Friday, December 29, 2006

While Albany Burns. . .

. . .Bruno Fiddles With The Taxpayers' Money

A colleague in bloggerdom, Elizabeth Benjamin of the Albany Times-Union, opines on the new way the Senate Majority Leader hopes to spend our money, without giving a moment's thought to how to fix the problem.

But wait! We haven't even paid the income taxes we owe on the 2006 property tax "rebate."

A heck of a way to end the year, isn't it? Well, if it is true that "you can't fool all of the people all of the time" (except in the Town of Hempstead's Sanitary Districts), maybe 2007 will be the year that New Yorkers finally wise up.

Hold the rebates, Joe. Give us an ounce or two of real property tax relief!
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When In Trouble, Propose Rebates
by Elizabeth Benjamin

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, today announced (via press release) a three-part plan to expand the property tax rebate program that he says would provide $2.6 billion worth of relief this year and $3.4 billion in 2008.

This plan would triple the size of the pre-election property tax rebates ($875 million in total) received by property owners this year, give voters input in local property tax rates and establish a “blue ribbon” commission to make further reforms aimed at property tax reduction.

Bruno said the Senate’s “number one priority” “is to provide greater property tax relief to the hardworking, overburdened taxpayers of New York State.”

“We are building on what we accomplished last year, and continuing to return the state’s sizable budget surplus to the taxpayers,” Bruno said.

I’m not so sure what the governor-elect, who has his own $6 billion property tax relief plan that focuses on the middle class, is going to say about this, particularly since he’s been warning that a spending free-for-all of the state’s expected more than $1 billion surplus would not be a good idea, given its dire financial situation and built-in multibillion-dollar deficit.

Under the Senate proposal known as Rebate Plus, the biggest relief would go to suburban counties outside of NYC: $1,119 on average in Westchester County (where the GOP just lost Nick Spano’s seat), $882 in Rockland, $879 in Putnam, $725 in Nassau and $694 in Suffolk.

Those figures would increase substantially for senior citizens, hitting between $900 and $1,229 in at least 20 of the state’s 62 counties.

The Senate majority also wants voters to be able to collect signatures to get propositions on local ballots that would limit the growth on school and municipal tax rates for three years.

The 11-member blue ribbon commission (three members each appointed by the governor, majority leader and speaker and one by each of the minority leaders) would report by the end of 2007 on reforms to further lower local tax burdens.

If You Can't Leave 'Em Laughing. . .

. . . At Least Leave 'Em With The Truth About New York's Outrageous State Debt!

In one of his last press releases before resigning as State Comptroller, Alan Hevesi points out the fiscal faults of powers even higher than himself, and gloomy prospects for all of us lest Albany change its borrow and spend ways.

Kinda makes "Driving Miss Carol" pale by comparison, doesn't it?

On January 1st, Eliot Spitzer takes office as New York's 58th Governor. As per the Governor-elect's own edict -- a promise to all New Yorkers -- "Day One, Everything Changes."

One of those "everythings" must, of necessity, be the way New York funds the operation of the State, public authorities, municipalities, and the way too many governmental subdivisions that have us not only digging deeper into nearly empty pockets, but mortgaging the future of generations of New Yorkers yet to be born.

Let us hope, as we ring in this New Year, with all of its prospects for fiscal health and taxpayer prosperity (cough, cough), that "Day One" will be viewed by the New York State Legislature with the same urgency that voters envisioned when they empowered our new Governor to act upon their mandate.

Godspeed and good luck, Eliot Spitzer. May 2007 be a happy new year, indeed, for every New Yorker!
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State Debt Burden Projected to Grow by Nearly One-third in Five Years

$9.4 billion in New Debt Outside Current Debt Limit Shows Current Cap Doesn’t Work -- Hevesi Says Growth of Debt Will Impact New Administration’s Agenda

The large amounts of debt issued over the last twelve years will play a significant role in budget development during the new administration, with State-funded debt projected to grow by one-third to nearly $65 billion over the next five years, according to a report issued today by State Comptroller Alan Hevesi. Debt service alone in 2011 will grow to more than $7 billion from $4.3 billion this year.

“Probably the most significant influence the current administration will have on the new administration’s agenda is the extraordinary amount of debt it created and is leaving behind,” Hevesi said. “With debt service alone projected to grow more than 65 percent over the next five years, the new governor’s agenda will certainly be shaped by the commitments made over the last twelve years.

In a study of debt affordability that shows New York’s already high debt burden continues to grow and is high compared to its peers, Hevesi noted the Legislature last year created the potential for as much as an additional $9.4 billion of debt that is not counted in the debt limits established in the Debt Reform Act of 2000. This debt includes Building Aid Revenue Bonds (BARBs) issued by the New York City Transitional Financing Authority (TFA) to pay for school construction in New York City. The TFA has already issued $650 million of this debt and plans to issue a total of $4.7 billion through 2010. These bonds are paid for exclusively with State building aid.

“Even more troubling than the amount of debt is the $9.4 billion debt the legislature authorized to circumvent the debt limits in law, showing that the commitment to real reform of borrowing practices remains nonexistent. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of debt, but I hope it’s the last,” Hevesi said. “This shows that the need for strong reform that curbs the growth of debt is more crucial than ever.”

The study analyzes New York’s debt using three measures of debt affordability: debt per capita, debt as a percent of personal income and debt service as a percent of State All Funds revenues. It shows that according to these measures, debt will become significantly less affordable over the next four years based on current trends. The study also compares New York to a group of 10 other large states and to the national median.

Total State-funded debt grew by $11.5 billion or 31 percent since SFY 2001 for an average annual growth rate of 7.8 percent. Debt per capita has grown nearly 30 percent from $1,944 to $2,517 during the same period. Compared to its peers, New York has the second highest total debt behind California.

The report finds that plans to issue $30.5 billion in new State funded debt over the next five
years will have the following impact on the debt affordability:

Debt as a percent of personal income. Compared to its peers, New York is currently second behind New Jersey. It has more than two times the median as compared to both the nation and the 10 largest states. Debt as a percent of personal income is projected to grow from 6.5 percent in 2006 to 6.7 percent in 2011.

The national median debt as a percent of personal income is 2.5.

Debt per capita. Compared to its peers, New York is currently second to New Jersey, nearly three times the peer group of large states, which is $860. Debt per capita is projected to rise 30 percent, from $2,517 in 2006 to $3,297 in 2011. Debt per capita was $1,944 in 2001.

Debt service as a percentage of All Funds receipts. Compared to its peers, New York is currently more than one and a half times the median of the peer group and one and a quarter times the national median. Debt service as a percentage of All Funds receipts is projected to grow from 4.4 percent in 2006 to 5.6 percent in 2011.

“Debt is essential for capital construction, but taxpayers will be paying for this debt for many years to come on the more than $9 billion the state has borrowed for operating expenses and deficit financing,” Hevesi said. “Every dollar we spend on debt service is one less dollar available for all the other critical services the State provides to taxpayers. It is especially troubling when the State’s debt capacity is eroded by borrowing for operating expenses.”

Hevesi said the impact of the debt highlights the need for reform. Although the Debt Reform Act of 2000 set a cap on outstanding State-supported debt of 4 percent of personal income, the State’s debt is currently well above this cap, reaching 6.5 percent of personal income on March 31, 2006. One of the debt reduction proposals Comptroller Hevesi issued last year was restricting State-Funded debt issuance to 95 percent of the previous year’s level, which would slow the growth of outstanding debt and issuance to $61.0 billion in State-Funded debt outstanding by 2011—representing a reduction of $3.2 billion from the current plan’s projections. The State would issue $4.1 billion less over the five-year period.

Combined with other proposals the Comptroller advanced last year to control debt, including establishing a constitutional definition of State-Funded debt and a Debt Management Board, his plan will provide New York State with the ability to effectively manage the State’s burgeoning debt.

“The amount of new debt authorized in the 2006-07 Enacted Budget illustrates that the longer we wait for comprehensive reform, the more difficult it will be to achieve and sustain affordable debt levels,” Hevesi said.
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Click here for a copy of Comptroller Hevesi's Report on Debt Affordability.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Nightmare After Christmas?

NY GOP Faces Challenges Up In Albany And Here On Long Island

Odelia Goldberg, who may have lost her bid to unseat State Senator Dean Skelos last November, certainly hasn't lost any momentum in challenging the status quo and in keeping the home fires burning. [Good for you, Odelia. Where is everyone else who ran -- including the incumbents who were so handily re-elected? The silence is most deafening -- and a wee bit frightening, too, with the opening of the 2007 State legislative session just days away!]

We've lifted (with permission, of course) a portion of Odelia's latest newsletter, which was not only timely, but may well be prophetic -- or so those who envision progressive change on Long Island can hope.

Michael Balboni leaves the State Senate for a highly coveted position in the Spitzer administration (a good move by both parties), and Senator Joe Bruno faces less than harmonious music as the FBI zeroes in on its intended target -- which may or may not be the Senate's Majority Leader.

And what of Deputy Majority Leader Dean Skelos waiting in the wings (is that a hook in hand, Dean, or are you just pissed that Joe has had more sports complexes and public parks named after him than you have)?

With the fate of Joe Bruno up in the air, the future of the State Senate hanging in the balance -- perhaps quite literally -- and Long Island's lot, for better or for worse, riding with the fortunes of Senator Skelos, these are interesting times, indeed.

Stay tuned for all the latest escapades from Albany to Rockville Centre, and read about it right here, on Long Island's favorite community-based blog (even if we didn't get honorable mention -- AGAIN -- from the Long Island Press...).
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And now, ladies and gentlemen, without further banter from the Peanut Gallery, Odelia Goldberg:

A Difference of 2?
In case you haven't heard....Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer named Republican State Senator Michael Balboni to be his top homeland security official.

A special election may in fact reduce the slim majority Republicans hold in the Senate. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Mr. Balboni's district (the 7th Senate District in Nassau County has 78,000 Democrats and fewer than 72,000 Republicans), and it will not be easy for his party to retain his Senate seat. The Democrats gained a Senate seat in November and the lineup is currently 28 Democrats and 34 Republicans - only a 3 seat edge for the majority. The Republican number will fall to 33 after Mr. Balboni vacates his seat. Another win for the Democrats will loosen the party's grip on Long Island, the last statewide power base.

Mr. Balboni has wanted out of the Senate for some time now and seriously considered a statewide run this year for Attorney General. Bruno held him back as his re-election was necessary to help the Senate Republicans hold the majority. It's too bad, watching the scandal-scarred Jeanine Pirro get destroyed by Democratic AG-elect Andrew Cuomo, I'm sure more than one Republican wondered, "what if....".

Does it get any better than this?

A Coup In the Works
As the Feds follow the cash trail in the Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno investigation, the big question is whether Bruno will be re-elected Senate Majority Leader on January 3rd.

Insiders say that if a coup attempt is made, it would be led by ours-truly, Deputy Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. This is a big gamble for us in the 9th Senate District. A successful coup will bring more of our hard-earned tax dollars to our district as our Senator will control the majority and divvy our the pork(at least for the next two years). However, an unsuccessful coup will backfire, freezing the pork we're so accustomed to.... Don't forget, Skelos was named deputy majority leader as a reward for backing Bruno in the 1994 coup. Thus far, aides to Skelos have had no comment.

You have to wonder if Bruno saw this coming....Just a few months ago, Bruno hand-picked the leader of the state Republican Party to be Joseph Mondello, the Nassau County GOP boss. Upstate senators and county chairmen have much reason to resent having two key party leaders based out of Nassau County.

And you thought New York politics was boring.
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Odelia Goldberg may be contacted by e-mail at or by telephone at 516-371-1721. The campaign's website, which remains active (can 2008 be far ahead?) is
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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Covenant Most Foresaken

From Gospel To Goldwater, Devil To The Disciples Of The American Liberty League

A Parable for Our Times
By Bill Moyers

The Christian story begins simply: A child is given, a son. He grows up to be a teacher, sage, healer and prophet. He gains a large following. To many he is a divine savior; to the rich and powerful he is an enemy. They put him to death in brutal fashion, befitting his humble beginnings in peasant Galilee and his birth in a stall thick with the raw odor of animals.

Toward the end of his life, Jesus preached in the Temple to large crowds, reaching the height of his power. There he told the parable that likely sealed his fate. He said there was a man who created a prosperous vineyard and then rented it to some tenants while he went away on a journey. At harvest time, the owner of vineyard sent a servant to collect a portion from the tenants, but they beat the servant and sent him away empty-handed. Another servant came, and they struck him on the head. Another they killed. Finally, the owner sent his own son to collect the back payments. "They will respect my son," he thought. But when the tenants saw the son, and knew him to be the heir, they saw their chance to take full possession of the harvest. And so they killed the son, thinking now they would owe nothing from the vineyard to anyone.

The listeners understood the symbolism: God, of course, is the owner of the vineyard, and the vineyard is Israel or the covenant, or, more broadly, the whole creation. It is all that God entrusts to the leaders of his people. And what is in question is their stewardship of this bounty.

In the parable, the "tenants" are the leaders of Israel. They hoard the fruits of the vineyard for themselves, instead of sharing the fruits as the covenant teaches, according to God's holy purposes. And the holiest of God's purposes, ancient tradition taught, is helping the poor, and the fatherless, and the widow, and the stranger - all who do not have the resources to live in a manner befitting their dignity as creatures made in God's image, as children of God.

When he finished the story, Jesus asked the people what the owner of the vineyard will do when he comes back. "He will kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others," Jesus tells them. In the Gospel of Matthew, the people themselves answered: "He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time."

Political dynasties fall from negligent stewardship. One thinks of the upward redistribution called "tax relief"; of the Iraq invasion sold as critical to the "War on Terror"; of rising poverty, inequality, crime, debt, and foreclosure as America spews its bounty on war and a military so muscle-bound it is like Gulliver. It would be hard to imagine a more catastrophic failure of stewardship, certainly in the biblical sense of helping the poor and allocating resources for the health of society. Once upon a time these errant stewards boasted of restoring a culture of integrity to politics. They became instead an axis of corruption, joining corporate power to political ideology to religious self-righteousness.
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The story is told of the devil and a companion walking along the streets. The companion saw a man reach down and pick up the truth from the sidewalk. "You're finished," the companion said to the devil. "I just saw that man pick up the truth from the street, and that means you are finished." The devil smiled and answered, "Don't worry. He's a human, and in 15 minutes he will have turned the truth into a concept and no one will know what it is."

From theories stubbornly followed in defiance of truth on the street comes ruin. Laissez-faire was never a good idea; in practice it is ruinous.

This is the season to recall Walt Whitman. He wrote in Democratic Vistas, around 1870:
The true gravitation-hold of liberalism in the United States will be a more universal ownership of property, general homesteads, general comfort - a vast, intertwining reticulation of wealth. As the human frame, or, indeed, any object in this manifold universe, is best kept together by the simple miracle of its own cohesion, and the necessity, exercise and profit thereof, so a great and varied nationality, occupying millions of square miles, were firmest held and knit by the principle of the safety and endurance of the aggregate of its middling property owners.

How prophetic to see anything like that in the aftermath of the Civil War, in which Whitman had volunteered as a nurse. But in a time of great upheaval, countered by popular mobilization after mobilization, the great poet's took hold in the people's imagination. Whitman's liberalism had neither the cultural elitism of those identified with the term on the left, nor the laissez-faire extremism of the free-market "liberals" on the right. Liberalism meant "the safety and endurance of the aggregate of middling property owners." Its consummation was the New Deal social compact we inherited from five presidents and from substantial voting majorities for a generation after the Great Depression, and the result was the prospect of a fair and just society - a cohesion - that truly made us a democratic people.

Equality is not an objective that can be achieved but it is a goal worth fighting for. A more equal society would bring us closer to the "self-evident truth" of our common humanity. I remember the early 1960s, when for a season one could imagine progress among the races, a nation finally accepting immigrants for their value not only to the economy but to our collective identity, a people sniffing the prospect of progress. One could look at the person who is different in some particular way - skin color, language, religion - without feeling fear. America, so long the exploiter of the black, red, brown, and yellow, was feeling its oats; we were on our way to becoming the land of opportunity, at last. Now inequality - especially between wealth and worker - has opened like an unbridgeable chasm.

Ronald Reagan once described a particular man he knew who was good steward of resources in the biblical sense. "This is a man," Reagan said, "who in his own business, before he entered politics, instituted a profit-sharing plan, before unions had ever thought of it. He put in health and medical insurance for all his employees. He took 50 percent of the profits before taxes and set up a retirement program, a pension plan for all his employees. He sent checks for life to an employee who was ill and couldn't work. He provided nursing care for the children of mothers who worked in the stores."

That man was Barry Goldwater, a businessman before he entered politics. It's incredible how far we have deviated from even the most conservative understanding of social responsibility. For a generation now Goldwater's children have done everything they could to destroy the social compact between workers and employers, and to discredit, defame, and even destroy anyone who said their course was wrong. Principled conservatism was turned into an ideological caricature whose cardinal tenet was of taxation as a form of theft, or, as the libertarian icon Robert Nozick called it, "force labor." What has happened to us that such anti-democratic ideas could become a governing theory?
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Of course it's hard to grasp what really motivated this movement. Many of the new conservative elites profess devotion to the needs of ordinary people, in contrast with some of their counterparts a hundred years ago who were often Social Darwinists, and couldn't have been more convinced that a vast chasm between the rich and poor is the natural state of things. But after 30 years of conservative revival and a dramatic return of the discredited "voodoo economics" of the 1980s under George W. Bush, it's reasonable to follow the old biblical proverb that says by their fruits you shall know them. By that realistic standard, I think the Nobel Laureate economist Robert Solow's analysis sums it up well: What it's all about, he simply said, is "the redistribution of wealth in favor of the wealthy and of power in favor of the powerful."

I grew up in East Texas, in a county that once had more slaves than any other in Texas. It is impossible to forget that as the slave power grew in the South and King Cotton catapulted the new nation into the global marketplace, the whole politics of the country was infected with a rule of property that did not - indeed could not - distinguish the ownership of things from the ownership of human beings. Drawing from the Hebrew prophets and the Book of Revelation, the abolitionists simply said this: the rule of law has become moral anarchy. God's light clarified that the rule of law had become moral anarchy.

Something was wrong in the very foundation of things, and so the foundation had to be rebuilt on sounder principles. But no mere parchment of words divulged the principles that ultimately preserved the union. They were written in blood - thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dead Americans. And so by untold sacrifice the rule of law was righted to exclude human property. Then, of course, the slave power simply rejected the rule of law and established rule by terror. The feudal south became the fascist south. It did happen here, to answer Sinclair Lewis's famous riddle of the 1930s.

What is finally at the root of these reactionary forces that have so disturbed the social fabric and threatened to undo the republic? If a $4 billion dollar investment in chattel labor was worth the price of civil war and 600,000 dead in 1860, is it really any wonder that the richest Americans would not suffer for too long a political consensus that pushed their share of national income down by a third, and held it there - about at the level of their counterparts in "socialist" Europe - for a generation? Make no mistake about it, from the days of the American Liberty League in 1936 (the group Franklin Roosevelt had in mind with his crowd-pleasing battle cry, "I welcome their hatred!") they never gave up on returning to their former glory. They just failed to do it. Ordinary people had powerful institutions and laws on their side that thwarted them - unions, churches, and, yes, government programs that were ratified by large majorities decade after decade.

The scale of the disorder in our national priorities right now is truly staggering; it approaches moral anarchy. Alexander Hamilton, the conservative genius of the financial class, warned this could happen. Speaking to the New York State legislature in 1788, he said:

As riches increase and accumulate in few hands; as luxury prevails in society; virtue will be in a greater degree considered as only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard. This is the real disposition of human nature: It is what, neither the honorable member nor myself can correct. It is common misfortune, that awaits our state constitution, as well as others.

Conservatives who revere the founding fathers tend to stress the last point - that there is nothing to be done about this "common misfortune." It is up to the rest of us, who see the founding fathers not as gods but as inspired although flawed human beings - the hand that scribbled "All men are created equal" also stroked the breasts and thighs of a slave woman, whom he considered his property - to take on "the tendency of things" to "depart from the republican standard," and hold our country to its highest, and most humane, ideals.

As stewards of democracy, we, too, have a covenant - with one another.

Bill Moyers is president of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy. The center's senior fellow, Lew Daly, was his accomplice in this essay, written exclusively for
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The Community Alliance blog returns with its own take on Gospel, Goldwater and Covenants come January, 2007.

A happy, healthy, and prosperous new year to all!

Friday, December 22, 2006

The More Things DON'T Change. . .

. . .The More Property Taxes We Pay!

Its not that we have nothing new and exciting to write about, but with so much that we hoped for in 2006 just never coming to pass, we figured a reprint of the 2005 year-end piece was in order.

So, to our State and County Legislators, Town Board members, Village officials (and village idiots, in those villages where the two are not interchangeable), and all those powers-that-be, powers-that-would-be, and powers-that-are-not-but think-they-are (is that a slap in our own face? Nah!), let's take it again from the top in 2007. Maybe this time, you'll actually get it -- even if you don't always get it right. . .

Another Auld Lang Syne

New Year Ushers In Hope, Determination

At this time of the season, it is a media tradition to offer a restrospective of the year passed. Been there. Done that. No Best of list here. [A&S Bagels in Franklin Square is our hands down favorite.] No Person of the Year or even Person of the Century [We were considering ncres4change, the commentator who made us laugh, made us cry, and, above all, made us think -- but how could we do that without giving at least honorable mention to chester arthur, franklin square resident, town hall insider, and, of course, our resident "poster" boy (that's a good thing), Pat Nicolosi?]

We're not even going to offer a 2005 necrology -- you know, that laundry list of names and faces scrolling down the screen to which we summarily gasp, "Oooh. I thought he died years ago!" We will miss you, James Doohan, Eugene McCarthy, Rosa Parks, Richard Pryor, and Michael Vale -- the "time to make the donuts" guy, who left us at 83 years of age (apparently, he made many more donuts than he ate).

We will offer a profound "thank you" to all who contributed, in ways both meaningful and immeasurable, to the good of community -- from the community advocates and civic stalwarts who daily chart tomorrow's course, to the elected (and their challengers) who truly put people before politics, to the members of the free press, who do their darnedest to keep us all "in the know," to the Guest Bloggers and comment posters whose prose (and anti-prose) give us pause to reflect on the true meaning of community spirit.

If we need or want anything in the coming year, that "wish" for 2006 would be for twice as many civic activists on the local scene. Dare we ask for ten-fold? An outpouring of those who understand that the status quo is never good enough, that there is a vast difference between "staying the course" and changing it, and that, while looking forward is good, moving forward is even better!

Yes, we could use a few more community crusaders, especially among the main stream civic organizations. Oh, don't get us wrong or your feathers all ruffled. The civics, as a rule, do a fine job in promoting the public good -- if but only by sponsoring the passing parade down Main Street. Genuine, enduring change, as the future of sustainable community dictates, requires more than the ephemeral, however. It calls for civic leaders who are more adept at putting the finger on the pressure points of government, than in placing that proverbial pat on the back. We, as the voices of community, need to be less concerned about offending either elected official or bureaucratic drone, who, themselves, should be more concerned about offending the people they serve."

You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar." [Catching trout, on the other hand, is an entirely different story.] We hear that line (about the flies, not the trout), over and over and over. Truer words were never spoken. Then again, what will you do with all those flies once you catch them? They buzz around, land on the food, all but ruin the picnic, and then, before you turn around to swat them, there they are, dead as door nails, short-lived pests that are here today, and caught in the great window screen of tomorrow.

The long-term gains come -- and they do come, when we keep the heat on -- only when we, the people, demand more than they, the elected, expect to give us. It is always "the squeaky wheel that gets the grease." We aim to continue to be that squeaky wheel in 2006 -- to make it to the Enemies List of more than just a single elected Town official -- and urge each and every one of you to be a critical spoke in that wheel.

Community, like democracy, is not a spectator sport. It is not enough to sit on the sidelines bemoaning the numbers racking up in the loss column, or to merely echo the sentiments of those who, against the best interests of community, would call for change while steadfastly maintaining the status quo. [Why, just the other day this blogger received a letter from the local Chamber of Commerce requesting dues for the coming membership year. The letter, penned by the Chamber president, appeared as little more than a regurgitated Around The Town piece. "We're working with the Town to..." To what? To do the very same things we were promised would be done over the last decade or two? Give us a break.] Frankly, we need less patsy from the peanut gallery and more pit bull!

As all politics is local, so is all government -- for all government begins with a single vote. It is up to us to make certain that government does not stop there. In 2006, we are determined to make every eligible voter a registered voter. With your help, we will succeed in this endeavor.

We will, in the year ahead, continue to blog, to broadcast, and, who knows, maybe even to podcast, getting the message of community out to the masses. [If only we were syndicated!] Today, we are 4864 e-mail addresses and countless "forwards" strong. The "hits" number in the thousands, weekly. In 2006, with any luck -- and the persistence of the faithful -- we will triple that number. [Not that anyone is paying attention, but that's okay. When they least expect it, we'll be right there behind them!]

We're going to keep on making noise, bending ears, reddening faces and raising eye brows and blood pressure -- 'cause nobody does it better. We'll keep jumping up and down, screamin' and kickin' (if that's what it takes), until we see some real progress on the community front. We're going to insist that the County put "development" into downtown redevelopment. We're going to demand that the State Legislature and the local school districts undertake necessary measures (well beyond that fallen STAR) to lower -- not "freeze," LOWER -- the school property tax. We're going to exact upon Town Hall the full power of pen and populace until action is taken to rid our neighborhoods of illegal accessory apartments and to provide residents with more than piecemeal platitudes passed off as affordable housing.

In 2006, we will again confound the pundits by punditing them one better. We will not pretend to be all-knowing, not even in the "truths" we self-proclaim to be most evident. We will not boast that we have all the answers, but we've certainly got enough problems to go around so that we can all share in taking credit for the solutions.

On these cyberpages, in the year that harkens just around the corner, you will likely hear from the mighty and the fallen, the hopeful and the hapless, the bold and those who, with a simple hand up, may be emboldened.We will opine, dissect, disgorge and, as necessary, cast stones from this fragile glass house we call community, recognizing, to paraphrase Billy Crystal (formerly of Long Beach), that without Goliath, David would just be some punk throwing rocks.

Agree or disagree, either with method or madness (come on. You've gotta have some opinion), we hope you will take up the cause -- or at least take offense and strike back -- as The Community Alliance marches ever forward into a new year, with a new vision, with boundless determination, and that same old passion for our Long Island community.

Happy New Year, one and all. Now get back at it, will ya? The work of community is never done!
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Epilogue: Well, we've done our job. Readership is way above all projections and expectations -- 80,000 hits per week! And we're still kickin', screamin', and rocking the boat, just about every day.

Now, if we could only get our government, on every level, to do the people's work, and to shake things up a bit on their own, we'd be well on our way to a better community and a brighter tomorrow.

Happiness, health, joy and peace from all of us at The Community Alliance, the folks who daily attempt to answer that age-old question, "Dude, where's my quality of life?"
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And, on a personal note: Thank you, Alan Hevesi, for thirty years of commendable public service. You've done much good for the people of New York, even though much more remains to be done.

Yes, you've made mistakes. Who among us hasn't? Still, you've owned up to them, and, whether we agree or not, you've paid the most terrible price that anyone in public life can pay. Frankly, we believe you deserve better -- much better -- and our only hope, on this, perhaps the darkest day of your life, is that you do not retreat from public life entirely.

May better days be ahead, for you, your wife, Carol, your entire family, and every New Yorker who understands that our shortcomings, frailties, and, yes, even failures, not only humble us, but make us all too human.

God speed, Alan. . .
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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Swift Boat Santa

If You Can't Trust Santa Claus, Who Can You Trust?

Before you celebrate this holiday season. . . GET THE FACTS!
Here's what the fat man won't tell you about his record:
FACT: Illegal surveillance and wiretapping to see "who's naughty and nice."
FACT: "Borrow and spend" policies that are bankrupting our future!
FACT: No health care benefits for elves and repeated reindeer wage violations.
If we can't trust you with the truth,
how can we trust you with Christmas?
The REAL Santa Claus record. TROUBLING!
NEXT UP: Bill O'Reilly reports from the White House that "we're winning the War against Christmas!"

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Member Items By The Numbers

A Compilation Of State Senate And Assembly Member Item Grants

Click HERE to access member item grant expenditures.

"The New York State Senate and Assembly took great pains to withhold from the public a detailed accounting of how it allocates hundreds of millions of dollars a year in discretionary grants aka “member items.” After being forced to disclose this information by the courts, our State representatives released the data in formats that were designed to limit the ability of the general public to examine, analyze and draw conclusions about their spending choices.

This spread sheet is an attempt to thwart their efforts. The data has been converted and restructured to fit a readily accessible software program. The new format allows users to search and manage data to suit their own needs. Features such as automatically generated value sub-totals should facilitate data analysis. We hope the spread sheet will be used by regular citizens interested in learning their elected representative’s commitments and priorities. It should also be of use to professionals that might want to investigate patterns in the types of organizations and individuals that receive discretionary grants."
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Read more about what's happening in Albany -- and what's not -- at the Brennan Center's blog, ReformNY.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Could Urban Sprawl Be A Good Thing?

Suburbia: Running on Empty?

By James Howard Kunstler

A review of Sprawl: A Compact History by Robert Bruegmann (University of Chicago Press, 2005).

There is a species of fatuous thinking these days in America which states, in so many words, that suburbia is fine and dandy because so many people like it.* Variations on this theme range from the idea that suburbia is the highest expression of free markets, to the notion that it is the natural outcome of our democracy, to the belief that God has ordained it. This has been the reasoning of some public intellectuals such as New York Times columnist David Brooks, Joel Kotkin, of the New America Foundation, and the preposterous Peter Huber of Forbes Magazine and the Manhattan Institute. Now Robert Bruegmann, professor of art history, architecture, and urban planning at the University of Illinois, Chicago, weighs in from academia with essentially the same argument floated on barges of statistical analysis.

That so many editors, foundation board members, and deans of faculty allow this obvious casuistry to pass as thinking at all says a lot about what a nation of morons we have become, and how deep the intellectual rot runs. The various above-named characters may differ somewhat in style, but they all employ the same specious logic in support of the status quo. Brooks functions as a cheerleader for successful yuppies like himself wishing to justify the blandishments they enjoy in going along with the suburban program. Kotkin is a highly-paid consultant to municipal governments who use him to rationalize the pernicious effects of their engrained practices. Huber gives aid and comfort to those who regard the public interest in any form as an affront to private gain. And now along comes Bob Bruegmann seeking to lend the imprimatur of empiricism to these arguments, so as to valiantly prove wrong for once and for all the peevish critics of suburbia (including yours truly) by driving the wooden stake of science through our superstitious and sentimental hearts.

Despite his boatloads of statistics, Bruegmann is just flat-out wrong in many of his positions and virtually all of his conclusions. At the center of his thesis is the unquestioned assumption that the suburban project can continue indefinitely, that it is a good thing, that we will get more of it, and we ought to stop carping and enjoy it. His book fails entirely to acknowledge the fact that we are entering a permanent global energy crisis that will put an end to the drive-in utopia whether people like it or not. This singular harsh fact obviates all the rationalizations brought to the quixotic defense of suburbia. What Bruegmann and his homies overlook is that American-style suburbia, aka sprawl, was an emergent, self-organizing system made possible only by lavish and exorbitant supplies of cheap fossil fuels, and once those conditions no longer obtain, not only will there be no further elaboration of this development pattern, but all the existing stuff built according to that pattern -- which comprises more than eighty percent of everything ever built in America -- will drastically lose its usefulness and its relative "market" value. What's more, the discontinuities-to-come in the global energy picture will pose challenges so severe to industrial society that we will be lucky to salvage anything resembling civilized life altogether.

It is necessary to insert right here that, contrary to a lot of wishful thinking and techgnostic wool-gathering rampant these days, no combination of alternative fuels or systems for using them will allow us to run America the way we currently run it, or even a substantial fraction of it. We are not going to run Wal-Mart, Walt Disney World, and the interstate highway system on hydrogen, coal synfuels, tar sand or oil shale distillates, bio-diesel, ethanol, recycled french-fry oil, solar electricity, wind power, or nuclear fission. The stark truth of the situation is that we are simply going to have to make other arrangements -- and I'm sorry to have to repeat that this will be the case whether we like it or not. Suburbia will be coming off the menu. We will no longer be able to resort to the stupid argument that it is okay because we chose it.

Another very troubling aspect of Bruegmann's book is that his statistical salvos fail to address altogether the many questions of quality and character in our everyday environments. The sad truth is that most of America has come to be composed of places that are not worth caring about, and they may eventually (if not already) add up to a nation not worth defending, or a culture not worth carrying on. You can cite the population figures and density trend lines all day long and never come to the conclusion that Hackensack, New Jersey, has become a soul-sapping sinkhole of auto-centric crap with strikingly poor prospects for maintaining its value or utility in the not-too-distant future.

When it is convenient, Bruegmann claims that the statistical analysis of his opponents fails to tell the story correctly.

He writes:
We can use the Chicago area as a typical example. For years, sprawl opponents trumpeted the "fact" that between 1970 and 1990 the metropolitan area grew in population by only 4 percent, but grew in land by 46 percent. This kind of statistic, juxtaposed with a photograph of a new subdivision under construction in a cornfield conjures up images of a juggernaut moving inexorably across the countryside, flattening farms and forest, replacing country roads with highways lined with wall-to-wall strip centers and an endless sprawl of large lot subdivisions. ... Even if the figures were accurate, they would not necessarily represent a crisis. There is no shortage of land in Illinois.

All this promiscuous marshalling of statistics really demonstrates is that the story is hardly about statistics anymore than it is about the magical operations of markets or the wonders of democracy. The appropriate lesson of the sprawl era is that societies can make extremely unfortunate collective decisions, and the losses incurred are irreversible. This is really the central conflict between the sprawl champions and those of us who do not view sprawl as any kind of boon. Sprawl is, and always has been, to put it as plainly as possible, a living arrangement with no future -- and to regard it as anything else is a disservice to our fate.

It is self-evident that human beings enjoy living in settings of domesticated nature -- and no accident that the archetype for this is the Garden of Eden -- but note that there is no mention of parking lots in the standard accounts of it. The suburbia of our time, which even Bruegmann identifies as "sprawl," is something of a new and different order, not adequately described by sheer compilations of numbers. Because he is allergic to any consideration of the non-empirical, Bruegmann manages to misunderstand some important elements of the suburb in history.

Yes, it is true that ancient Rome had extensive suburbs. It was an urban organism of roughly a million people in the time of Trajan and a substantial elite occupied villas in its hinterlands. They did it because they could -- because this elite enjoyed fabulous imperial wealth, and because the enormous power of the empire allowed civil security to extend outside the city, indeed throughout Italy, where wealth enjoyed protection. Even the mild weather of the region favored these arrangements. But was life there comparable in quality and character to Hackensack? And what kind of empirical data might demonstrate the difference? You could say that suburban Romans owned fewer automobiles per capita as compared to the denizens of Hackensack, and that would be correct -- but would it be meaningful?

When Rome fell apart, nothing like it was seen again until the beginning of the early industrial age. The gothic, medieval, and even Renaissance cities were designed more or less as extensive fortifications because political security was so dicey, and to be outside the protective walls was not advantageous. The industrial age marked a sharp change in the organization of cities and their relations to their hinterlands. The differences in the development of the industrial cities themselves has a pertinence to the consequent development of suburbs that Bruegmann seems to misconstrue. He writes:

"In nineteenth century, London exploded outward as developers threw up mile upon miles of brick terrace houses. ... The resulting cityscape horrified highbrow British critics of the time, who considered the new districts to be vulgar, cheap, and monotonous. Nevertheless, the houses continued to be built because so many middle class inhabitants of central London saw them as a vast step upward for their families. In the second half of the twentieth century, highbrow opinion came around, and today they are widely considered to be the very model of compact urban life. Ironically, they are today often considered the antithesis of sprawl."

The redevelopment of Paris in the same period took a quite different form. The heroic renovation of the city by Louis Napoleon and George Eugene Haussmann, the prefect (i.e. mayor) of the city, was based typologically on the apartment building for the growing middle class rather than the private row house. These apartment buildings, generally seven stories and under, were zoned vertically by income, with the wealthy occupying the lower floors above the shop fronts and the less well-off above them, and finally servants and poor folk tucked under the mansard roofs. The result was a substantially different quality of city life, more compact and lively than London, with people of all social ranks thrown into proximity, and a rich mix of culture and commerce at street level.

Returning to compare them today, in the 21st century, one could easily conclude that the seemingly endless, sprawling, row house neighborhoods of London are indeed monotonous to an extreme, tending to be income-segregated ghettos, with retail services and cultural amenity deployed often at an inconvenient remove.

In American cities, you got a mix of both patterns. New York went crazy for Paris-style apartment living and eventually elaborated it into the skyscraper, while other places like Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore stuck almost exclusively to the row house. In Chicago and San Francisco, you got some of both. In any case, the industrial growth of American cities was furious and resulted in an urban ecology with the ambience of a gigantic machine. Little of the pre industrial scale survived, and once you got west of Chicago, it barely existed in the first place. The ensuing discomfort and revulsion inspired an intense nostalgia for the non-city, for country living, for the garden. Rural land outside these American cities was plentiful, cheap, and unencumbered by entailments beyond fee-simple ownership. So as the Civil War concluded, the new railroads facilitated a ready escape from the awful industrial city into the hinterlands and the American suburbs were born.

The suburban evolutionary sequence moved quickly from the railroad through the brief but exuberant streetcar phase to the drive-in utopia based on universal democratic car ownership, and the development pattern changed with it. Eventually, it resolved into the dendritic roadway system we see today, of cul-de-sac income-segregated housing tracts, commercial collector boulevards with the familiar chain retail, and the activity pods of the mall and the office park, tied together by limited access freeways -- all of it predicated on the rationalized insanity of single-use zoning.

The automobile and all of its requisite infrastructure, of course, would not have developed the way it did without ready supplies of cheap oil, and America coincidentally had vast supplies easily obtainable inside our own borders. Europe had to rely on much more distant supplies of oil. Meanwhile, their societies were savagely disrupted by two world wars, with after-effects lasting for decades. On top of that, they had age-old land-tenure laws that did not favor real estate subdivisions. So, it was not so easy for them to suburbanize. They got into the game late, never enjoyed cheap gasoline, and did not sprawl even close to the extent that we did, or the way we did -- a point that Bruegmann obscures with a blizzard of statistics about relative city densities in late 20th century Europe that would have the reader think that the Ile de France today is not substantially different from Nassau County, Long Island.

Something strange happened to American suburbia as it went through its phases of development. It started out as country living, the sovereign antidote to the industrial city. Then it became a rigorously domesticated variant of country living. Then, after World War Two it mutated into something insidiously different: a cartoon of country living in a cartoon of the country (in a cartoon of a country house). This sad fact explains why the chronic disappointment of suburbia inspires ridicule even among those who live in it. It hasn't delivered very well on its promises for a long time now. In its florid, climactic incarnation today -- the McMansion precincts of Dallas, Atlanta, or Northern Virginia -- it presents the worst elements of urban and rural life in the same package, with few of the benefits of either. The megaburbs have all the congestion of a city and none of the human contact. They have all of the isolation of the country, but no real connection to nature. The issue at the heart of Bruegmann's book is whether this is, after all, a good thing. He writes:

...[S]prawl has been beneficial for many people. ... Even where sprawl has created negative consequences, moreover, there seems to be very little evidence that for most people sprawl itself has precipitated any kind of crisis. The vast majority of Americans have responded to a whole battery of polls year after year saying that they are quite happy with where they live. ...I would argue that worries about sprawl have become so important not because conditions are really bad, as critics suggest, but precisely because conditions are so good.

What Bruegmann leaves out of the picture is the same thing that the mandarins of American municipal planning have left out for half a century: any consideration of quality and character of place, and the means for achieving it. This is evinced most dramatically in the issue of the public realm, the part of our everyday world that belongs to everybody and that everyone ought to have access to most of the time. In postwar America, the public realm was trashed, relegated purely to the needs of the automobile until America became a nearly uniform automobile slum from sea to shining sea. It didn't even matter whether you were in a rich place or a poor place anymore -- the parking lots of Beverly Hills weren't any more rewarding to the human spirit than the parking lots of Hackensack. More to the point perhaps, the very methods of the municipal planners, which produced the ghastly sprawl environments of our time, are based on exactly the same kind of statistical methods employed by Bruegmann, instead of the one thing that might have mitigated or constrained the mess, namely artistry in design.

The public realm has two crucial roles in our collective existence. First, it is the physical manifestation of the common good. Second, is literally the dwelling place of civic life. And so if you fail to design the public realm with deliberate artistry, and by so doing degrade and dishonor the public realm by turning it into a uniform automobile slum simply to accommodate x-number of cars, you will automatically degrade the quality of civic life and the public's collective ability to conceive of a common good beyond incessant motoring. These are issues which do not yield to strict empiricism and cannot be comprehended by it. The result in American suburbia today is a set of places where private luxury is exalted and public space is grievously dishonored, damaged, and diminished, places where there are more bathrooms per inhabitant than any other society on earth, but where public space is so debased that the only place children can find to play beyond their back yards is the berm between the WalMart and the Winn Dixie.

We flatter ourselves to think that the shopping malls are an adequate substitute for real main streets. We saw an interesting case locally here a couple of years ago, in Albany, New York's Crossgates Mall, where a man bought a T-shirt in one of the mall's shops with an anti-war slogan printed on it, and was then arrested for wearing it in the mall corridor when security guards hassled him and called the police.

Because Bruegmann's analysis omits entirely the issues of physical form and its quality, it cannot comprehend the additional problem with suburbia today: that it is a development pattern with no future because of the looming global energy crisis. All matters pertaining to physical form Bruegmann wrongly identifies (and denigrates) as "aesthetic" issues. This allows him to argue that physical form (including development patterns) are simply differences in taste, which takes us back to the fallacy that an appraisal of suburbia is simply a sum of opinions, or a set of poll numbers, or the mere fact that at a given time in history, any number of people chose tragically to invest their life savings in a particular kind of house because they mistakenly believed that current conditions would continue forever.

We're about to find out the hard way that life is tragic and history is merciless and that reality doesn't care what we like or don't like. The suburban system we have come to think of as "sprawl" is going to fail spectacularly. We will be desperate to make other arrangements, and all the statistical bullshit in the world will not avail us to bargain our way around it.

The global oil crisis we face, in combination with climate change, is about to bring on perhaps the greatest discontinuity that the human race has ever faced. If there are any historians left to unearth this book centuries from now, they will marvel that anyone ever thought that simply liking something was enough to guarantee its existence.

James Howard Kunstler is author of The Long Emergency. Visit his site at

© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

This review has been republished with the permission of the author.
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*Must be related to Town of Hempstead Supervisor Tony Santino, the man who keeps reminding us how much we like those sanitary districts. Our "enjoyment" is such that we relish the thought of paying twice as much as we should to have our garbage collected!

Monday, December 18, 2006

County Comptroller Says Special Districts Can Save $35 Million. . .

. . .Then Again, Why Should They? Aparently, We Really Do Enjoy Paying More!


Joined by Town Supervisors Jon Kaiman (North Hempstead) and John Venditto (Oyster Bay) the Nassau County Comptroller says Special Districts can save up to $35 Million Annually. [Hmm. Where was Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, we wonder? Is she still the Town Supervisor, or does she only play one on TV? Oh, Kate. That "we have no control over the special districts" is getting very, very old...]

From Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman:

Many of Nassau County’s hundreds of special tax districts can – and should – reduce their expenses, potentially saving taxpayers between $23.8 and $35.7 million per year, according to a report issued today by County Comptroller Howard S. Weitzman.

Comptroller Weitzman described the findings of the report, Cost-Saving Ideas for Special Districts in Nassau County,” at a news conference today, joined by Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman and Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, who endorsed the cost-saving measures and promised to work with special districts in their towns to help achieve them.

“It’s not impossible to control property taxes, or even reduce them in some cases,” Comptroller Weitzman said. “But first you have to cut the cost of government. This report shows that it can be done.

“I’m especially glad to note some progress on one of the most important issues: the need for oversight of commissioner-run special districts. The Towns of North Hempstead and Oyster Bay have begun to actively review the proposed budgets of these districts, just as they do for districts and departments under direct town management. New York State’s Town Law clearly authorizes such a review, and special district taxpayers clearly benefit when the Towns review their proposed budgets.”

Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman said, “The Town recently created an office of inter-municipal coordination where we work with districts and villages for our mutual benefit. Our ability to evaluate and assist in the budgeting process is growing, with the goal being greater confidence that our money is being spent wisely and efficiently. In addition, we will continue our effort to work with districts in ways that save money while still providing a high level of service to our mutual constituents.”

Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto said, “The Town of Oyster Bay has long led the way in facilitating inter-municipal cooperation between various levels of government to help them save taxpayer dollars. In addition to assisting county government and local school districts, we have worked with special districts on their bond issues so they get the benefit of the Town’s excellent credit rating, which translates to lower interest costs for their taxpayers. Our finance staff has also been meeting with representatives of the special districts to conduct a review of their budgets, and to suggest ways to cut costs and keep expenditures down. We will continue to offer our resources to the special districts in any way we can.”

There are more than 200 special town tax districts in Nassau that collect $473 million every year in local property taxes, according to Comptroller Weitzman. “The districts provide essential services, such as water, fire protection, and sanitation,” he said. “Some of them are efficiently run. But in many other cases, particularly in the 101 special districts run by elected commissioners, there are ample opportunities for savings. That’s what this report is about.

“In order to determine how much money potentially could be saved, we applied these cost-saving ideas to the budgets of some of the sanitary districts we audited in 2005,” he continued. “We discovered that, if adopted, the measures would save between 10 and 15 percent of current district operating costs. Such a reduction in taxes imposed by commissioner-run special districts, if achieved across the board, would have saved Nassau County residents between $23.8 million and $35.7 million in 2006 alone.”

The report is the first in a series of concrete measures to follow up on last June’s Conference on Nassau County Special Districts, organized by Comptroller Weitzman, which drew 400 district commissioners, economists, public policy experts and taxpayers to Hofstra University to consider ways of making such districts more efficient and accountable.

Following the conference, Comptroller Weitzman held a series of meetings last summer with commissioners from town water, fire and sanitary districts to share information and ideas about possible cost savings. A number of the ideas discussed are contained in the new report. In addition to increased scrutiny of district budgets by town government, the report outlines a variety of other measures, achievable in the near-term, for reducing expenditures. One of the most promising areas for reducing expenses is insurance, which in some districts accounts for up to 25 percent of the budgeted expenditures.

“It is not necessary for the districts to spend taxpayer money on brokers’ fees and insurance company overhead and profits,” Comptroller Weitzman said. “Self-insurance, as practiced by the county and all three towns, can be a powerful tool for saving money – between 40 and 50 percent of the cost, according to one national expert with whom we consulted.”

Instead of purchasing liability and workers’ compensation policies from brokers, districts have other options. They can:
· join with other municipalities to self-insure risk whenever reasonable;
· obtain insurance from government providers, such as the New York Municipal Insurance Reciprocal (NYMIR), instead of private companies;
· participate in NYSHIP to get reduced rates on employee health insurance; and
· use larger deductibles when it makes economic sense.
The report finds many other areas in which special districts can cut costs, including:
· Purchasing and Hiring – Districts can:
o enter into municipal cooperation agreements to obtain goods and services at reduced prices;
o purchase equipment and services off a New York State contract or a county contract, without going through a separate bid process;
o share the cost of retaining professional service firms like attorneys and engineers, rather than the common – and wasteful – practice of putting consultants on the payroll and paying for their health insurance and pensions, often for part-time work of less than 20 hours per week; and
o share the cost of administrative staff.
· Recouping EMS Costs – Fire districts are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain volunteer ambulance services. Some of this burden could be relieved if the districts begin charging for their ambulance services, as does the county; or if they choose to allow the county to provide primary ambulance service in their district. The latter would require significant enhancements to the county’s current EMS capabilities.
· Use County Water Testing – Water testing, as regulated by local, state and federal law, is a major expense for water districts. Nassau County has a facility that can test water and which meets the standards set by the various oversight agencies. The report recommends that the county Health Department offer the use of its lab to the Nassau County water districts.

In 2005, Comptroller Weitzman’s office audited town sanitary districts in Nassau County. In four of five districts examined, auditors found serious financial mismanagement, a lack of oversight, few, if any, written policies and procedures, overspending, faulty contracting, and questionable employment and benefit practices. A follow-up white paper discussed problems of waste, fraud and abuse in special districts generally.

The cost-saving report, as well as the previous audits and the white paper, can be found at the Comptroller Website,
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As for Kate Murray, she's still waiting for feedback form her constituents (and maybe from a few people beyond the borders of Levittown) on the efficacy and efficiency of the special districts. Of course, when the Peanut Gallery sees more of you on television than they do live and in person, there's a certain disconnect between what Kate perceives and the reality of those special taxing jurisdictions.

Watch for fresh new episodes of Where's Kate? on your boob tube -- same Town of Hempstead time, same Town of Hempstead channel -- coming after January 1!

Friday, December 15, 2006

From Newsday's Spin Cycle. . .

Levittown Rules!

So what’s in the water in Levittown?

The prototypical suburb, which served as the base of Joseph Mondello, the Nassau County — and now New York State — GOP chairman, is also Republican Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray’s hometown.

It’s also home to three of Hempstead Town’s newest commissioners: for parks, general services and buildings.

No wonder Republican Councilman Gary Hudes, whose district includes the community, said, “Levittown votes yes,” when he approved John Loeffel’s appointment as building commissioner on Tuesday. He was responding to a complaint from lone Democratic Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby about the preponderance of Levittown department heads.

Republican Councilman Anthony Santino, of East Rockaway, today insisted geography had nothing to do with the merit of the appointees.“We look at their qualifications,” said Santino, who is also a spokesman for Mondello. “Anything else is just happenstance.”

Emi Endo
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Emi Endo is a reporter for Newsday, covering the goings-on in the Town of Hempstead. You can reach Emi at
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And speaking of Newsday, why such limited coverage of the Fire District election results? [We could only find reports of 2 district votes -- Hicksville and Syosset -- in the Our Towns section.]

We know that the fire districts, water districts (which also held elections on December 12th, in case anybody cares), and sanitary districts (which hold elections at various and sundry times during the summer months) are run like the personal fiefdoms of the commissioners, among whom "mum is the word," but you?

Whatever happened to the public's right to know? Who at Newsday decided that fire district election results are not newsworthy? Or maybe there's just too many of them, and no one at the oh so many fire districts reports in or can be reached for comment. [And if that's the case, say so!]

We believe Newsday does a great disservice to the people of Long Island, and perpetuates the secrecy that shrouds the special districts, by remaining silent on this score. Whoever decides what is or isn't news at Newsday should think twice before issuing an edict that election results -- any election results -- do not merit publication.

The Final Arbiter of Comptroller Hevesi's Fate

Let The Voters Decide. Wait, They Already Have!

The trials and tribulations in which NYS Comptroller Alan Hevesi finds himself embroiled refuse to go away. Possible trial in the State Senate (be wary of throwing those stones, ye inhabitants of that glass house), criminal investigation, and whatever the Governor-elect may decide to do once he takes office January 1.

Truth is, The People of the State of New York (which, not coincidently, is the plaintiff in every criminal action), have already spoken on the matter of chauffeurgate, fully exonerating the Comptroller for all related acts by their votes on November 7th -- if not unanimously, then certainly, overwhelmingly.

So why are we still talking about this? Actually, we, the people, are not. We've put it all behind us, offered a hefty "shame on you, Alan Hevesi," accepted his apology (as the State has accepted his $200K in restitution), and moved on. Now its time for the folks in Albany to do the same.

Of course, in the world of political realities, it is doubtful that either the State Senate -- controlled by the opposition party -- or the new Governor -- who sometimes gives an air of "holier than thou" -- will let this slide.

Case in point: State Senator Michael Balboni, a Republican, has all but recanted his earlier thesis that the voter, upon full disclosure of the facts prior to the election, exonerates the wrongdoer by sending him back to office for another term. Somehow, age, not to mention seniority in the GOP-led Senate, have given Mr. Balboni not only wisdom, byt an entirely different -- if not utterly myopic -- perspective.

Consider this. If the Governor, the Senate, or even the Albany County DA should decide to pursue Hevesi to the ends of the earth -- or at least to the bottom of State Street -- then they have an obligation to go after each and every public employee (elected or not) who uses or has ever used a State car or the services of a State employee for personal benefit.

No doubt, if the folks in Albany do decide to open this can of worms, exposing themselves to similar public scrutiny, think of the millions of taxpayer dollars that would have to be repaid to New York State. Why, we could practically eliminate the entire State debt in one fell swoop!

We hear that Libby Pataki, as well as the Governor's mom, got a few free rides in official vehicles over the last 12 years. Who paid for those? Then there are the fire department chiefs (and other personnel) who routinely use department vehicles for everything from chauffeuring the kids to soccer games to camping trips in upstate New York. [Just what was the Chief's car from the Port Washington Fire Department doing on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey? Tempted to roll down the window and shout out, "Where's the fire?", I figured that the Chief must have been on his way to a training session. Never knew you could get to the Bahamas from Jersey...]

And what about all those county and town employees who use official cars as if they were their own? [Okay, in the Town of Hempstead, everyone in the family is on payroll, so its all "official business!"] If this blogger had a buck for every town vehicle in service for personal use, he'd have enough cash on hand to command a hostile takeover of Google -- Kate Murray, Chief Executive Officer.]

Aside from that old vox populi, consider that Alan Hevesi has not only offered a timely and no excuses mea culpa, he has repatriated to State coffers more than $200,000 [just how much are we paying State employees to drive cars?]. The Comptroller has paid for his crime -- and dearly so.

More than this, the worst punishment that anyone in the public eye, particularly those who are in high office, could possibly face is that long, slow, excruciating fall from grace. So stop already with the "Get Hevesi" movement. He, and we, have suffered enough!

By the way, if you need the license plate numbers of those town vehicles and fire chief SUVs being driven for personal use (and not only around town), we've got them!
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Keeping Faith With Ethics, and Voters


The time may have come for Alan G. Hevesi to begin channeling his inner Adam Clayton Powell Jr. That is, if he has an inner Powell. We’re talking about very different personalities.

Mr. Powell, the Harlem congressman, gave breadth to the word “flamboyant.” He was a rascal with a quick wit, a big grin, even bigger cigars and a taste for Cutty Sark mixed with milk. He especially liked one writer’s description of him as “arrogant, but with style.” When his world started to collapse under the weight of scandal, he encouraged supporters to “keep the faith.”

Mr. Hevesi, the New York State comptroller, is almost the linear opposite. He is aloof, the sort who seems unable to suffer even smart people gladly. Were he ever to utter a memorable phrase, it would more likely than not be something on the order of “keep the car.”

But there is a good reason for Mr. Hevesi to find that inner Powell — somewhere, anywhere — and fast. He is nearing a showdown with forces that want him out of office for having abused the taxpayer’s wallet. By his own admission, he did wrong. For years, he let the state pick up the hefty tab for a car and driver for his long-ailing wife, Carol.

His situation is not identical to Mr. Powell’s back in the 1960s, but it will do.

Because of his legal troubles and allegations of financial shenanigans, the congressman was booted from the seat he had held for 22 years. The House of Representatives voted in 1967 to exclude him.

But two months later, in a special election, Harlem voters sent him right back to Congress by an overwhelming margin. They kept faith with him once more in the regular 1968 election. And the following year the United States Supreme Court ruled, 7 to 1, that it was unconstitutional for Mr. Powell’s House colleagues to have excluded a duly elected member.

In other words, the voters count — a lot.

This simple proposition bears directly on the fate of Mr. Hevesi, who, despite his unadmirable behavior, was re-elected last month, and by a handsome margin at that.

Some people have cast the Hevesi case as a test of the governor-elect, Eliot Spitzer, who has disavowed the comptroller and presents himself as a man of uncommon morality. W.W.E.W. — what would Eliot want? — is for some the guiding light.

For some newspaper editorialists, the issue boils down to how Mr. Hevesi, as the state’s chief watchdog, can now point accusatory fingers at wrongdoers when he himself is so flawed. Never mind that most major newspapers have printed falsehoods in their time — mighty whoppers, even — yet do not feel disqualified from publishing.

But we have those pesky voters.

They knew about Mr. Hevesi’s misdeeds, and still they handed him another term. The comptroller has been emphasizing this point, suggesting that perhaps some Powell-channeling is indeed at work.

SUDDENLY surfaced is an article once written for the Fordham Urban Law Journal by Michael A. L. Balboni, now a Republican state senator from Long Island. Courts have ruled, Mr. Balboni wrote as a young lawyer in 1987, that when the public knows fully about an official’s misconduct and re-elects him anyway, the vote amounts to “an exoneration.”

He in no way defends what Mr. Hevesi did, Mr. Balboni said yesterday. Nonetheless, assuming that no other size-17 shoes drop (like an indictment by an Albany grand jury), “the question is vox populi,” he said. “Does it mean that we truly trust the decision of the jury: the voters?”

Another thought came from Henry J. Stern, a former city parks commissioner, now director of a watchdog group called New York Civic. If the State Senate or Assembly removes Mr. Hevesi, or if he is forced to resign, a new comptroller will be chosen by the very politicians he is supposed to monitor. Not good, Mr. Stern wrote the other day in his organization’s newsletter. “The state comptroller is an independent elected official for a valid reason,” he said.

Douglas A. Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College, framed the issue even more bluntly: “Do you have a lapdog watching over you?”

Back to vox pop: It has a strange tendency to slice many ways.

Mr. Powell died in 1972 at age 63, two years after he narrowly lost a Democratic primary to Charles B. Rangel, who still holds that Congressional seat. Harlem voters kept the faith. They just remembered that their primary allegiance was not to a man but to democracy.

Copyright The New York Times Company 2006

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Gov Talks About Getting Tough On Legislators. . .

. . . In Iraq, NOT New York!

Soon to be former Governor George Pataki had some pretty harsh words for the legislature. Unfortunately, his venomous words were vented toward the Iraqi Legislature, and not the folks whose dysfunction can be classified as a new disorder by the Center for Disease Control, New York's very own State Legislature.

"Having been in Iraq a little over a week ago, to me, the single most important thing we have to do right now is to hold the Iraqi government's feet to the fire and make them start to perform," Pataki said. "They're failing; they're not passing simple legislation like allocating fairly petroleum revenues. . ."

Remove just a few words -- Iraq, Iraqi, petroleum -- and you'd be hard-pressed to distinguish between the failing government in Baghdad and the failed government in Albany. Too bad George Pataki couldn't see the trees in the forest that grows just a wee bit closer to home!

"Feet to the fire?" In New York, its more like "sand in the hourglass." The only urgency in Albany is to convene to rubber stamp Pataki's lame duck appointees and to consider a pay hike -- for themselves. [They'll tie it to a well-deserved and long-overdue raise for the judiciary, just to make it look good (in case we, the people, actually look... Nahhhh!).]

In trekking to Iraq -- and in chastizing the Iraqi government (on which point the Gov happens to be 100% correct, they are failing) -- Pataki is trying to look presidential.

Too bad, during the course of the past twelve years, George Pataki looked anything but gubernatorial. [Goober, perhaps, but certainly not gubernatorial.]

Our State Legislature's failings are legion -- and over a much longer period of time, and without the civil strife or insurgent bombings to contend with.

Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer will have his hands full come Day One. We only hope that his body armour offers more protection than that afforded (or not) to out troops in Iraq.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Its 11 AM. Do You Know Where Your State Senator Is?

Tune In, Watch The Wheels Spin, Try To Catch Your Tax Dollars As They Fly Out Of Your Wallet

Watch the New York State Senate on your computer

Listen to live audio of the Senate

View the Senate's session schedule

Senate legislative sessions are broadcast directly to the public through the Internet. They are presented live, unedited and without editorial comment. To enable text captioning, within RealOne player, select "tools", "preferences", "content", and check "Use supplemental text captioning when available."

Somebody should be keeping an eye on the goings-on in Albany. Who better than YOU?

M(urray)TV-2: Revenge Of The Town GOP

Its 5 To 1 (plus Kate Murray) On The Town Of Hempstead Board, And 120,000 Residents Don't Stand A Chance

There they go again. Excluding Town Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby.

Bad enough that Town of Hempstead residents are continually left out in the cold by the Town fathers (or mother, as the case may well be), the powers-that-be (for reasons known only to God and Joe Mondello) also make a notorious habit of keeping the lone Democrat on the Town Board in the dark on matters of critical importance -- such as the appointment of commissioners.

Why bother to tell Dot Goosby about an intended patronage appointment, or anything else, for that matter. Let the sole voice of the loyal opposition (to anything) at Town Hall be muzzled, and her constituents be damned.

Shameful is the patronage at Town Hall, where if you are not a GOP Committeeman, well, frankly, you are simply not anything or anywhere. Outrageous is this childish game-play that effectively disenfranchises more than 100,000 Town of Hempstead residents.

"We don't want them to know" has become the standing order of government. From White House to State House, the legislative office building in Albany to town hall in Hempstead, its the 21st Century equivalent of "let them eat cake" -- or, here on Long Island, crumbs.

We elect 'em. They screw us over (and make us pay dearly for the privilege). We elect them again. And we wonder why our taxes go up, and absolutely nothing changes.

So, now the Town of Hempstead has a new Building Commissioner. No doubt we'll be seeing that war on illegal accessory apartments open up on many fronts -- one would be nice. Perhaps we'll have some Code enforcement -- assuming anyone at Town Hall can find a copy of the Code. And those affordable housing starts, the revitalization of our downtowns, and the rebirth of Main Street will most certainly be in the pipeline, right? Okay, we won't hold our breath.

Guaranteed you'll see some (many) mailings, and maybe a TV spot or two, featuring the new commish -- with photos of a smiling Kate Murray, of course. After all, that's what property taxes are for. . .
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Special to The Community Alliance -- New York State Legislature convenes in special session in Albany today. Among the items on the agenda: confirming Pataki's lame-duck appointees; pay hikes for State Senators and Assemblymembers (great part-time work, if you can get it); and a member-item grant of $250,000, sponsored by the Senate's Deputy Majority Leader, Dean Skelos, to be awarded to Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, for purposes of plastering her smiling face on billboards, supermarket checkout counter screens, and personalized postage stamps. Dean delivers. Kate croons. You foot the bill. What could be better?
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Appointment raises concern

Newsday Staff Writer

The Town of Hempstead yesterday appointed a new buildings commissioner over the objections of one councilwoman who said she wasn't even informed there was a vacancy to fill.

Supervisor Kate Murray praised the appointment of John Loeffel, the first deputy commissioner of the department, to replace retired commissioner Joseph Nocella. She called him a longtime "dedicated member of the building department."

Before casting the lone vote against the resolution, Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby said she learned of the upcoming resolution only on Friday and was handed Loeffel's resume only 15 minutes before yesterday's town board meeting.

Goosby, whose civil rights lawsuit against the at-large system of electing town board members forced the town to create council districts, said that since her election in 1999 she has asked repeatedly to be informed about vacancies so she could propose candidates.

"The continued practice of excluding me and, as a result, the over 120,000 constituents of Councilmanic District No. 1, continues this prohibited policy of exclusion from participation in government," she said in a prepared statement.

Murray and the five other town board members are Republican. Loeffel and Nocella are GOP committeemen, according to election records.

Nocella, who earned $114,502 last year, retired Nov. 12, according to town spokesman Mike Deery.

Loeffel will earn $108,398 as commissioner. He began working for the town in 1969 in the public safety department. He moved to the building department in 1988, where he started as a zoning inspector and worked his way up the ranks, according to town officials.

In May 2005, Goosby objected to two other appointments because she wasn't informed of the vacancies until a few days before the vote.

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.