Thursday, November 02, 2006

"Watch The Gap"

As The Disconnect Between Albany And Community Grows. . .

We were going to give you our endorsements of candidates for the New York State Legislature, but, if you've been reading these blog posts religiously (Pat Robertson made us say that), you should have a pretty good idea not only where we stand on the issues, but who's been naughty and who's been nice in the seat of government for the Empire State.

Yes, we are all for change in Albany -- for "throwing the bums out," as the old saying goes -- but we figure that our readers are smart enough ("plenny smart," as the bombastic Bush would say) to seperate the wheat from the chaff, or as the case may well be in our State's capital, the living from the dead.

Time in Albany, as most of us realize, is not measured in years, or even decades. Its more like periods -- as in Jurassic. There are those who have been holed up in the marble-clad Rockefeller-era edifices for so long that they've not only seen dinosaurs come and go, but they've stood by watching the gap grow, so to speak -- and not only that gap between rail car and platform of MTA/LIRR fame, but the growing gap in State Aid between upstate and downstate school districts; between what is paid to the State in taxes and what is returned to the local communities from which those taxes come; between what our State government spends (and spends, and spends) and the ever-accumulating debt (now nearly 50 billion dollars. That's 50 BILLION dollars!) our State government has amassed.

While long-time State Legislators have grown rich and powerful as a result of their "part-time" tenures in Albany, the gap widens locally between the haves and have-nots; between those who have health care and those who must do without; between the comfortably housed and those being driven out of their houses by outrageous property taxes, the recent "rebate" checks notwithstanding.

And speaking of gaps, back in the day (more than 20 years ago, in fact) when former State Senator Carol Berman (who not long ago had the misfortune of falling into that gap at the Lawrence, NY LIRR station, sustaining serious injuries) held her district's seat in Albany, Long Island's public schools were receiving somewhere in the neighborhood of 60% of their funding through State Aid. Today, Long Island's school districts consider themselves lucky when they get 12-15% in State Aid. And what do they do in the State Legislature? You got it! They sit back and "watch the gap" as it grows and grows and grows.

The Albany aloof haven't had much success, or frankly, made much effort over the years, on closing the gap in other areas of concern to New Yorkers.

Hanging their hats and our hopes on that phantom STAR, our State Legislators have made a mockery of property tax reform, wooing us with rubber "rebate" checks, and "enhancing" an "in one pocket, out the other" approach to fixing a broken system.

Revitalizing New York's business base, and with it, our Main Streets, has become more of a boondoggle than a boon. Empire Zones, said to have yielded nearly $30 billion in tax breaks for businesses since 1995, have themselves become bastions of patronage and political favoritism, doing far too little in terms of either job creation or in stirring the local economy.

On the afordable housing front, the Republican held Senate has refused to act on a measure which has received bipartisan support in the Assembly, the DiNapoli workforce housing bill, its leaders gambling that no one would notice that, without affordable places to live, our kids and our jobs are making a mass exodus out of New York.

On the environment, while the Democratic-led Assembly has at least proferred, and, in large measure, approved legislation that would both preserve and enhance the water we drink and the air we breathe, Senate leaders have been steadfast in making certain that comprehensive programs -- among them, The Community Preservation Act, The Clean Water Protection/Flood Prevention Act, The Environmental Protection Fund Enhancement Act, so-called "Super Bills" -- die in committee. Perhaps we wouldn't need to borrow money here on Long Island to protect our environment [Proposition One on the November 7th ballot] if the folks in Albany would take the intitative for a change. Evidence, here, the gap between constituents' expectations and desires and the deliberate actions and/or inaction of our State Legislators.

Then there's the growing gap between our State Legislators and their own constituents, a gap that all the glossy mailings and Madison Avenue TV spots cannot fill. While legislators secretly dole out the pork close to home, signs sporting their names adorning playing fields and community centers in their own backyards, signs elsewhere in the districts "served" by these very same legistators, and throughout the State, point only to empty promises, if not to vacant brownfields that have become all too familiar dumping grounds, the likes of which put the old Flushing Meadow junkyards to shame.

As the gap between dysfunction and utility widens in Albany, swallowing all but the faintest semblance of a duty to serve the public good, the State Legislature fiddles while significant issues -- from Medicaid fraud to pension reform, education finance to economic development -- simmer endlessly on the back burner.

If New York State had a god -- an authority higher than those public authorities (whose collective debt of $120 billion dwarfs even that of the State), and over which our State Legislature wields little control or oversight (mostly by design) -- He (or She) would go by the name of Mediocrates. Yes, Mediocrates, the god of "we can do better, but why bother?"

We can, and we must, do better. Indeed, if we are, at long last, to begin to attack the ills that consume community, be they property taxes or inadequate public transportation, we have to man (or woman) the front lines with those who will not only watch the gap, but will act to narrow it.

It is high time that we, as an informed and involved electorate, took back Albany in the name of the people that government is supposed to serve, empowering our legislative representatives to do more -- much more -- than simply cede power (and our futures) to three men in a room.

Last August, we at The Community Alliance posed "Five Questions To Ask Your State Legislators."

Maybe you've asked. Maybe you haven't. Could be the answers sufficed, or perhaps the responses you were looking for never came.

Be that as it may, and, unfortunately, as it has been in Albany for far, far too long, now is the time to ask yourself the ultimate question: "What have my State Legislators done for our community lately?"

Your answers (don't worry, they're multiple choice) should be relatively easy, assuming that you've been watching those widening gaps in credibility, accountability, and doability. [Is that a word? It is now...] .

You get to record your answers next Tuesday, November 7th, when you step into the voting booth. And please, WATCH THE GAP!

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