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#StopTheMadness – Tax Amnesty could solve the MTA dilemma

#StopTheMadness – Tax Amnesty could solve the MTA dilemma

NEW YORK – DECEMBER 19: Commuters pass through Grand Central Terminal during morning rush hour December 19, 2005 in New York City. Transit workers continue to negotiate a contract with the Metropolitan Transit Authority while saying a system-wide strike will occur if an agreement is not reached by 12:01 a.m. tonight. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Watching the epic battle between Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio as the MTA falls deeper into crisis, reminds me of the Lord of the Rings battle for Middle-earth. Only, New York is not dealing with a fictional problem – our main transportation system is literally crumbling beneath our feet.

So, while our politicians are shuttled around in black SUVs while playing the blame game, the rest of us are asking who’s going to pay to clean up this mess. There is no reason to mandate another wealth tax on the 32,000 city residents who already pay almost half (49.2 percent) of the city’s income taxes or implement congestion pricing, which is a backdoor tax that hits a struggling middle class and small businesses. Instead the city and state could fill the MTA coffers by December with a comprehensive tax amnesty initiative.

MTA officials have pegged the cost for emergency repairs of the subway system at over $800 million. History proves that the development and execution of a professional tax amnesty program could net the MTA these badly needed dollars.

Read the full article at The Huffington Post

Long Island, Pay Attention to the Toxins in the Water

Long Island, Pay Attention to the Toxins in the Water

As Long Islanders are easing into the New Year, many are hopeful they can keep their resolutions and that this year will be better than the last. Some are beginning to rethink that hopefulness after reading the in-depth reporting done by Long Island’s Newsday on the Island’s tainted drinking water supply.

The Environmental Protection Agency and local government officials have recently announced a new potential carcinogen 1, 4-Dioxane (used in personal care products), which has been found in a large number of wells that supply Long Island’s drinking water. In fact, the EPA believes Long Island has the highest level of this contaminant in its water supply than in any other region in the nation.

Long Island has been suffering with the long term effects of illegal dumping of industrial waste for decades, which has seeped into the sole source supply of drinking water. Many concerned citizens and public officials have been fighting for years to protect our fragile aquifers. Understandably, many residents have paid faint attention to this issue as they are just trying to survive all of the financial pressures of living in this region.

Read the full article in The Huffington Post

A Blueprint For Trump’s White House Office Of American Innovation

A Blueprint For Trump’s White House Office Of American Innovation

Allan H. Mogensen, the father of business efficiency coined the phrase, “Work Smarter, Not Harder.” As with all great business innovation, it takes the govern

ment a while to catch up.

President Donald J. Trump recently announced that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, would lead a new White House Office of American Innovation.

This new office will be charged with performing a SWOT analysis designed to attack critical economic and social issues for which solutions have been elusive during past administrations. There are a bevy of campaign promises that the Trump Administration must keep, among them are running the country more like a business through simplifying the tax code, investing in our crumbling infrastructure and promoting domestic job growth.

Read the full article at The Huffington Post

Civic Engagement is the Only Cure for Political Corruption

Civic Engagement is the Only Cure for Political Corruption

As I look at the mess that has become New York politics, I am reminded of Thomas Jefferson. When asked by a local Philadelphian outside of the 1787 Constitutional Convention about what they created inside the secret conclave, Thomas Jefferson quipped, “a republic, if you can keep it.”

Over the past decade we have watched with great frequency as politician after politician has been convicted of a wide range of abuses of the public’s trust. These folks range from the most powerful in federal and state government to local power brokers looking to cash in on their political relationships. More than a dozen high ranking state and local officials have been caught in the cross hairs of federal and state authorities.

This week on Long Island, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano [the state’s largest county] and his wife along with Supervisor John Venditto, Town of Oyster Bay were arrested by federal agents on a 13 count indictment, which included a pay to play kickback scheme.

The aforementioned alleged crimes have become so normalized in our culture that the voters have become numb to the headlines. As a student of politics I wonder if this is the way it has always been or is it the technology that has shined a light on the misdeeds of those operating in the shadows.

Perhaps the English Christian historian and former Member of Parliament, Sir John Dalberg-Acton was correct when he famously stated that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Given the rate at which the federal government has been rounding up these pols, it is not a stretch to think more arrests are on the horizon. While the government is doing their part to go after those who make up the foundation of this culture of corruption – it is our job to find solutions.

There are many good-government groups who have pushed for ethics and campaign finance reform in New York; however their efforts have been thwarted by the culture of the status quo. Many reformers believe that seizing on a possible vote for a New York Constitutional Convention (e.g., vote slated for November 7, 2017) will force the state legislature’s hand to pass meaningful reforms. In theory it makes sense, but the one variable that will dilute this purist approach is politics. The same people who are impotent on the issue of reforms are the same people who will set the rules and ultimately run the convention. As the recently published “Patronage, Waste and Favoritism, a Dark History of Constitutional Conventions” details, you only have to look at the mess that was the 1967 convention to see the political boondoggle at work. The best approach is to engage the citizenry and get them mobilized to act (e.g., vote).

The people of New York State have amended their constitution over 200 times through a public referendum. It costs must less than the estimated price tag of $320 million for another convention. Legislation is only half the equation, the other half is to proactively change the way we campaign for public office. That will require citizen engagement.

The prosecutors in their statements after arresting a pol almost always includes a not so subtle hint that we must change the way our political system does business. The message is not only directed at our representatives, but to New Yorkers themselves. The common response of many people is, “politicians are all crooked and I have to focus on surviving and providing for my family – this mess doesn’t directly affect me.” Wrong.

When a pol takes a payoff from someone in return for an illegal government backed loan guarantee for their business and that person defaults – the taxpayers are responsible for that loan. The net result is taxes go up to pay the loan back and you have less money in your pocket.

The only way to truly reform the system is to take back our government and bring back the citizen legislator. This can be done through a number of reforms that includes:

  • extending a single term from two years to four years;
  • setting legislative term limits;
  • increasing legislator’s pay;
  • setting up a bi-partisan state ethics review board staffed by former judges;
  • allowing the State Comptroller to audit all government contracts; and
  • explore the possibility of publicly financed elections.

Keeping in mind that the judicial system is not immune to corruption, we must reform the way our judges are selected and eliminate the stronghold that political party bosses have on the system. This is not FanDuel or DraftKings, judges are not fantasy sports players who can be bought and traded by non-elected power brokers. This is a serious problem and the people must address it.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were not wrong when they famously stated “this is a rigged system.” It’s only rigged if we continue our apathy towards the political system. Regardless of where you stand on the ideological pendulum, we can all agree we live in the greatest country in the world and our vote is the most powerful tool we have to change the status quo.

The ball is in our court. November is the election and January starts the state’s legislative session, so don’t let this important opportunity to reform our way of life pass by forever.

 

READ ORIGINAL ARTICLE AT THE HUFFINGTON POST

New York’s Fiscal Mess

New York’s Fiscal Mess

If the Great Recession of 2008 has taught us anything, it is that, if you do not have the money – “Don’t buy it!”

Our nation fell into tumult, because people over extended themselves with a little help from an unscrupulous financial system that actually bet against the very loans they were issuing.   One would have thought our political leaders had learned a valuable lesson, given we are still paying for those mistakes.

Unfortunately, they did not.

According to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli who runs the New York State Comptroller’s Fiscal Stress Monitoring System, which assesses the financial strength of local governments, at least 26 localities currently have a fiscal stress designation of “Significant” the highest possible rating.  Of those, at least two are large Long Island municipalities and one is the state’s Capitol (e.g., Nassau County, City of Glen Cove and Albany).  This does not include the Town of Oyster Bay, a large Long Island township whose credit rating was recently downgraded to junk status by the rating agency Standard and Poor’s.

Another issue that ran in parallel to the 2008 financial crisis was the continued strains put on local governments.  As tens of millions of people across the country lost their jobs, they fell behind on their mortgages, household bills and taxes.   The loss of steady tax revenue hobbled many municipalities.  While special pet projects can be cut or scaled down, several of the more significant costs were unavoidable.  This includes paying down debt from bonding and covering the pension costs of municipal retirees, which are protected under most state constitutions.

So, with ever decreasing revenues and mounting debts, what is a municipality to do?  Get more credit to pay the bills, of course.  In short, in order cover their obligations many municipalities have come up with “creative” short-term solutions that in effect turn into long-term problems.  For example, a municipality falls short of covering their employee pension contributions, so they bond out the difference for millions of dollars and only pay the interest on that loan with the promise to begin paying the principle at some point in the future.  This is the equivalent of a household opening up a credit card to pay down the old one while only paying the interest on the new card.

This issue is not exclusive to one political party.  It is a systemic problem rooted in years of fiscal mismanagement and guided by short-term political agendas to the determent of the taxpayers.

Across the U.S., there are many communities struggling to stay solvent and some, like Detroit, fall under the weight of their own incompetence.  Detroit’s elected officials, many falling prey to political corruption, did so at the expense of their schools and public infrastructure. While New York has a procedure in place that allows the state legislature to create a state financial monitor for a municipality in crisis, similar to what we see under the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority, it only goes so far.

While New York’s financial control board law can be tailored to address the financial issues of a specific municipality, it will require more teeth to handle the administrative component.  Under Michigan’s emergency manger law, enacted in Detroit, the state will grant that manager, under their supervision, with full administrative and financial decision-making authority to navigate that municipality toward a recovery.   There are certainly critics of this path, especially since it temporarily takes away administrative powers from the local elected officials. (Yes, those same people who got you into this mess in the first place.)

Municipal restructuring is an issue that certainly both presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump should be discussing. 

The state must take a hard look at Michigan and other states to identify policies that not only oversee the financial management of a struggling community in a time of emergency, but ones that help chart a new course for the future.

Given the major problems that currently face several New York municipalities, the state legislature has a golden opportunity to change the current way of doing business.  The best approach will be to bring in professionals, free of political influence, to institute positive long-term structural changes to those institutions.

After all, if it’s broke, it should be fixed.

 

READ THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE AT THE HUFFINGTON POST