New York State’s Budget Woes Solved With A Sin Tax
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
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(April 1, 2010) No, this is not an April Fool’s column.
It is as serious as I usually am when I talk about New York State government.
I’ve been watching the jokers in Albany for so long that perhaps I’m beginning to think like them.
It’s like this: the Dems in control – my party – have started focusing on a series of “revenuers” to fix what’s broken in the budget.
Now we all know what’s broken. The folks in Albany spend lots more than they take in – it’s that simple. All they have to do is stop spending what they don’t have and bingo: a balanced budget.
But no, they have all these special interests to take care of, so they can’t cut spending by too much; they come up with revenue enhancements, surcharges, tolls, fees – and they’ll even, very occasionally, call it taxes – or some new fangled concept.
You know, “a rose by any other name...?” Well, this is “a tax by any other name...”
But what exactly is Albany’s latest approach to revenue enhancements – new sources of funding (taxes)?
Government Taxes Sin
Well, they have bollixed up the Aqueduct Racino – a project they have been working on for almost a decade. After announcing in 2002 that revenue from video lottery terminals would help solve the State’s revenue problem, we’re still waiting on the $300 million down when the project is signed and about $1 million a day when it is operational. Only, they can’t pull the trigger, twice selecting bidders who couldn’t pass the test – financial or character.
When it is finally a done deal, and the $300 mil banked, and another $1 mil per day in the pipeline, we can all sleep better knowing that legal gambling is helping the folks in Albany to pay the bills.
If gambling weren’t enough, our accidental governor has decided that selling wine in supermarkets will yield huge fees, increase wine consumption and net the State a much larger share of the alcohol tax. If the lobbyists don’t stop him, between the franchise tax and increased sale, that’s $93 million extra from wine – I’ll drink to that.
Let’s not forget that the State Senate Dems want to legalize medical marijuana, bringing $15 million in licensing fees, they also want to refinance tobacco bonds for another $300 million – and there is also a plan to collect tax on cigarettes sold by Native Americans, which could net the State another $1 billion.
It appears that the folks in Albany have discovered the answer to their inept spending control is the magical “sin tax.” Just tax gambling, booze, drugs and everything else that makes you feel good.
Me, I was raised in a different New York City.
Gambling was illegal – absolutely. I remember before the New York State Lottery and “Howie the Horse” brought us OTB the only way to gamble was with the mob: numbers, bookies or a Nathan-Detroit-style floating crap game. New York didn’t allow gambling.
We also frowned on booze; and marijuana or drugs of any sort were dealt with the harshest set of laws known to man.
But that was then and this is now. The State needs money. So let them do it if you can tax it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not railing against the sin or the tax. I just know that in the New York society that existed when I was a kid sin was discouraged or illegal; in the one we will live in tomorrow, sin will be encouraged and taxed.
The Real Budget Solution
The solution to the State’s budget problem: keep encouraging sin, and tax it like crazy.
Why stop at medical marijuana? You can’t even tax it if it’s for medicinal purposes. We know you can get any drug you want at the right club, school yard or street corner. Let’s license, regulate and tax it, taking it away from the underworld that makes all the profit.
Open State-licensed “drug” stores – or give the franchise to CVS. Perhaps liquor stores will want to enter the game and provide more franchise fees – and maybe supermarkets, too. Hell, competition will bring the price down and the monster tax on the stuff won’t even be felt by the consumer.
Let’s legalize all gambling; bring in the Indians or Steve Wynn and collect huge licensing fees and tax them. It’s not so complicated. A Casino in Arverne, slot machines in the supermarket – next to the wine – online sports betting and a numbers game licensed out of every bodega.
Why stop there? Legalize, license and tax prostitution. Require health registrations and regular testing for hookers – the City is already giving away free condoms wrapped in a design by a Queens artist. The licensing and registration would help address the illegal sex trade and take another bite out of unsanctioned street activity.
Picture a new big box store where once-questionable activities are now licensed, encouraged and taxed by New York State, with wine, drugs, condoms and a slot machine flanked by hookers at the checkout counter. Or shop local, and rebuild a troubled Main Street. The neighborhood liquor store put in jeopardy by the new Paterson Wine Sex Slot Drug Store could remove some shelves, put in a card table and a bed in the backroom. As long as they follow the rules and pay their franchise fee and taxes they could once again afford health insurance and their kid’s college tuition.
Okay, it all sounds a bit flippant, you’re thinking. But wouldn’t it hit organized crime in the pocket book – where it really hurts? Wouldn’t it raise gazillions of dollars in new tax revenue for our State? It would balance the budget without resorting to those phony one-timers or hiding endless debt in quasi-public agencies, make prostitution safer, make drugs less deadly and allow us to view our society as it really is.
But most of all, it may enable the nation’s most dysfunctional State Legislature to continue to spend on member items, family members, junkets, perks, special interest groups and waste – and for the first time in our lifetime, be able to pay the bill.
Happy April 1.
Senate Dems Squeeze Labor
By HENRY STERN
By HENRY STERN
There is often a gray area between a crime and what is merely outrageous behavior. This is true not only in the legislature, but also in political life generally. A solicitation by the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee falls into that murk: the Attorney General or a District Attorney could convene a grand jury to seek an indictment, or he could decline to do so.
As Fred Dicker reported in the New York Post, the Democrats have written to a number of union leaders in New York State asking for $50,000 each in donations to the party:
“Democrats in the state Senate area up for sale and they dont come cheap!
“The Capitol’s scandalous ‘pay to play’ culture descended to a new low as Democratic lawmakers told top labor leaders that they would have to pony up $50,000 each in donations if they want special access, The Post has learned.
“In a shocking letter to union bosses who are battling state budget cuts, state Sen. Jeff Klein of The Bronx offered to sell them ‘chairmanships’ on a newly created ‘Labor Advisory Council.’
“‘Advisory Council chairs will have the unique opportunity to advise the Senate Dems on the structure and focus on the Labor Advisory Council’; says the letter from Klein, chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.
“For labor leaders unwilling to kick in $50,000, Klein offered a second-tier ‘general membership’ at $25,000 apiece.”
In the follow up article by Dicker and Brendan Scott, began:
“Mayor Bloomberg yesterday branded efforts by state Senate Democrats to extract $50,000 campaign contributions from union leaders ‘the ultimate pay to play,’ as outraged good-government groups urged a criminal probe of the blatant fund-raising demand.
“‘Pay to play is just something we shouldn’t have, declared Bloomberg.”
The letter was defended, however, by Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, who insisted that the Republican opposition had regularly engaged in identical practices when it was in the majority for decades until last year.
“I’m not forcing anybody to do anything, and if you look in that budget, we saved some of those [labor] groups also with respect to that. So I’m not asking anybody for anything, the access is there, open’ he continued.”
The Post editorialized on the subject under the headline “For Sale And Stupid,” with a lead of: “New York State Senate Democrats aren’t the least bit subtle.”
“Jeff Klein, who chairs the Democrats’ Senate Campaign Committee, sent a letter to union bosses this week promising ‘an exclusive meeting’ with Senate Dem honchos.
“The price tag: $50,000.
“The missive comes as the Senate is holding a whip hand over billions in budget cuts sought by Gov. Paterson — cuts that would fall heavily on unionized teachers and health-care employees. And it comes just as Klein, according to Republicans, arranged for the Democrats to slash $180 million from the budget that would have gone to unionized workers.
“What a coincidence, then, that Klein is offering what he termed ‘an opportunity to have face time with the [Senate Democratic] leadership.’
“And if 50 grand is too rich for your blood, for a mere $25,000 labor fat cats can become ‘general members’ of the party’s Labor Advisory Council, allowing them to ‘actively participate in . . . essential policy conversations.’
“The solicitation is classic Albany ‘pay to play,’ no doubt about that.”
“Klein’s letter is so egregious that it begs for an independent investigation.
“This sure seems like more than Senate Democrats just being their usual clumsy-moron selves.
“A lot more.”