The News Of Our Pols Just Keeps Getting Worse
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
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It’s just sad.
It was my intention to write about the fine work of the Borough President and her senior staff in preparing the coming year’s budget priorities and in their ongoing work in dealing with the reality of the present financial conditions. It was their proposal last year that the City tax aviation fuel which is now in the Mayors budget with an estimated new revenue of some $169 million.
I had planned to address a variety of equity issues pointed out by the Borough President to ensure that Queens receives its fair share of City funds. For example, our borough receives $77,000 less per library branch than Brooklyn does; more than half of all the after-school programs slated for elimination are in Queens; we receive the least amount per capita of any borough for cultural programs.
The task I had set out for myself was clear: highlight the inequities in the city budget and present the Queens case for equity.
Then came the weekend news:
Grand Jury Investigates Queens Pols: A federal grand jury was looking into whether leading Queens politicians used not-for-profit groups to benefit themselves. The pols: State Senate President Malcolm Smith, Congressman Gregory Meeks, Former Congressman and Allen AME powerhouse Reverend Floyd Flake, and for the first time ever mentioned in connection with any potential wrongdoing, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall.
Speaker Silver Blames Senate Dems For Aqueduct Debacle: A Daily News exclusive reveals the Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in testimony before the state inspector general’s office asserts State Senate Democratic Leaders, including Malcolm Smith, pushed hard for the awarding of the lucrative Aqueduct Racino project to AEG, a group which included Smith’s mentor Floyd Flake. The investigation was in response to complaints that the deal was rigged from the get go. The deal fell apart when the State Lottery Division determined that AEG was unlicensable.
Legislators Can Party Again On Lobbyists Tab: An ethics panel created by the legislature appears to have ignored the rulings of the Public Integrity Commission and reversed one of the few reforms of the 2007 Ethics Bill which prevented Legislators from taking gifts of more than nominal value. The panel’s ruling now allows lobbyists to throw lavish receptions where Legislators can drink, wine, dine and party.
Now we view this mess with the knowledge that once again our dysfunctional State Legislature has failed to pass an on-time budget; but this year they face a $9 billion deficit and the legislators seem unwilling to sign on to the necessary cutbacks.
The potential corruption over the Aqueduct Racino that one may perceive in Silver’s finger-pointing at Smith and the Senate Dems comes as no surprise to anyone who followed the entire botched, painful and secretive process since Albany got it’s pathetic hands on the potential financial windfall.
The fact that the Legislature’s own in-house ethics panel is allowing their own to get fatter at the expense of lobbyists should also comes as no surprise to anyone who follows the ugly Albany process.
And sadly, three of the four named in the Fed probe – Senator Malcolm Smith, Congressman Gregory Meeks and Reverend Floyd Flake have already been sullied by their connection with either the selection of a seemingly less qualified AEG over other bidders or their involvement with the New Directions not-for-profit unaccounted-for funds. Now Federal investigators have expanded the probe to include the Merrick Academy School, Meeks’ south Queens home, Flake’s housing and social service empire as potential sources of illegal benfit to the pols, their families and friends.
However, this probe includes a fourth name which shocks us -- that of Queens Borough President Helen Marshall. The probe also concerns a house she and her husband own at 31-17 Buell St. in Queens, that was converted in 2008.
The Federal probe includes a number of subpoenas of records relating to the four names above and suggests a possible elaborate scheme to benefit themselves using funds intended to serve the public.
We must point out that subpoenas, rumors and investigations do not mean guilt.
We also are aware that a number of Queens electeds before them did lose sight of what is allowed in their personal pockets.
For the good of Queens and politics, we hope our public servants are cleared.
For the good of all concerned, we hope they nail any public servant who took money for themselves which was intended to serve the people.
April Fools: Still No Budget, It’s No Surprise
By HENRY STERN
By HENRY STERN
The March 31st Constitutional deadline for the adoption of the New York State budget has come and gone. To no one’s surprise, the Legislature and the Governor have not decided on a budget, and there is no prospect of early agreement between the two houses and the governor on how to deal with a $9 billion state deficit.
The Times described the budget impasse:
“The state budget is officially late. Again.
“The fiscal year came to a close on Wednesday night with no budget deal between the Legislature and Gov. David A. Paterson, leaving New York State running on the physical equivalent of fumes.
“The government will stay in business thanks to emergency legislation that the governor signed on Wednesday providing for about two weeks of necessary expenses.
Mr. Paterson also moved to delay some $2.1 billion in aid to schools, a step he said was necessary to insure that the state had enough cash to keep operating.
“State lawmakers have passed an on-time budget six times since 1975. The last on-time budget was in 2006.”
Although the failure to meet the deadline is obviously nothing new, the gap between expenses and revenues this year is far larger than in the past. The longer the budget is delayed, the sharper the impending cuts will have to be, because if Albany continues under last year’s budget, it will overspend every day. Mr. Paterson has made symbolic gestures by stopping capital projects in mid-construction, but this is not an efficient way to reduce expenditures, since the projects will cost more to complete. He has also delayed school aid checks to localities. The governor is playing the necessary role of budget watchdog, but he would have been far more credible if he had done this a year ago instead of yielding to the Senate and to Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has traditionally represented tax-receivers to a greater extent than taxpayers. In that role, the speaker may be voting his district, but it does not help the state. The latter is approaching insolvency (inability to pay its bills).
So far the unions have rejected out of hand various proposals by legislators and civic groups for wage freezes. Classically, unions prefer layoffs, which strike their youngest members, to wage freezes, which affect all their remaining members. Of course, unions denounce layoffs as hurting the children, the sick, etc., but when it comes to saving money, they have been most unwilling to postpone raises due their members under previous collective bargaining agreements.
The Ravitch proposals — borrow now, in exchange for imposing financial restrictions — is facing tough sledding. The governor is said to believe that Ravitch is in collusion with Speaker Silver in supporting more spending. Others don’t trust the legislature to follow any fiscal restraints. If they are imposed by law, the legislature will simply change the law. Ravitch speaks of bond covenants, which was a tool used by Robert Moses to prevent actions by public officials two generations ago. There is not much trust today in Albany, neither by the members for each other, nor by the public for the legislature. The mistrust is clearly justified.
We will watch the pressures that will rise, as the budget remains impassable. In our judgment, it will take a while for the parties to reach agreement. The New York City budget must be adopted by June 30, the last day of the city’s fiscal year. The city financial plan has for many years been approved on time, with agreement between the Mayor and the City Council. But the city budget depends on state funding, and if the amount of state aid is unresolved, that will impact on the city’s budget-making process. If the state reduces aid to the city that will lead to the layoffs of city employees, which to some degree would adversely affect service delivery. Such a prospect may lead to pressure on the state to spend more. The state doesn’t have the money to maintain its aid to localities (which is really only giving cities and counties part of their tax money back, rather than state generosity).
At this point, we think that the most likely escape route is further irresponsible borrowing, possibly against receipts from the tobacco legislation, which will mean that money borrowed today will not be available to the state in the future. Will New York have the nerve to try to collect sales taxes on cigarettes sold by Indians by mail order and off the reservation? Or to tax sugary soft drinks, which lead to childhood and adult obesity? Not likely.
So far we have not seen strong leadership or responsible follower-ship. The one-party Assembly wants to spend even more than the narrowly divided Senate. Speaker Silver can afford to lose a dozen or more members on a budget vote. Conference leader John Sampson cannot afford to lose one. Look for a drawn-out struggle between the spenders and the superspenders. The outcome is likely to be compromise, but the reference points are awry.