And Pieces From All Levels Of Government
I was a political science major in college. I grew up in a household where civics - as dad called it - or government and current events, was the center of dinner table discussion and politics was a sport.
Commenting on the political scene, criticizing government and elected officials, complaining, protesting, getting involved were obligations of our society. Dad was a school principal, a history student, a Democratic state committeeman, a coop exec board member, and aware of what was going on around us.
He was committed to participating to improve the lot of all. He was quiet and friendly but spoke up against injustice. He spoke up mildly and quietly.
I inherited his sense of justice and involvement but apparently got my passion, tenacity and volume from mom. I don't just quietly watch and like dad softly criticize. I'm a yeller, a pounder - I often don't let go. If I see injustice I scream. If I think I can make a difference, I scream and yell until I do.
I marched on civil rights picket lines in the 60s and was part of the anti-war movement in the 70s. For the past three-plus decades, I've had the privilege of observing government and pointing out the wrongs.
This column and its several predecessors have given me the opportunity to not only observe but complain and hopefully affect change. And with government today, there is much to criticize.
Pick a level of government:
General Petraues and the President are having us stay the course. I remember quite clearly, in November of 2006, this country electing a new Congress, turning both the House and Senate over to the Democrats with the singular issue being to get us out of Iraq and the war without end that never should have been.
And they went to D.C. and elected a Democratic Speaker and Senate Leader and took over the committees and negotiated a troop draw down and and and.
Today we are back to square one. We are not bringing our kids home. We are not winning the war. We have no exit strategy and the threat of terror in the world is not abating.
We are after 4,000 American soldier deaths, 10s of thousands of maimings injuries, billions of dollars wasted, no better off than we were when President Bush declared victory on the deck of that aircraft carrier. No, we are worse off - much worse. And we are footing the bill for a wealthy Iraq government which has done little to resolve the situation. Damn it, we have squandered lives and fortunes to no end. We have voted in a Congress to end the war and our government continues to ignore the will of the people.
The jokers pass a budget - late - that clearly is not based on realistic revenue projections. It's a damn house of cards. They are lying to us. The State can't pay the bills the government is obligating it to. The election year budget contains $170 million in pork for legislators to spread to their favorite groups; spending is increased at a rate greater than inflation; nothing is cut except everyone knows in this economic climate, the recession, the decrease in property values, and the serious loss of income from the Wall Street turn, will produce far less revenue for the State to spend.
Has the most dysfunctional legislature addressed it? No they, in typical fashion, ignored it. After the Spitzer affair and reformer one goes down in flame, it appears reformer Paterson, is no better able to withstand the pitfalls of Albany. Shelly and Joe and their blind sheep prevail.
In the City
Another Speaker is caught up in the abuse of power. The reforming Christine Quinn has apparently for three years continued the use of hiding money in the budget under the name of phony organizations so that she can dispense it later at will. And although she claims she tried to stop it this year, and reported it to authorities, the Speaker used the money. The hell with the law; the hell with the charter; the hell with transparency, they defend it by saying the money went to worthwhile groups.
By the way, no one checks out any of the groups. The Speaker claims she didn't even know the phony groups were in the budget, the Finance Chair says the Office of Management and Budget has more staff. The Mayor had no idea. Councilmembers give names and the city writes checks.
Fiscal responsibility? This Speaker is no more honorable than her predecessor who spent millions to mail his name and face around the city to promote his candidacy for Mayor. This Speaker has secretly dispensed millions of dollars in violation of the City Charter to friends and groups and colleagues whose votes and support she is buying with our money. She could have turned the money back to the Treasury.
Does the claim that the groups were worthwhile hold water? Did she check them out? Or better yet, did she have the right to walk into the tax department and walk out with millions to give to worthwhile causes without following the budgetary process? Don't be absurd.
Abuse by government officials must not be tolerated for any reason. Christine Quinn will not be the next Mayor and those who defend her budget fraud do not deserve the support of the people.
Will it all get any better?
We have to keep complaining, my friends.
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HENRY J. STERN
Last week was a busy one in Albany for New York City's interests. The defeat of congestion pricing came as somewhat of a surprise to those who believed that a bargain would be struck between Silver, Bruno and Bloomberg. In the end, Silver went with his Democratic Conference.
Did he have to leave congestion pricing to the Conference rather than just twisting arms? If he ignored his members, he would have had to rely on Republican votes to reach the magic number of 76, a majority on the Assembly. To secure the votes of the unwilling "he might have had to incur obligations that he would prefer not to fulfill."
The Swollen Budget
The State budget, as proposed by both houses, is reasonably fair to the city, which the mayor appreciated in his public statement. Shelly owed the mayor something, and he may have believed he paid that debt with the budget.
The problem with this budget is that it is financially irresponsible. It increases state spending by 5 percent (about $6 billion) while the state economy slumps into recession mode. For years, I have written that a budget is like a road map; it doesn't necessarily take you anywhere, but it shows where you are headed. There will not be enough money to pay for the programs the state has included in a budget that contains virtually no reductions. Even the vacant office of Lieutenant Governor is funded at $1.66 million dollars.
Governor Paterson, speaking at the Association for a Better New York said the budget was far too high in relation to anticipated revenues. Paterson will have the opportunity to put his pen where his mouth is by vetoing the budget when, eventually, it comes to him for signature. Both houses of legislature will either negotiate a compromise or override his veto. He will face the quandary of whether to veto and go down with the ship, or settle for modest reductions. He will try to position himself on the high ground of fiscal responsibility.
What is likely to happen is that after the 2008 primary and election are over, a large gap will be discovered, which the legislature will have to make substantial reductions to close. Now if they made the cuts in April, instead of in November, they could be smaller. But logic has never interfered with the time-honored practice of postponing bad news.
Tenure, No Matter what
Another bill approved by both houses curtails the school chancellor's power to deny tenure to teachers whose students have not improved their test scores after sitting in their classes for a year or more.
Although test scores cannot be the only reason to deny tenure to a teacher, it seems rather obvious that they should be taken into account. Why give a lifetime job to a person who has proven him/herself incompetent? That would be ridiculous. But that is what happens in the school system.
The singularity of the Incompetent Teachers Protection Act is illustrated by a provision that the issue should be investigated by a commission, with a report not due for two years. The purpose of that section is to remove the issue for the balance of the Bloomberg - Klein administration, in the hope that their newly-elected successors in 2010 will be more pliant to the union's will than a man who didn't need their money.
The United Federation of Teachers, led by the gifted and talented Randi Weingarten, spends $3 million a year lobbying the state legislature. The union endorses candidates, they support phone banks, they want to be listened to and obeyed. Much of their work is necessarily on behalf of their less competent members, because able teachers are usually valued for their work. Good teachers do not have to run to their shop stewards for protection.
What is wrong here is that issues of this sort should be decided according to common sense and the best interests of the children, not on the basis of the influence of the disputants, which usually comes down to who is supplying the most boodle.
The prior administration gave "Day One" a bad name. This is the 18th year out of 20 that the budget has been late. A far greater problem, however is the failure of the budget to deal with fiscal reality. The day of reckoning is not yet nigh, but it will come later this year.
Not4Publication.com by Dom Nunziato