A Major Project Moves Forward in Vermont While A Similar Effort In NYS Is Blocked

October 8, 2012

Two stories from SnoCountry website tell the tale of two major economic development projects — one that’s accelerating, the other that’s stalled. See Major Project Accelerates in Northern Vermont As Similar Effort Stalls In N.Y. and Volunteers Toss In Towel – New York’s Big Tupper Won’t Open.

The Jay Peak-Burke Mountain project in Northern Vermont is a public/private partnership that includes ski lodges, but also manufacturing and a biomedical research center that projects to bring 5,000 permanent jobs to the Newport area.

In contrast in New York, the attempt to reopen the Big Tupper Ski Area as part of a major economic development project collapsed under the weight of delaying tactics by the Sierra Club and other so-called environmental organizations. Approval of the project this past January by the Adirondack Park Agency after an 8-year battle turned out to be a symbolic victory as instead of working to bring about something positive for the economically-depressed central Adirondack region, the environmentalists preferred to crush the community’s hopes with court actions.


Correction to State Taking

July 12, 2011

In my post about the state not renewing a lease on Sacandaga Lake, I had my facts wrong. The state took the property in question by eminent domain after the owners proved in court that they had a good title. That was a bad, unnecessary and abusive decision. It’s not too late to reverse it.

A further example where the state of New York needs to get out of its citizens’ business, is the Belleayre Ski Center. Currently run by DEC, a commission recently recommended putting it under control of ORDA – the Olympic Regional Development Authority. This is a bad idea. The entire property should be put up for sale period. The state will reap income now and will be relieved of future spending obligations that it has no business obligating itself to cover. Neither DEC or ORDA are the best choice to operate what should be a private business. A private owner will take the risk and will deserve the reward or lack thereof by virtue of his/her efforts and luck.

Vote on whether you agree with me on our home page — www.empirepage.com.

Avoiding Greece in New York

July 8, 2011

One of the major factors dragging down the Greek economy is its large inventory of non-performing private property. Only now, when faced with extreme cutbacks is the government starting to put some of its $500 billion inventory on the market.

What does that say to New York State? Get serious now about selling state-owned property that is not essential to the public welfare. That should include selling marketable state land in the Adirondacks that is not essential to protecting the environment and that would benefit the region’s economy.

The goal of purchasing more and more land in the Adirondacks has little to do with protecting the environment – despite claims of groups like the Adirondack Council. Instead it’s all about political power – who gets to make decisions – Albany or the local community – and at whose expense.

The end result of land purchases is that many Adirondack communities are not economically viable. The latest census reports declining populations throughout the region. Young people move out as soon as they can because there are no jobs for them and even if there were, there is no affordable housing for them to live in. The fact that there is a finite amount of lakefront property also limits the opportunities for middle class families south of the Park to purchase summer homes.

Instead of buying more land the state should be selling land such as the northwest shore of Sacandaga Lake (not to be confused with the “Great” Sacandaga Lake). Hamilton County needs to expand its tax base. Adding 10 or 20 more properties on the shore would help the County and aid local businesses as well. There are no environmental reasons for keeping that land in state hands.

There is one property on the west side of Sacandaga Lake that the state is going to take back from a 99-year leaseholder when the current resident dies. This is an example of government imperialism – using state power to quash citizen rights. The descendents of the current owner should either be allowed to up the current lease or the state should put that property on the market. Again, there is no environmental justification for taking that land.

If it takes a constitutional amendment to end the tyranny of state land ownership in the Adirondacks, then so be it. That’s just one more reason to hold a constitutional convention before 2017.

Indian Point versus AG Schneiderman

April 17, 2011

NYS AG Eric Schneiderman doesn’t think that the NRC should proceed with the relicensing of the the Indian Point nuclear facility in 2013 until it has changed its review procedures in light of the Fukushima disaster. He also believes the Indian Point plant’s operators should be punished for failure to upgrade its fire detection and suppression system, despite the fact that Indian Point has passed all previous regulatory reviews.

The Empire Page sought the views of John Durso, Jr., executive director of the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, an industry spokesman and published the interview today (Sunday April 17) on the Improving New York page of the Empire Page. Comments can be added to the end of the interview.

This week’s poll question will ask New Yorker’s how they feel about Indian Point.

Toward Civic Integrity, A Book Review

September 30, 2010

After more than six years of haggling, the final hurdles were overcome recently for the construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter within the city limits of Gloversville in Fulton County in upstate New York. While Gloversville City Court Judge Vincent DeSantis, author of “Towards Civic Integrity; Re-establishing the Micropolis,” (2007) understands the motives of the public officials who pushed the project through, he believes that this is exactly the wrong kind of development that’s needed for cities like Gloversville to function successfully in the 21st century.

In his self-published extended essay, Judge DeSantis chronicles oft-repeated accusations against Wal-Mart centered communities. In addition to the charge that they drive locally-owned stores out of business, do not provide living wages to their employees and “suck” money out of the community, DeSantis points out that big box top managers have no personal involvement in or commitment to the local communities in which their stores are located.

When the new Wal-Mart opens in 2011, the company will close its current store, which is located on Gloversville’s outskirts. That will negatively impact the stores, restaurants and bank branches that chose to locate in that area because of the traffic Wal-Mart generated. One can picture driving past those stores in the not too distant future and seeing empty parking lots. This is precisely the kind of social cost that DeSantis rails against in his book.

Ironically, the location of the current Wal-Mart was once occupied by Gloversville’s minor league baseball stadium – an institution representative of an era when communities the size of Gloversville, which at the time had a population of around 20,000, were largely self-contained.

While its minor league ballpark was on the outskirts of the city, 60 years ago Gloversville’s downtown supported a high school, a hospital, two movie theaters, locally-owned banks, department and clothing stores, a public library, a YMCA, a YWCA, a Jewish Community Center, etc. – all within walking distance of the majority of its residents. The downtown in those days was symbolic of a city that had achieved a certain amount of prosperity. Gloversville even had both morning and afternoon newspapers.

In reviewing the history of Gloversville, DeSantis blames the beginnings of post-WW II globalization for undercutting the industry that served as the foundation for Gloversville’s self-contained prosperous community. He understands he writes the decisions of the factory owners who sought cheaper labor in Haiti and elsewhere. They had to relocate in order to remain competitive DeSantis argues. He fails to mention, however, the other reason that owners started moving shops overseas in the 1950s – a factor that undercuts his picture of Gloversville as an idyllic, balanced community.

One incentive for owners to move out of Gloversville was the strength of the labor movement in the tanneries and glove cutting and sewing shops.

In the early 1930s, one in four residents worked directly in the industry. The tanneries employed approximately 2,100, 3,500 worked in shops cutting leather and sewing gloves, while an unknown number worked out of their homes. (See Philip S. Foner, The Fur and Leather Workers Union, Nordan Press, 1950, p. 542-43.)

The mechanization of the glove industry after World War I reduced skilled craft people to easily replaceable laborers, which not surprisingly spurred the work force to organize for better pay and working conditions. Those efforts culminated with the formation of the Independent Leather Workers Union of Fulton County.

For insight into how bad some of the working conditions were in the tanneries and glove shops and the impact those conditions had on workers’ families, I recommend reading Gloversville native and novelist Richard Russo’s essay in issue 111 of Granta, a British literary publication.

In 1933, tannery workers held an 8-week strike that resulted in recognition of shop committees, 15 to 30 percent wage increases and the right to collective bargaining. After World War II, Taft-Hartley strengthened the employers’ bargaining position and the glove owners took advantage, seeking to break the union by demanding that it sign a contract without any pay increase. When the union refused, the owners of 18 tanneries imposed a lock out of union members, which in turn led to an-industry wide strike.

For the next eight months, owners tried all sorts of tricks to break the strike. They set up company unions, endorsed competing AFL & CIO unions and accused the leaders of Local 202 of being communists. Finally on January 25, 1950, they broke the strike by using the local police department assisted by paid goons to escort scab workers into the tanneries.

One shouldn’t make light of the extent of the division that existed in Gloversville between factory owners and workers during these years. My father, a doctor who came to Gloversville as a refugee after Hitler annexed Austria, was ostracized for providing medical care to members of the IFLWU and their families. For a while he thought he would have to move out of Gloversville in order to support his family.

Which brings me to my biggest concern with Judge DeSantis’ vision of the future. I have little quarrel with his criticism of the damage inflicted on communities like Gloversville by globalization of the world’s economy, but I do have questions about where that leaves us and whether his prescription for the future will do the trick.

DeSantis argues that the global economy is not sustainable. He believes that the damage being done to the planet by our oil-dependent economy will result in public policies that restrict economic activity such as shipping products from China to be consumed by Wal-Mart shoppers. The political will for such may or may not appear. Yet, he accurately describes efforts by more and more people to move off that stage – advocates for smart growth and people who produce food and other goods for local consumption. (See “The Internet Might Save Main Street,” by Peter Funt, WSJ, September 20 for a supporting trend).

The other factor that DeSantis believes militates against the global economy is the cost and availability of oil. However, his prediction that cost of oil will eventually become too high to sustain that economy seems no closer to coming to pass than when it was first voiced 40 years ago. Further, technology may find solutions to oil dependence that result in our being able to have our cars and drive them too.

But, the globalization of business is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it meant that a lot of locally owned stores in cities like Gloversville went out of business which in turn undermined the downtown-centered culture DeSantis admires. In Wal-Mart’s defense, however, Gloversville’s downtown was dying long before they built their current store. They just took advantage of the fact that area residents already had to get in their cars to do their shopping and that they were happy to find a store that had so many inexpensive products under one roof.

On the flip side, robust international trade enabled Europe and Japan to rebuild after WW II, which contributed to tremendous prosperity in Europe and the US for several decades. That prosperity eventually flowed downhill, helping to bring countries like India, Brazil, South Africa and China out of the throws of underdevelopment. Without globalization, there would be no middle class in China today and that country might still be under the thumb of Mao’s Culture Revolution where teachers and doctors were sent to re-indoctrination camps and peasants were given power because their poverty made them pure.

Bringing this back to Upstate New York, the car-centered economy actually helped communities like Gloversville, Schoharie and Saratoga survive the past four decades because people could enjoy small city life while being able to drive to good-paying jobs using the Thruway and Northway.

Today, the Internet offers the potential for new companies to locate in cities like Gloversville. However, as DeSantis admits these jobs will not be the factory jobs of the 1930s and 40s – either in the number of people employed or in their being able to employ unskilled, uneducated workers. Good jobs today require a more educated work force –programmers, technicians, graphic designers, people with language and writing skills, etc.. The question is whether business owners will be willing to locate in cities that unable to contend with the negatives of blight, poverty and high taxes.

The survival of cities like Gloversville in upstate New York may come down to whether the state of New York and the federal government get their acts together. Currently the state of New York is an albatross on the back on the upstate economy. Rather than helping communities meet the challenges of the 21st century, the state has failed to address the increasing problems localities have paying for basic services. Governors have done what they always do – look for some large scale project where they can hold a ribbon cutting ceremony and the leaders of the Legislature act as if everything north of Westchester County is someone else’s problem.

Yet Judge DeSantis does offer some valuable concepts for localities that have sufficient resources to fight the decline. Saratoga represents one example where community involvement worked; Amsterdam represents what happens when the community lacks sufficient local strengths. Whether it’s too late for Gloversville, time will tell, but ironically the taxes generated by the Super Wal-Mart may help pave the way for its revival.

State Parks, the Adirondacks in particular

April 18, 2010

This week two members of the State Assembly — Tim Gordon (I-Bethlehem) and RoAnn Destito (D-Rome) — opined on the question of whether the state should close some parks and reduce hours in others in order to help balance the budget as proposed by Gov. Paterson.

In the Troy Record, Gordon argues that the parks contribute more to the local economy than they cost. “The Assembly and Senate have put forth budget proposals that address the deficit wihtout sacrificing the state parks,” he writes.

Destito writing in the Observer-Dispatch argues that park closings would harm the state’s tourism industry, citing a study by a parks and trails advocacy group.

By couching the problem in terms of the state’s fiscal deficit, both deflect the argument away from the real source of the problem which is that it costs New York more to operate its parks than user fees bring in. Their argument is based on the unsound assumption that it’s okay for taxpayers to maintain state parks as a money-losing operation.

While park fees have been increased in recent years, the notion that it’s okay to lose money in running the parks has prevented the state from implementing solutions that could have minimized the impact of the state’s fiscal crisis on the parks system.

What Should Be Done?

First the Parks should charge users based on demand. If I want a campsite at a popular park July 4th week I should pay a lot more than if I want that campsite the last week in September. By developing a system of online bidding — allowing customers to set the price not only for specific parks but for individual campsites, the state could generate user fees commensurate with the VALUE they are providing to the user.

Secondly the park system should not lose money period! If budgeting around individual parks is impractical, then organize parks into logical geographic groupings and require each group as a whole to breakeven. That might mean some parks may need to be closed because there’s not enough DEMAND to justify keeping those parks open. Every park ought to exist because there are enough people who are wiling to pay enough in user fees to justify the state’s keeping that facility (by itself or as part of a geographic group) open.

Those are my views, but I may not have all of the facts and perhaps there are better solutions. That’s why I’ve invited the commissioners of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the Department of Environmental Conservation to participate in a roundtable discussion on the topic. Carol Ash, Commissioner of Parks, has submitted the first response. I’ve asked the Empire Page’s regular columnists to submit their views, but I welcome either detailed responses or short comments from the Empire Page community of subscribers and readers.

The Adirondack Park represents a specific case within the larger debate about the state’s “environment” and thus we need to look specifically at some issues relating to the Park, including how it is run, how we pay for administering it, etc. To that end I’ll be publishing shortly an interview I conducted with Brian Houseal, executive director of the Adirondack Council. Further interviews and blog posts will follow on the Adirondacks and the environment. Again, readers are welcome to participate in the discussion.

To further gauge readers’ views on the State Parks issue, our poll question of the week asks you to tell us what the state should do to keep open those parks the Governor proposes be shuttered. You can vote your view on our home page.

Last week’s poll question concerned legalizing medical marijuana. Unfortunately, this issue, like too many others, has gotten caught up in the budget debate. Instead of being judged on its merits, some legislators may be tempted to vote on the basis of whether we ought to do it in order to generate new revenues.

Sixty-three (63) percent of our readers said maijuana ought to be legalized for medical use; twenty-five (25) percent said no. The rest elected to stay “on the fence”.