Monday, March 30, 2009

Tabloids Trash Albany
As Corrupt and Secretive,
Name 16 in Rogues' Gallery

By Henry J. Stern
March 30, 2009

The New York State Legislature, long a target of newspapers and reformers, was assailed by the Daily News Sunday in a front page headline on the wood (large block print), STATE OF SHAME. The article is by Albany bureau chief Ken Lovett. It begins under a ribbon across the top of p7, The Dysfunctional Government, and sports a rather judgmental but vivid headline YOU GUYS ARE A DISGRACE! Lovett’s lede:

"Its time to clean up the mess in Albany!

"New York’s state government dubbed the most dysfunctional in the nation is living up to its reputation now more than ever.

"In the last two weeks alone, a massive corruption scandal in the controller’s office was highlighted in an indictment, the governor and Legislature were finalizing a budget deal containing massive tax hikes in complete secrecy and a state senator was indicted on charges of beating his girlfriend.

"A lack of public input and accountability has locked citizens out of their government and made the Capitol ripe for corruption and favoritism."

Lovett’s story continues on pp 8 and 9, under the headline, THE STENCH OF TERRIBLE LEADERSHIP FILLS CAPITOL. Above the story are the pictures of sixteen present and former New York State elected officials, under the headline FACES OF ALBANY'S ROGUES' GALLERY. A News editorial starts on p7 and jumps to p30, where it is titled CAPITOL OFFENSES. Here is the p7 introduction to the editorial:

"Of the people. By the people. For the people. Those precepts are the birthrights of self-governing citizens in a representative democracy. But they do not apply in New York. Here, "Damn the people" is more like it. New York deserves better."

To get the full picture, see the article, the editorial and the pictures. They amount to the strongest condemnation of Albany’s politicians and the ways they transact business that we have read in some time.

The Legislature is not the only branch of state government under fire. In today’s Post, state editor Fredric U. Dicker writes his regular Inside Albany column. The headline: MEET GOV'S BUREAUCRATIC BONEHEADS. Dicker's lede:

"This is Gov. Paterson’s wrecking crew of Democratic operatives and bureaucratic functionaries who helped New York’s accidental governor betray his core promise of fiscal prudence and government downsizing.

"This is the demolition squad that conspired with the Assembly’s hidebound eminence grise, Speaker Sheldon Silver, and the Senates clueless new Democratic leadership to prepare a budget with the biggest set of destructive tax hikes in already-overtaxed New York history even as Wall Street collapses and suburban and upstate residents continue to flee."

Dicker names seven state officials in his indictment of Paterson’s staff. Implicit in all this is his low regard for the abilities of the person who appointed them. Link to BONEHEADS to get their names and the charges he prefers against each. To be fair, some come out better than others.

The Sunday Post's p1 headline is Budget Outrage: HUGE TAX HIKE: Up to 31% Slap on NY Incomes. The story on p5 is by Brendan Scott and Dicker. Their lede:

"Personal income taxes for the upper middle class and the rich are about to skyrocket under a secret soak-the-wealthy tax deal reached last night by Gov. Paterson and leaders of the Legislature, sources told The Post."

There were two editorials in the Sunday Post relating to Albany follies. END 20 AND OUT deals with city employee pensions under which certain employees can retire in their forties after working twenty years, receive half pay pensions plus bonuses, live to their eighties, on average, and receive more money in pensions than they did in salaries while they worked for the city. This does not even count the health benefits which get higher as retired employees get older. The Post, along with civic observers, feels that this is unaffordable. Think General Motors.

The second editorial, MONSERRATE’S NO VICTIM, is self-explanatory. The lede:
"Even though he's been freshly indicted on six counts of assaulting his girlfriend with a broken glass, Queens state Sen. Hiram Monserrate is sticking to his story: He’s the real victim." He thinks the district attorney is picking on him, and wants the governor to appoint a special prosecutor who will know he is innocent, and that the girlfriend suffered the cuts to her throat, which required 20 stitches, when she accidentally fell on broken glass. Link here to read this one; you might not believe it otherwise.

Today’s News exposes, on pp 6 and 7, deal with the importance of lobbyists. TENANTS CAN'T FIND A FRIEND IN STATE CAPITAL is written by Barbara Ross. She reports on tenant organizations' attempts to strengthen rent control, which property owners are obviously fighting using their financial resources. Since tenants now remain in rent-controlled or rent-stabilized housing as long as they live, and then certain relatives living with them have the right to remain in the apartment for their lifetimes. The dispute here is over vacancy decontrol, which the state legislature approved years ago, and which tenants, emboldened by Democratic majorities, now wish to restrict. In recent years, most legislation has weakened rent control, imposed as a temporary measure during World War II. Tightening controls in 2009 is unlikely, but nothing is impossible when the Legislature is in session. Link to TENANTS for this complex story.

Another story is by Brian Kates, A LIMITLESS LINE OF LOBBYISTS STILL PULLING STRINGS. The political earthquake that gave Democrats control of Albany for the first time in 70 years created chaos and opportunity for a vast army of lobbyists.
Despite other cuts, we read that lawmakers' pet items, totaling $170 million, will not be reduced. Why should they be? It wasn’t the state legislators who brought on the recession. Why should they be punished just because schools and health care have to be cut?

We include numerous links because of the upsurge in political coverage over the weekend as the legislature speeds toward adoption of the budget. We have not commented much on the material we are linking to, because most of it is pretty easy to understand, even if it is difficult to comprehend how they can do it. Tomorrow (Tuesday) the solons are scheduled to gather in Albany, if all the bills they will be told to approve are ready by that time.

Most of today's article is the work of professional journalists who cover Albany. They describe what they have seen and heard, and it is not pretty. This is not the moment to discuss their observations and conclusions. We will come back to offer suggestions. Meanwhile, if any of you have ideas as to what to do, let us know. Your thoughts will be published on our blog, under the "comments" section below each article.


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1 comment:

  1. Leaving aside the clownscape in Albany, this state is spinning more out of control than ever. I really ask myself whether it's worth it and the answer comes back "less and less".

    The fact is there's been a brain drain for many years, meaning young folks with talent and choices ... move out! And a recent foundation study reported that NY comes up 50th (behind Mississippi and South Carolina!) for 'magnetism' for native-born Americans. That is, they don't want to come here.

    High taxes and housing have to be the main reason. And yet the pols in Albany think they can stick it to the top 1 percent or 5 percent in income, leave everyone else unscathed because they're buying the other 95%. So more productive people will move out...

    This MTA thing, coming on top of beating congestion pricing, is another outrage. Even Starquest is wrong on this one. You don't need to be a 'car hater' to realize that you can't move around this burg. It's worse than Atlanta and LA (really!). It's ridiculous that anyone in a hybrid or a hummer can drive into Manhattan at rush hour and not pay for the roadspace. That's the only way to use the market to control crowding. Of course, no one in Albany has teh balls to make the outer folks pay a toll, except, surprisingly, Sheldon "do block the box" Silver.

    NYC's competitive advantage and environmetnal salvation is its transit system. Starve it and propitiate fuming automobiles and you're making the city even less competitive with other places that have wider roads, less cars and less people.

    So, keep taxing the rich and not making the auto pay its way. Maybe NY will fall to 51st place. By then I'll be in Arizona or somewhere reading sadly about the further decline.

    Starquest or someone should be leading a civic coalition to pass a progressive and rational income tax, auto and transit policy.