By George, We Think He's Got It!
George J. Marlin, the 1993 Conservative Party candidate for Mayor of the City of New York, opines on New York's special taxing districts, offering support of legislation which would enable New Yorkers to rein in these feudal fiefdoms that tax not only our wallets, but reason and logic as well.
So, there is liberal thinking, even among staunch conservatives. How do you like that?
And now, without further ado, from the pen of George Marlin:
Rarely a week goes by without a New York elected official, government appointee or political influence peddler being indicted, convicted of crimes, sentenced to prison or forced to resign in disgrace. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s investigation into the state pension system’s “pay to play” placement fee racket is an astonishing example of the “entitlement mentality” political class whose members believe they have earned the right to rip off taxpayers to the tune of tens of millions of dollars for making phone calls to cronies. And then there’s last week’s scathing report issued by State Inspector General Joseph Fisch, which concluded that Herbert Teitelbaum, executive director of the state Ethics Commission “betrayed the public trust.” In other words, the chief ethics watchdog was allegedly unethical when investigating government officials suspected of wrongdoing.
Individual criminal behavior is not the only form of political corruption that pervades our state. There’s institutional corruption in the form of special district entities that are a cancerous limb of our body politic.
The authors of the New York constitution instinctively practiced subsidiarity – a practice long championed by conservatives and Catholic social thinkers – which, to quote Templeton Prizewinner Michael Novak, “maintains human life proceeds most intelligently and creatively when decisions are made at the local level closest to concrete reality.”
This approach to governing gives taxpayers the opportunity to have influence over the policies and practices pursued in their towns and villages and their school, library and fire districts. The Constitution’s local empowerment laws have had, however, an unintended consequence: the proliferation of special districts that possess tax, spending and borrowing authority.
These 6,000 largely unsupervised, under-the-radar municipal entities oversee every conceivable function, including aquatic plant growth control, disposal of duck waste and even fallout shelters.
On Long Island, there are 901 such districts. My own Nassau County tax statement includes taxes for 18 special districts.
These shadow governments, which are a major contributing factor to New York having the highest combined state and local taxes in the nation, are shielded by political bosses because they serve as patronage mills for the party faithful. Many have highly paid executive directors, legal counsel and scores of staff members.
Hence, perpetuating their existence is in the best interest of pols, not taxpayers.
Now in the aftermath of the Wall Street meltdown, Attorney General Cuomo, having heard the cry of beleaguered taxpayers, has entered the fray with a bold proposal many believe is the first initiative of the Cuomo administration.
Confident that the consolidation and dissolution of redundant special districts holds the potential for minimizing bureaucracy and thus maximizing efficiency and savings, Cuomo explained last week to the Long Island Association in Melville that he has crafted a law that, if enacted, empowers citizens – not Albany bureaucrats or political potentates – to initiate referendums to reorganize or eliminate inefficient local governments.
Frustrated taxpayers could begin dissolution or consolidation procedures by carrying petitions door to door in two or more special districts and procuring the signatures of 10 percent or 5,000 residents, whichever is less. The initiative must then receive the approval of voters in each of the affected entities. If successful at the polls, the initiative takes effect after the governing bodies approve a final plan.
If voter approval is achieved and the political heavies who dominate the affected governing entities refuse to obey the electoral results, the Cuomo law permits the commencement of court proceedings to compel them.
In conservative circles, this approach has raised eyebrows because Cuomo’s plan challenges the local power base not only of Republican hacks, but Democrats and municipal unions as well.
Attorney General Cuomo’s proposal to empower local taxpayers to allow reform and elimination of local taxing entities should be embraced by New York conservatives, for it would permit local taxpayers to be masters of their fate and would open the door to initiative and referendum – positions long advocated by members of the political right and resisted by the Albany elite.
George J. Marlin is the author of “Fighting the Good Fight: A History of the New York Conservative Party.” His blog is www.streetcornerconservative.com.