automobile ownership. According to the MTA…

http://web.mta.info/nyct/facts/ffsubway.htm

in 2014 annual subway ridership was at the highest level since 1948, at 1.75 billion rides. At first rising ridership was an unmitigated benefit. Through the 1960s and 1970s, as the subway deteriorated, people only used it when they had to – to travel to and from work in Manhattan in the AM and PM peak. As annual ridership fell below 1 billion the system ran mostly empty the rest of the time, a cost without revenue – and a security risk for those still on the trains. As new people started moving to New York City precisely because they wanted to be able to use mass transit and walk to things rather than drive, however, off peak ridership recovered, filling the once empty trains and allowing the system to carry more people without more service.

In the past year or two, however, the system has hit the wall. Suddenly it has become severely overcrowded, causing increasing discomfort, delay and unreliability. Personally I find riding the subway to be a worse experience than it has been since the 1980s, when track fires, track failures, and trains out of service were common, doors kept breaking, and lights flickered on and off. For more than a year, therefore, I’ve been searching for evidence of what the level of subway service used to be, back when ridership was last this high. And now I may have found it, and can show that the subway system is squeezing more riders into fewer trains and subway cars. Subway riders, it seems, have it worse than 60 years ago.

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Capone on Tax Evasion Rather Than Murder

What can one say? According to something that came in the mail, we are up to 33 New York State legislators convicted of corruption since 2000. Generally in federal cases, since the New York State prosecutors don’t seem to be all that interested in pursuing members of their own caste. That sounds terrible, but the reality is far worse. Assembly Speaker Silver was convicted of getting $4 million in kickbacks. State Senate Majority Leader Skelos was convicted of extorting non-show jobs for his lazy son. Most of the other legislators previously caught in scandal have been involved in similar, even more petty acts of personal banal venality. That isn’t good, but its effect on my life, my children, my neighbors, my community is limited.

What matters more is this. We New Yorkers are hit with the highest state and local tax burden in the country, low population states with high mineral extraction revenues excepted. And yet we have enormous unmet public needs, from second rate schools with large class sizes to untended homeless in the streets to overcrowded trains. And to top it off, all of this is bound to get worse as a result of inadequate past infrastructure investment, huge public debts, and underfunded and retroactively enhanced pensions. And public unions, contractors, and powerful interests seeking tax breaks that keep demanding – and getting – more and more in exchange for less and less. It is this that they are truly guilty of. Not just those convicted on these petty charges, but all of them. All of them, including former Governor Pataki, former Governor Spitzer, and former legislators now serving in other offices such as Borough President or City and State Comptroller.

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