Nests Are Filled With Promise
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
(Saturday, Jan. 12, 2008) Tomorrow it's a roundtripper to Worcester, Ma, to drop off Allison at Clark University and an attempt to be back home before 4:30 p.m. to watch the Giants (allow me editorial latitude here) beat the Cowboys in the Playoffs.
This was Allison's first extended vacation home since leaving us with our large empty nest. There was a brief Thanksgiving three or four day visit and Lil and I were up at Clark twice after our initial delivery - once for parents visiting day and once to see Moo (longtime readers will recall my nickname for her) perform in both a Jonathan Larson musical, Tick, Tick . . . BOOM, and with the Clark Choir inside a glorious Roman Catholic Cathedral. We were thrilled with the performances but equally grateful we could kill both singing birds with one trip.
And during Allison's first term in college, Lil and I quickly adjusted to the new lifestyle. During Moo's last year in high school, she effectively established her independence but she still came home every night - with a couple of planned in advance exceptions. Her hours got later - she came home later, went to bed later, got up later - she was becoming a college kid.
After her first successful semester at Clark, I can announce, she completed the transformation. She is independent!
"Mom," she scolded Lil, "Just because I'm sick, doesn't mean you can tell me I can't go to the theatre tomorrow," she explained at one of our rare family dinners together. "If I was in school, I'd walk 13 blocks to the medical center, go to class and make my own decision on whether I can go out at night."
"Got that?" was the unstated hammer.
My birthday celebration with family was scheduled around Moo's busy schedule. In her month intersession break we dined with her maybe four times. Her friends had her the rest.
But like parents all across the borough and nation, we prepare to return (or send) our little darling back to school with mixed feelings.
I will absolutely miss her. Her smile, her charm, her whining, will have to be revealed in an occasional email or phone call. Her complaining, crowing, celebrating will take the same route. Her evaluations of semester two courses and professors, her health reports, her criticism of the Clark kitchen, her preparation for the choir tour of eastern Europe, her rehearsals for the next musical, her page counting as she writes her papers, test preparation struggles, the snow - at first will be celebratory and then will turn to cold harsh intrusion, the prof she doesn't like, not seeing her boyfriend, seeing her boyfriend, the food - it keeps coming up, and the fact that she is tired will be the messages online, texted and called throughout the next semester.
The same adventure will be lived in similar form by parents all over. The rite of college passing is a long-running musical.
Parents who, like us, have discovered new freedoms from it. No clothing all over the house, no mother complaints about child's room, no discussions about hours kept, deadlines, responsibilities, no arm wrestling over silly stuff, no immediate worries. Just a quiet house with no doors closed, no need to be quiet, or at home; no limits for folks who spent the last 18 plus years living for someone else who has now left the nest.
And I gotta tell you, though I miss my bright, shinning little Moo, it ain't so bad being on our own again.
When the kids leave and begin to become grown-ups, I think it's time for the parents to start becoming kids again.
Maybe that was the master plan all along.
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Cap On Borrowing by Authorities
Last week, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli spoke to the Citizens Budget Commission. He spoke frankly about the impending state budget deficit, which he estimated at $4.3 billion.
Among DiNapoli's first acts after the legislature selected him on Feb. 7 to fill the vacancy caused by Alan Hevesi's forced resignation, was the appointment a 12-member task force to make recommendations on management changes in the office, ethical standards and conflicts of interests, appointment of an inspector general and restructuring.
There is no longer any question that the comptroller's office under Alan Hevesi was not optimally managed as far as ethics are concerned. How is that for understatement? Hevesi's campaign manager, Hank Morris, received millions of dollars in fees and commissions, representing businesses who sought funding from the comptroller, who unilaterally controlled the state pension funds. This was an enormous disappointment to those of us who thought we knew Hevesi well, admired his high intelligence and verbal skills, and excused him from his indiscretions regarding his use of a state employee to drive and assist his invalid wife.
DiNapoli should let the public know what he told us: exactly what he has changed to prevent such misuse of the comptroller's office in the future.
At the meeting, the comptroller presented his program to put a cap on the state debt. Legislation purporting to do that was adopted in 2000 by the Senate and the Assembly. The law, however, turned out to be useless since it exempted state authorities (e.g., the MTA, the Thruway Authority and Dormitory Authority), which are major borrowers. In the seven years since that law was adopted, the state borrowed $17.8 billion under the cap, but authorities borrowed $34 billion which were exempt from the cap. The state is ultimately responsible for debts incurred by the authorities.
DiNapoli now suggests a higher cap, to be phased in over nine years (until 2017) with authority debt included within the cap. Even if this law passes, which is not likely at this point because it would limit the legislature's power to appropriate anything they like and borrow without limit, it is likely the canny lawyers who rule Albany will find a way around it, as they did in 2000. Are we skeptical? Of course we are. Is there any reason not to be in view of past history on this issue?
The comptroller's grasp of the state's financial situation impressed his audience. He appeared to be aware of financial realities. The CBC members present seemed to share his views.
What he can do about excess spending is another matter. He was elected by the legislature, with a combination of Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans providing the votes. DiNapoli had served a relatively placid 20 years (10 terms) in the Assembly, representing the Great Neck area in Nassau County.
When the Assemblyman was selected by his peers, Governor Spitzer called him "thoroughly and totally unqualifed" to be state comptroller. But that was last February, early in the "Year of Rage", and 2008 is intended to be the "Year of Conciliation."
The real-estate and stock market boom of the last few years has helped the state and city fisc enormously, but the "Days of Wine and Roses," as Governor Carey described them in 1975, appear to be over, at least for a while. DiNapoli said that current state borrowing was akin to "taking out a mortgage to pay for groceries," in other words incurring long term debt, on which billions of dollars of interest must be paid, in order to pay operating expenses. You don't have to be a Felix Rohatyn to know that you can't keep spending more than you take in.
The stage is set for a confrontation between a relatively balanced budget and an increase in debt involving the sale of future lottery revenues. We will learn what role the new comptroller will play in sounding the alarm and awakening the public and the editorial boards to the crisis. We will learn (but probably not be surprised) at what the three men in a room (who are not the best of buds) are going to do about it.
At some point Comptroller DiNapoli will either stand up to the man who made him comptroller, or settle back and become part of the problem. There is a difference between expressing personal gratitude, and spending billions of dollars of the taxpayer's money in order to demonstrate political loyalty.
On the other hand, we know that cutting the budget means laying off people and closing facilities. There are bound to be some service reductions, although good management could minimize public distress. There is also waste, duplication and medicaid fraud in the budget. It is the task of intelligent, non-political managers to sort out state priorities, and do the most effective job in providing services and reducing costs.
The budget for fiscal 2008-09 will be presented by Governor Spitzer on or shortly after Jan. 22. State law requires it to be adopted by the legislature by March 31. In the last 23 years, that deadline has not been met 20 times. Last year, the budget was on time (only a day late).
2008 is intended to be the "Year of Reconciliation." We will watch to see how the Governor, Comptroller, Senate and Assembly reconcile the budget.
Not4Publication.com by Dom Nunziato