Consolidation is still the best solution

February 21, 2013

The focus of the debate today is on the tax cap. NYSUT has gone to court to overturn it; while the Business Council opposes that move. Both have their points. A rigid tax cap doesn’t allow for local needs. Although the 2% limit can be breached, there’s a cost in terms of people power and money to do so. On the other side without a cap, local government administrators lack any incentive to increase efficiency.

Gov. Cuomo’s solution––borrowing from future pension savings––has not won over a number of mayors and other officials. (See Stephanie Miner’s op ed “Cuomo to Cities: Just Borrow” in the New York Times)

The long-term solution is still consolidation. I’ve made this argument many times before. So if you don’t like my reasons, consider another data point offered by UB Prof. Bruce Fisher. Writing in ArtVoice, Fisher points to the success the cities of Toronto and Montreal have had with regionalization — merging small inefficient local governments into their regional structure. (See “Bashing Cuomo, Ducking Mergers“)

Let’s review the facts:

    Current jurisdictional lines–city, village, town and even county boundaries–no longer reflect current demographic and technological conditions. They lead to underutilized equipment and personnel, to gaps and duplication, to bureaucratic and political infighting, poor management, fraud and the bottom line poor service delivery.
    Those who oppose consolidation are the primary beneficiaries–those whose personal pockets are lined with cash today and in retirement. They get to act like kings and queens in the name of their subjects. I thought we’d gotten rid of royalty two hundred fifty years ago!
    Consolidation can result in lower taxes and better services. Examples abound (see Fisher). But we’re not just talking about something that would be nice to have happen. For Upstate New York, consolidation is a necessity!
    In review, lots of individuals and business owners in Upstate New York would rather be elsewhere. To keep them where they are taxpayers are taking on the chin. In order to make Upstate desirable we need fewer government entities, lower energy prices and lower taxes. Consolidation gives us two out of the three.

The State Department and our friends at the Government Law Center of Albany Law School and the Rockefeller College are doing their best to help local governments face the music, but the progress is too slow. Read the Comptroller’s audit reports of local government financial management and you’ll see that too many tax dollars are being mismanaged if not outright stolen.

The solution: Increase the incentives AND the penalties for not consolidating. Also, we need political leaders who will carry this water. Tell your constituents that they’re putting nails in their communities’ coffins every day they delay in merging with other jurisdictions. That includes some counties which ought to merge given how few people live within their borders.

Final point: Isn’t consolidation a solution both NYSUT and the Business Council could agree on? Wouldn’t both win with stronger school districts and a friendlier climate for the business community?


Unpopular Governor & Sunday’s Best Editorials

April 13, 2009

Empire Page readers gave Governor David Paterson a very poor grade in last week’s poll.  Of the 296 readers who graded the governor on a scale of 1 to 5, only 14 (5%) gave him a 1 and only 8 (3%) gave him a 2.   The vast majority gave him a 5 (64%) or a 4 (16%).

There’s only one way that David Paterson can save his governorship and perhaps still have a chance at being re-elected…and that is to stop worrying about being re-elected.  For the past year we have seen him engage in a pattern of behavior that is guaranteed to alienate everyone.  First, he identifies a problem and takes a stand, advocating a (most of the time) logical solution. Then, however, he appears to back down when the inevitable opposition arises.  The Gov. must learn not to speak up until he’s ready to go to the wall on an issue.  He should also stop caving into Speaker Silver. While admittedly it may be too late, he must put the needs of the state as a whole ahead of his political future – which after all is what a governor is supposed to do.

Sunday’s Best Editorials and Columns

If you want the benefit of sharp thinking about NYS problems, read Sunday’s Buffalo News’ editorial on Wicks Law, the Times-Herald-Record of Middletown’s editorial “New Yorkers get the information that they need” and two columns: Alan Chartock’s piece in the Sunday Freeman “Same old, same old in Albany” and Bob McCarthy’s “Who’s at fault for the budget”.

The Buffalo News continues to tear into the state’s political establishment these days.  This week they endorse the views of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state of New York that argues that last year’s so-called reform of the Wicks law violates both the NYS and US Constitutions.

The Wicks Law artificially inflates construction costs on large public projects.  Frankly, it exists in order to force contractors to hire union labor, demonstrating that organized labor has considerably more political muscle than the business community in NYS.  If the courts overturn last year’s “reform” perhaps Albany will find the backbone to do the right thing, which is to make the bidding process truly competitive.

In their Sunday editorial the Times Herald Record applauds Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for creating a website where citizens can learn “how much a candidate or elected official donated or received, look at the lobbying efforts and expenditures that get bills passed, see who got what in terms of member items and study dozens of other pieces of information that make for an informed citizenry.”  You can access the site at

The THR also applauds access to a database assembled by the Business Council, Manhattan Institute and other groups that allows citizens to compare what they pay in taxes with taxpayers in other parts of the state.  You can access the database at

Poor Alan Chartock and Bob McCarthy!  Each week they have to churn out a column about NYS government and politics. The problem is that it’s tough to find much positive to write about these days.  Instead they see the “same old Albany” operating in the way it’s done for too many years …even after the cast of characters has changed.

The problem with New York’s political system is that little good happens until a “knight in shining armor” becomes governor and rescues us from a Legislature that is dominated by regional and special interest loyalties. But given the recent record of knights in shining armor, it’s time we recognized that’s no longer the solution.  Instead we need structural reform not “better” leaders.  Read the Federalist Papers.  Our founding fathers understood that you need countervailing forces to balance interests.

In New York the Legislature is too strong relative to the Executive branch.   The Legislature prevails because it is not democratically elected or run.   We live in the world’s greatest democracy except in NYS, which in truth more closely resembles the way things are done in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Take the power to draw their own district lines away from the Legislature and impose reforms that reduce the powers of the Speaker and New Yorkers will be able to look forward to an exciting future.