Wednesday, November 28, 2007

An Attitude Adjustment

The Times Looks at Spitzer,
Sees Flaws in His First Year.
Recovery Hoped for in 2008

As a post-Thanksgiving gift, Governor Spitzer received modified, limited absolution today on the front page of the New York Times. The story appeared below a delicately lit picture that resembled a painting by one of the Dutch masters of the 17th Century. The governor is posed in serious thought, his brow furrowed and his right hand on his chin. The background is a full length portrait of one of Spitzer's predecessors as governor, Theodore Roosevelt. The foreground is a hulking unidentified man, possibly posing a question...


  1. Joan Davidson5:37 PM

    Seems to me that the art of politics he seeks to learn is otherwise known as good manners, or common courtesy. Not that arcane actually...Joan Davidson

  2. Arline Bronzaft5:52 PM

    High academic achievers also suceed professionally, personally and socially. In my studies of over 2,000 high academic achievers, all members of Phi Beta Kappa, I learned that students who did exceptionally well in school did very well after they graduated from college. These high academic achievers had high achievement motivation but their goal was not power, money or fame but rather using their talents, especially their scholarship, to the fullest. The skills they acquired in doing well in school were extended beyond the classroom; these very same skills helped them to succeed professionally and personally as well. These achievers took great pride in their interpersonal relationships and they enjoyed interacting with others.
    The findings of these studies have been published in the book Top of the Class and, in addition, I have generalized from my findings to provide guidance to parents who want to rear children to do well in school, but more importantly, to do well in life.

    Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D. Professor Emerita, Lehman College, CUNY

  3. I doubt that Governor Spitzer will ever "pander" to anyone.

    His problem is different. He has been weakened by picking battles
    (DiNapoli, Bruno, immigrant licensing) which were not central to the agenda he campaigned on. Because he has been weakened, he is not in as good a position to resist clearly politically motivated calls for action. The $2 transit fare is a case in point. By holding the line on the $2 fare, without finding ways to reduce MTA spending, he is not protecting the poor who work and need rapid transit to commute to their jobs. Instead he is protecting the tourist and the poor who rarely use the subway system. And those who commute will have to pay for the increase in MTA budgeted expenditures. The press has portrayed his action as "popular" when in fact, when the discounts for multi-ride cards and monthly cards are reduced, there will be resentment from the vast majority of fare payers if and when they finally understand that they alone are paying the increase and
    out-of-towners are not sharing in the pain. But the psychological
    attraction of maintaining the $2 fare for rapid transit advocates garners favorable headlines at a time when this Governor desperately needs such headlines.

    Two other recent decisions of the Governor come to mind:

    (1) The Tax Department sought to require certain internet sellers to
    collect NY sales tax. When a NY resident buys a product out of state, he is supposed to pay a NY use tax. He gets a credit for the sales tax paid out of state. But as a practical matter, except for automobiles, virtually no NY taxpayer files use tax returns. And if the Tax Department were to go against taxpayers for failure to file these returns or failure to declare on their income tax returns out of state purchases (which a number of accountants tell me is virtually the uniform practice of all NY filers other than possibly a few public officials), then it was understandable for the Tax Department to seek to collect the tax at the sales origination point.
    There were, however, some constitutional and legal issues that could be raised by the sellers so that if the issue were litigated, it was unclear that the NY Tax Department would be successful. Rather than let the
    matter be litigated, Spitzer acted to stop it, and this was the politically popular course. Would he have done this if he were not so politically weakened? Or would he have let the matter run its course in the courts?

    (2) Contrast the foregoing with the issue concerning the Labor Department's mandate that charter schools pay union wages to their maintenance personnel, despite possibly ambiguous provisions of law exempting charter schools from
    union contracts. This mandate causes an increase in educational costs, perhaps in some cases at the expense of instructional tools. Unions were seeking this protection. Children don't vote and parents of charter school
    children are not charged with tuition. There was no constituent group other than the operators of the charter schools to oppose this measure. Rather than act against union wishes, he decided to let the matter be resolved in court. Would he have done this if he were not so politically weakened? Or
    would he have acted to clarify the labor exemption for charter schools?

    I don't think he was pandering in these cases. Rather, he was refraining from doing something which might be politically unpopular with respect to
    certain interests that he did not wish further to alienate. Granted, it is a fine line.

    Perhaps the better way of analyzing his actions on these matters is that he is learning how to behave like a Governor who is at the fulcrum of a process of social negotiations where constant decisions must be made and political considerations are necessarily an important element in the decision-making process. This was Pataki's understanding and was in all likelihood the understanding of Cuomo, Carey, Rockefeller, Harriman, Dewey, Lehman, etc.

    The problem that Governor Spitzer faces, however, is that the demands of the interests who lined up to support him and who are his natural constituency as a Democrat are not always in the best interests of the body politic as a whole. How he manages and balances these tensions will become his legacy.

    You bring up the subject of taxes and the Governor's pledge not to increase taxes. Pataki reduced taxes at the state level, but local taxes made up for much of the state decreases. Pataki made a point of reducing top income tax rates, citing a study by Liz Holzman in the late 80's that concluded
    that high income tax rates act as a deterrent for the creation of businesses in the City and State by the kinds of people who would be paying such taxes if the businesses are successful. For the first time in a generation, under Pataki, State population increased. And when Pataki left office, he had
    generated a substantial surplus at the State level which Governor Spitzer quickly squandered -- almost like Bush after Clinton, except Spitzer did it with spending increases and Bush with tax cuts. There will be some hard fiscal choices to make. NY is still the number one state per capita with
    respect to taxes. So the Governor has to be careful.

    Last budget go-round, he got steam-rolled by 1199. Pataki caved as well, but in Pataki's case, it was because he didn't have anyone in his administration who could stand up to Dennis Rivera and he had to cut the deal himself and was too fundamentally a decent human being to cut a tough
    deal. When Pataki had DeBuono as his health commissioner, Rivera did not do so well because she had credibility, the intellectual fire power to stand up to Dennis, and the resourcefulness to seek compromises that did not give
    away the store. Let's hope that Governor Spitzer has someone like that on his staff this next go round, because he certainly didn't have anyone in a position to do that the last go round and in his haste to get a budget done,
    few in his administration were able fully to get up to speed.

    Finally, as far as his fight with Bruno goes, the Democrats will eventually control the State Senate as Republicans age and retire in districts with Democrat majorities. He didn't need the fight with Bruno to accomplish what will eventually happen simply as a matter of demographics. But he wanted to
    bolster his national standing within his party. Unfortunately, he did this at the expense of good State government.