Thursday, March 31, 2005

Barbara Smith of Arbor Hill

Today's Times Union covers the campaign announcement of Barbara Smith, who is running to represent the 4th District in Albany's Common Council.

No one worked harder or smarter to help David Soares win his campaign for D.A. than Prof. Smith. It's hard to imagine anyone who cares more about her community than Prof. Smith. She is a passionate and hard-headed advocate for children,, working families, civil rights and quality of life in he rneighborhood.

Folks who know something about Albany politics say that Arbor Hill and the Common Council would benefit immensely by having an independent voice represent that neighborhood.

Election Day is still a long way off, but this is VERY EXCITING NEWS.


While Barbara Smith has not been officially endorsed by the WFP, you may find this information useful:

Friends of Barbara Smith
c/o Sue Lynn Miller
61 Lawn Avenue
Albany, NY 12204

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Rudy and Bernie: It Begins to Make Sense

After absorbing Ben Smith's must-read tour de force examination of Rudy Giuliani's personal finances, it becomes clearer why the former Mayor was so willing to vouch for Bernie Kerik's nomination to be Homeland Security. While it would be hard for anyone to top Kerik's bid for most ethically-challenged former member of the Giuliani administration, one has to give the G-Man himself credit for trying.

Viewed through the optical lens of someone who made $80,000 off a Tsunami relief fundraiser, just for example, one can see why things like the WTC pied-a-terre may have just looked like a shrewd real estate transaction.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

State Budget: Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down?

Okay, so it's probably going to be on-time. A major accomplishment given the history of the past 20 years.

And what's probably in it? A phase-out of the high-income PIT surcharge. An increase in the sales tax downstate. Corporate tax "reform" that will benefit large multinational employers, and cost the state $140 million.

What's probably not in it? A resolution to the school funding crisis. Full funding for child care.

I've left out a lot. Fill in the gaps. Is Albany on the road to being fixed? Comment by clicking on the word "Comments" below.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Breaking News: A Republican on the Mayor's Team?

Wonder how in the world in the Albany Times Union seems to have scooped Room 9 on a significant staffing development on Mike for Mayor campaign?

Joining Bloomberg team

John Haggerty Jr., who heads Pataki's legislative affairs office, will leave his $99,425-a-year state job to return downstate. The Queens native will be New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's deputy campaign manager, administration sources said.

Haggerty, who also worked for former Republican state Attorney General Dennis Vacco, is the son of Jack Haggerty, chief counsel and adviser to former Senate Majority Leader Warren Anderson.

Might the placement of this item in an upstate paper be a good way to reduce the attention it receives downstate? Compare it to the exclusive B1 Times attention that the MfM hires of Tolbert, Brennan and Loeser received. We'll see.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Sirota Says It

David Sirota, who I compliment when I refer to him as a poor man's Thomas Frank, largely works inside the Democratic Party, but offers a strident reminder as to why it's so important to do what the WFP does every day:
[P]rogressives must continue fighting, and continue putting pressure on BOTH Republicans AND Democrats who capitulate to Corporate America's every wish [the bankruptcy bill, the class action bill ...], no matter what the social cost... That's why it is so important for progressives to not only go after the GOP when they ignore average Americans, but also hold those who undercut the Democratic Party accountable.

It Pays to Be Wal-Mart

The Common Bastard has this appalling bit of news:

The U.S. House has approved a federal highway bill that includes $37 million for widening and extending the Bentonville street that provides the main access to the headquarters of Wal-Mart Stores.

Boozman spokesman Patrick Creamer said the congressman’s request for the money was penciled in for $3 million when the bill was in committee.

Pay an $11 million fine - 20 minutes worth of sales - with the bonus of no criminal charges for using illegal immigrant workers, initially ask $3 million for road improvements and get $37 million in the end. This has to be one of the best games of political patty-cake I have ever seen. I wonder if they would let me be the baker’s man in this political dough game…

Money is the yeast, brother.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Quote of the Day: Talking Transit

One of today's Times editorials discusses new sources of revenue to fund capital transportation projects statewide, and offers some specific ideas for new revenue sources:

"Right now, New York's lawmakers are haggling about how much of the $106-billion-plus budget should go for transportation... The real fight, of course, is who should pay. An additional source of revenue must be found, and the choice should be based on what is fair, not who has the most high-powered lobbyist. Some of the more reasonable options are a tax on new cars, a motor vehicle registration tax or a surcharge on real estate transfer taxes for sales of properties over $1 million."
Of course new revenue is needed. Are these the right choices?

Let's see if we can get a discussion going. Just click on the word "Comments" below to jump in.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Taking Requests

Newsday reports today on NY City Council Speaker Gifford Miller's ability to sing the Irish national anthem aas well as a Neil Diamond medley.

The Speaker apparently is always learning new tunes. So, we're taking requests for him he eon the blog.

And while we're at it, we're working on some numbers of our own for the 2006 gubernatorial campaign, including this crowd-pleasing golden oldie and this classic stomp.

The mike is yours. Comment away.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Taxes and reality

Alex quotes Mayor Bloomberg questioning the all-tax-cuts-are-good-tax-cuts orthodoxy. It's a welcome and very rare momement of candor (though to be fair, our Mayor has done better than most politicians on this isue.) Because on the question of taxes and the economy, conventional wisdom and empirical evidence are so far apart that one despairs of any kind of rational discussion.

Common sense sugegsts that lower taxes perhaps aren't everything, of course. Where are taxes higher, in New York or Mississippi? In Sweden or Somalia? And where would you rather live?But the economic evidence is also quite clear: lower taxes are, if anything, associated with lower economic growth, especially when you consider that cuts in taxes mean cuts in public services too.

The best recent overview of this literature is a little book from the Economic Policy Institute called Rethinking Growth Strategies by Robert Lynch. Here's what Lynch says:

A review of the hundreds of survey, econometric, and representative firm studies that have evaluated the effects of state and local tax cuts and incentives makes clear that these strategies are unlikely to stimulate economic activity and create jobs in a cost-effective manner. ... recent econometric studies find that state and local taxes have either a positive or no effect on economic activity, and most of the studies that suggest taxes have a small negative effect on economic activity do so only when public spending is held constant as taxes increase—a circumstance that is highly uncommon in the real world.

The literature on the effects of state and local public services indicates that state and local spending may stimulate economic growth and create jobs. In addition, the studies that have examined the net effects of simultaneously changing taxes and public spending--arguably those studies that provide the best "real world" measure of the effect of state and local tax cuts--generally find that raising taxes and using the additional revenues to pay for more public services enhances economic growth and expands employment.

It follows that, if taxes are not a decisive factor and public spending can be a positive force, then the use of tax cuts to create jobs can carry uneconomical "costs per job." Even with optimistic assumptions, for each private-sector job created by state and local tax cuts, governments may lose between $39,000 and $78,000 or more in tax revenue annually. This substantial revenue loss forces governments to lay off public employees in numbers that probably exceed the number of jobs created in the private sector. The net effect of tax cuts is thus likely to be a loss of employment. In addition, the public would lose the value of the public services that would no longer be provided. So, while access to jobs is clearly a vital concern in today's economy, public officials and voters should focus not solely on faith in tax cuts but on the best ways to get employment results. In the end, any jobs that might be gained by cutting taxes can be more than offset by the jobs lost as a result of cuts in public services.

No one likes to pay higher taxes. But the idea that cutting taxes is the ticket to faster growth and more jobs is one of the biggest myths in American politics today.

The T word

Two published items to comment on from the past couple of days, bearing on the equity of taxes in New York.

First, the Albany Times Union notes Mayor Bloomberg's honest look at the effect, and benefits, of public investment funded by the City's tax revenue stream. The Mayor isn't always this candid or consistent, but kudos to the T-U ed. board for recognizing the Mayor's realism when it seeps out. They quote Bloomberg thusly: "When you say taxes are too high, you're talking about a number out of context. The real issue is after you pay your taxes, what kind of a life do you have?" That's right, isn't it? The T-U goes on to note that equity and progressivity are important issues too.

Which brings us to an interesting development on Long Island. The Nassau County Tax Assessor, perhaps speaking out of school, but very publicly, called for study of replacing the property tax that funds education with an income tax. Depending on its structure, not a bad idea, right? Though, somewhat ironically given his views on local funding of Medicaid, Tom Suozzi seems not to think so.

What do you think? Can we create more good at the city, county and state levels with more investment? In what? And from what revenue streams?


Friday, March 11, 2005

Follow the Money, the Lines or the Power?

New York has the most dysfunctional legislature. New York is the wild west of campaign finance. New York's state debt is out of control.

If you were the fourth person in that notorious room, which item on the ever-growing reform agenda would you push hardest and first.

Advocates spoke out yesterday in favor of redistricting reform (see the Times and public radio stories).

Some in the WFP tend to talk a lot about the need to start with reforms necessary to ensure small-d democratic process, like redistricting and campaign finance reform (though that's not an official position).

Some of our friends argue that it's really the imbalance of power between the legislature and the governor (as dramatically illustrated by the recent Court of Appeals decision on gubernatorial authority in the budget process).

And of course, there is the Brennan Center view: despite a first round of reforms, the legislative process remains unsound.

What say you? What's the most important item on the reform agenda?

Thursday, March 10, 2005

A Sick System

The Syracuse Post-Standard, not the most progressive paper in the state, in an editorial today urges comprehensive health care reform as it observes the contrast between 3 million uninsured New Yorkers and exploding executive compensation at upstate insurer Excellus.

They had an excellent year. The vice chairman of the Rochester-based company, which provides insurance for 2 million New Yorkers, earned nearly $1.7 million. The president and CEO received almost $1.5 million and the executive vice president was paid $1.3 million. Fifty-three other employees were paid more than $200,000.

However, the paper stops short of prescribing specific solutions and instead urges the company's suits to take symbolic steps by limiting their own pay.

The paper's dead-on about the need for reform and right to start point fingers at insurance company largesse. We need to continue the discussion. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Can't Make This Stuff Up

We're mostly going to keep this blog to WFP issues, but some things are too ... too something to overlook.

Courtesy of Bob Hardt's Itch page at NY1, this correction in today's Times:
“A report in the New York pages yesterday in the new feature headed "Ink," about the Rev. Al Sharpton's weight-loss plan, misstated the frequency of his workouts in some copies. He exercises three times weekly, not three times a day.”
Now that would be something.

Congress Fails on Minimum Wage

The Albany Times Union and the Daily News (2nd item) both editorialize today on Congress's failure to increase the minimum wage, in stark comparison to the New York state legislature's action last year.

Why can't Congress do the right thing? Would it help if the Dems made increasing the MW a higher priority? Or, um, another political party increased in its national scale? I say yes and yes.


Monday, March 07, 2005

Spotlight Story: "W's ax offers little hope to lift city's poor"

Richard Motta, president and CEO of Volunteers of America-Greater New York, spells out some of the devastation President's Bush proposed budget would cause in a Daily News op-ed:

Under the President's proposed budget, New Yorkers will lose $207 million in community block grants - money earmarked for literacy and senior programs and desperately needed funding for child care for needy families. The budget also would slash some $31 million in after-school programs for city kids and English classes for immigrants.

Worse, this follows a $50 million reduction in federal housing aid that will soon send more than 6,000 of New York's poorest tenants scrambling for a place to live.

While advocates, the labor movement and others focus attention on the Social Security fight, the Bush administration is moving forward with a despicable program of cuts to important parts of the safety net. Motta is dead-on in his effort to shine a light on the impact of these efforts.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Quote of the Day

"President Bush is supposed to bring his Social Security road show to New Jersey tomorrow. But critical reviews indicate this production tour has been a flop. And hopefully it will soon reach the end of its run - without any Social Security privatization bill reaching Congress. In old Broadway lingo, the president's privatization proposal 'bombed in New Haven."
-- Bergen Record editorial (courtesy of Talking Points Memo)