The recent political chatter about “Obamacare” before the Supreme Court of the United States got a great deal of media attention. President Obama added fuel to the fire when he declared, “Ultimately, I am confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”
For someone who was a law professor those words were absurd. Even if a bill passed unanimously in the house and senate, it could still be overturned – if the law was in violation of the Constitution.
Giving up is not “reform.” County Executive Ed Mangano’s proposal to transfer property assessment from the county to the towns might possibly speed up assessment decisions by replacing one large and overwhelmed bureaucracy with several somewhat smaller ones. It will likely recreate problems that were major motivations in creating our highly centralized county government 75 years ago.
The 1938 county charter merged the town Boards of Assessors and the County Board of Equalization, ending three decades of complaints, lawsuits and hard feelings about the lack of specific, uniform levels of property assessments between the towns. In a tax system screaming out for simplification, clarification and a sense of certainty, spinning off assessments to the towns will reintroduce “equalization” as an annual issue. Tens of thousands of residents are still trying to figure out why their assessment went down but their tax bill still went up. The division of taxes heading up the tax food chain in an equitable manner is the most complex subject in local government, and it’s all going to make people very sad, particularly in villages and school districts that are split between townships.
Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.) Robert Morgenthau was facing a spirited Democratic primary challenge from a former judge in 2005, but his opponent had trouble finding anything substantively negative to say about Morgenthau.
The reason I know this: a city-based tabloid newspaper reporter called me weeks before the election, asking whether it was legal to have a Manhattan driver’s license while at the same time registering and insuring a car in Dutchess County, where auto insurance premiums are much lower. The answer: yes, so long as the insured vehicle is primarily garaged in Dutchess County. I was the director of public affairs for the New York State Insurance Department at the time and knew immediately the question pertained to Morgenthau because he met those criteria.
Written by Michael A. Miller, Millercolumn@optimum.net Thursday, 16 May 2013 00:00
Five state legislators do the perp walk on criminal charges in five weeks, with maybe more on the way.
I always try to look at the bright side. One of these legislators wore a wire for three years and there haven’t been nearly as many arrests or indictments as some might have figured. Another silver lining is that a bunch of the charges really aren’t about corrupting government functions, but about political greed and personal sleaze. So we’ve got all of that going for us. Call me Mr. Sunshine.
By some counts, we’ve had 32 legislators and other state officials busted since 2006.
Some of it is simply bad socialization, a lack of training and understanding about expected behavior within a group. First-term legislators used to be expected to sit and watch and learn. No more. Now you see elected officials take the oath, and before they even figure out where the restrooms are, they are speaking at media conferences and hearings, posting videos and generally calling attention to themselves. Mostly, their insipid email blasts and Tweets demonstrate that they can be boring or uninformed. They are going through the motions of being legislators without grasping what it is they might be accomplishing or why. They come to see themselves as independent agents, and even other legislators are more like props than colleagues.
They don’t owe anything to anyone but themselves, not even their constituents.
So now we’ve got a drumbeat to do something. Something. But what? It’s pretty easy to wave our finger and heap scorn on someone stupid enough to accept an envelope slid across a desk. What’s going on here isn’t all one thing, and no one thing is going to make things better. It’s clear that many politicians are so ingrained in the system as to be clueless.
On May 7, as many of us were reading about the indictment of one state senator, another chairing a hearing on proposals to establish “clean campaigns,” funded partly by the public, was shutting out good government groups and the public from testifying or even watching. Some of the recent arrests and indictments stemmed from desperation to raise campaign cash, but several senators declared fierce opposition to the idea of taxpayer dollars paying for any part of (their opponent’s) political campaigns. Forms of it work in Canada, the U.K., Israel, Maine, Arizona, New York City and other exotic places. For some legislators, it’s a horror. That same day, I received another taxpayer-funded newsletter that declared, “Thank You Ed Mangano For Not Raising Taxes.”
And it slides. That’s where this all starts. It sounds like a piddly little thing, hardly noticeable. So is a cancer cell. Instead of tossing around words like “corruption” and “ethics,” we first need to concentrate on “standards” and “expectations.”
Even before that, we must figure out what we want legislators and elected officials to be.
There have already been numerous calls to jack up legislators’ salaries and make them “full-time” without outside income. Define income. New York legislators are already too holed up in Albany. The entire government center and the Capitol used to be open for citizens to stroll around and observe. Not any more, and it isn’t healthy at all. Making this an official career will make things worse.
New York is one of only four states in which legislatures meet throughout every year. Those other legislatures (California, Pennsylvania and Michigan) are at least as messed up as ours.
The American legislative system was designed around citizen-legislators. It is part of our political heritage. If we build a better citizenship, we will get better legislators.