Tag Archives: andrew cuomo

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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The MTA (and New York State and the New Federal Infrastructure Plan): Five-Plus Decades of Investing in the Suburbs and Disinvesting in the City

The era of large-scale federal infrastructure investment, from the 1950s through the 1970s, coincided with the era of suburban development and urban decline.  I don’t think that was a coincidence.  Cities had paid for their own infrastructure with local money, were still paying bonds for that infrastructure, and it was aging. The federal government then paid for brand new, up to date infrastructure for suburbs, and for rural areas that became suburbs, with taxes collected in part in cities, even as urban infrastructure declined.  Federal investment was limited to new infrastructure only at the time.  Most older central cities never recovered, and those that did only began to do so in the early 1980s, after the Reagan Administration cut federal investment and added local flexibility to how it was used.  More of it was then used to fix existing infrastructure, not just subsidize new suburban and exurban development.

Now it is 50 to 70 years later and the infrastructure of the suburbs is aging.  And because of lower densities, and thus more liner feet of road, water pipe, and sewer pipe per taxpayer, it will be more costly to replace with local taxes.  Some in the Strong Towns movement believe the suburbs are facing the sort of infrastructure decline the cities faced 50 years ago as a result. 

https://granolashotgun.wordpress.com/2016/01/12/teachers-pipes-and-pavement/

An issue that will be most acute in private communities responsible for their own local infrastructure, where people live so they can control who walks on their streets and not share a tax base with pre-1960 neighborhoods. Who will pay up when private sewage treatment plants fail and have to be replaced?  Did you hear about what happened at that collapsed Florida condo, where residents had argued for years about paying for fixes before disaster struck?

The older generations who live in these suburbs are used to getting things, but not fully paying for them.  The “I’ve got mine jack,” tax cut generations.  And here we have another federal infrastructure bill, enacted by suburban and Sunbelt Baby Boomers according to their preferred lifestyle, a lifestyle that poorer Millennials cannot afford and the global environment cannot sustain, to be paid for by those Millennials in the future, because most of it going to funded by soaring federal debts. With higher levels of governments (federal and state) making the choices as to how even the future money of city residents will be spent, how will New York and other older cities fare this time?

As an analogy this post will compare the suburban and city projects that the MTA promised in the Program for Action, released in early 1968 when it as formed, with the system expansions and maintenance of existing infrastructure that actually took place in the five-plus decades since.  And go from there.

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The Board Of Elections Misdirection: The Problem Is The Upcoming State Election, Not the Recent City Primary Election

The recent New York City primary election saw the usual grousing by New York City politicians about the performance of the New York City Board of Elections, the one government agency operated specifically by New York City politicians.  

The complaints are disingenuous.  Yes the DOE initially miscalculated the ranked voting totals, but this was the first time the city had used ranked choice voting, and any time you do something new there are going to be problems the first time you do it.  Nor is ranked voting itself a problem; without it we would not know the outcome of any of the primary elections as of the day I am writing this, and party nominees would be determined by a second runoff election in the heat of late July, when even most of those who showed up the first time wouldn’t bother.  Instead, we have already had an “instant runoff” based on the voters’ second, third and fourth choices.  

In addition, you don’t have the kind of “voter suppression” in New York that you have in other states, at least not intentionally.  Thanks to additional New York City– specific reforms, moreover, there were actual city elections, with lots of choices on the ballot. Those reforms include term limits, which create open seats, public campaign financing, and ballot access reform, with fewer signatures required to run for office.   If the political/union class didn’t succeed in stopping non-partisan elections in NYC, and getting rid of most minor parties in New York State (the should have prohibited the cross-endorsement of incumbents instead)…

https://www.cityandstateny.com/politics/2020/11/only-two-minor-parties-in-new-york-will-keep-their-ballot-access/175486/

There also might have been a real election in November, when everyone shows up, as well.   As it is, at least for members of the Democratic Party, people may not be happy with the election winners, but at least they had a real choice and thus vote.

The real scandal of the Board of Elections is that in cases where there is an incumbent, it is part of a system intended – to an extent matched nowhere else in the U.S. – to ensure that there are no elections.   Not as long as the incumbents do what the special interests order them to do, so those interests don’t create an actual election themselves.  New York doesn’t have voter suppression; it has candidate suppression, something that turns voting into a fraud.  So don’t expect candidates for New York State Assembly, New York State Senate, and the House of Representatives to come knocking on your door in spring 2022 – unless you yourself chooses to do your civic duty as a citizen in a democracy and run for one of these offices, and somehow sneak on to the ballot (as I did in 2004). Meanwhile, the choice for Governor is shaping up to be awful.

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Taxes & Generational Equity: New York State and New York City in 2020

With a deteriorating mass transit system, despite high and rising taxes and fares, and soaring rents (and property tax revenues from renters), young workers have been leaving New York City since 2015, a trend that has accelerated since the COVID-19 pandemic.  And there is talk that the wealthy will move away since they will now have to pay taxes, after not having to pay taxes in the past, according to various headlines over the past two years.  From “not taxing the rich,” according to those headlines, New York is suddenly taxing the rich more than any other state.  Even California.

In reality, of course, New York already taxed the rich, and everyone else, far more than any other state.  And it isn’t close.  As I showed here…

In FY 2017 New York State’s average state and local government tax burden was 13.8% of state residents’ personal income, compared with the U.S. average of 9.8% and 10.3% for California.  If New York City were a separate state, its burden would have been 15.1% of income, and rising, compared with 12.9% on average for the rest of the state.  And at that level, according to any elected officials who didn’t want to face a primary, and most of the local media, city residents deserved deteriorating public services, because they weren’t paying enough.

There is one group of people, however, who face a very different tax burden in New York, compared with other places.

https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/new-york-state-affordable-retirement-social-security

Retiree David Fisher, 69, has lived in New York state since age 27.  He has found that while living there was expensive while he was working, New York is much more affordable in retirement.  This is primarily for three reasons: New York State doesn’t tax Social Security or retirement account distributions, the state has a program to reduce property taxes after age 65, and there’s a low cost of living in the Rochester, New York, area where he lives. 

Retired public employees, like the Senior Voters in our tax analysis of three prototypical Brooklyn couples, have it even better – none of their retirement income, paid for by poorer working serfs, is taxable.

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Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data for 2017

The two categories of public expenditures that account for the most money are education and health care, but there is a difference in the way they are managed.  Federal, state and local government expenditures fund perhaps 80 percent of third party (not co-payment) health care expenditures, directly (Medicare, Medicaid, the VA Hospital system) or indirectly (private insurance purchased on behalf of civilian government employees, the tax expenditure subsidy due to the exclusion of health insurance payments from taxable income), if voluntary services such as cosmetic surgery and dentistry are excluded.  But most actual health care services, even services to public employees, are provided by private sector health providers, not by employees of government agencies, with the government merely paying the bill. So state and local government health care expenditures show up more completely in Census of Governments finance data, which will be published at some point in the future, than in Census of Governments employment and payroll data.

Most education services, in contrast, are provided directly by government employees.  As a result elementary and secondary school employees accounted for 55.6% of all local government employment in March 2017, on a full time equivalent basis, and higher education employees accounted for 50.8% of state government employment, for that year and on that basis.  There are also local government higher education employees in many states including New York, mostly in community colleges.   It is elementary and secondary school employment and payroll that is the subject of this post.

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Public School Finance Over Two Decades, in NYC And Elsewhere, Based on Census Bureau Data: Anyone Remember “School Reform”?

Remember school reform?  The idea that funding for public schools, in New York City and across the country, would be increased, and in return the kind of education those schools were expected to provide would rise as well, even for poor and disadvantaged students.  “No child left behind.”  Republicans such as George W. Bush were in favor, but so were Democrats such as Teddy Kennedy and Barack Obama.  But nobody talks about it anymore, and for good reason.  In New York City, and some places like it, the schools – and the teachers union — grabbed vastly more money, but once that was locked in they rejected any increased expectations, or any expectations at all, and have since demanded still more money.  In some other states anti-tax politicians reversed higher school funding, though not completely, and left the quality of education lower than it had been decades ago.

Nationwide the reversal was driven by three trends.  Since FY 2007, with the children of the Baby Boomers (aka the Millennials) exiting school, public school enrollment has been falling in many places, and barely increasing nationwide.  So the only generation that matters, the Baby Boomers, wants money and attention shifted to other things — even as the schools and the politicians they support, in places like Upstate NY, want more money funneled through the increasingly empty schools as a jobs and retirement program.  Throughout their adulthood, this generation either failed to fund the pensions teachers had been promised, or retroactively increased those pensions to benefit the generations cashing in and moving out – themselves.  As a result much of the increase in school funding per student that did occur actually went to retired school employees, rather than to the classroom. All this came to a head with the Great Recession, followed by a perpetual fiscal crisis across the country.  One associated with falling tax burdens in some places, but rising tax burdens in New York. School reform is over across the country, but in New York City it was probably a fraud to start with.

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New York School Spending: Entitlement Feeds More Entitlement And It’s Never Enough

Over the past 25 years some types of Americans have become richer and richer, at the expense of others who have become poorer and poorer – to the point where average life expectancy is starting to fall.  One might have imagined that at some point those who have been taking more and more would conclude that enough is enough, feel obligated to do more in return, and become concerned about the circumstances of others who are less well off.  But that doesn’t seem to happen.  Not among the richest generations in U.S. history, those born from 1930 to 1957, who continue to be completely focused on increasing their own share of the take.  Not among the richest people, the top executives who sit on each other’s boards and vote each other higher and higher pay.  And who anointed themselves “the makers” and everyone else “the takers” within two years of having been bailed out by the federal government, even as “the takers” saw their standard of living plunge, and then demanded another round of tax cuts that mostly benefit themselves.

And not among New York’s unionized public employees, particularly those working in its public schools, who have become the most politically powerful – and selfish – of all self-interest groups at the state and local level here.  Power and selfishness seem to go together in part because no one dares to offend the powerful, by pointing out how much they have taken relative to everyone else, and the connection between others having less and them taking more. So they can continue to feel aggrieved, entitled, resentful, unobligated – and somehow demand even more without embarrassment.  There seems to be no end to it.  This post uses Census Bureau data to show how far it had gone, as of three years ago.

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Census Bureau Public School Finance Data: FY 1996 vs. FY 2016 for New York City, Other School Districts in NY State, and Other Areas

The Census Bureau slipped its data on public school finance out in late May.

https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/school-finances.html

There was no press release or PDF report, but if you click on 2016 tables at the top and then “Summary Tables,” you can find all the spreadsheets the Bureau previously released in PDF format.   Including, crucially, Table 12 (tabs on the bottom), which ranks states according to their school revenues and expenditures per $1,000 of state residents’ personal income (which adjusts for the state average cost of living and average age and the ability of state taxpayers to pay).  And Table 18, which provides per pupil revenues and expenditures for the 100 largest school districts, including the most expensive by a mile, New York City.  As in the past, I’ve downloaded and compiled more detailed data for every school district in New York State and New Jersey, the U.S. average, the averages for selected other states, and selected school districts elsewhere.  And tabulated revenues and expenditures per student by category for FY 2016 and FY 1996 — with an adjustment for the higher average wage in the high-cost of living Northeast Corridor.

I’ve been holding onto the data for a month, re-downloading and checking it against other sources, because New York City’s expenditures and staffing levels had become so extreme that I can hardly believe it.   Especially since it would be much higher today, in FY 2019.  And because Mayor Bill DeBlasio, candidate for Governor Cynthia Nixon, and a lawsuit from a group backed by the United Federation of Teachers claim that New York City school funding is inadequate, with the schools “cheated out of $billions.” How high was it?  Take a look.

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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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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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