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 Friday, 05 July 2013 00:00
We can liberate that money we send in to the tax office. We can transform it into the missing mechanism we need to control our fiscal destiny and begin addressing the future instead of pretending it isn’t there.
We need to consider the creation of a publicly-owned bank. Support for public banking as a solution to opening up credit to governments, small businesses and the public at large has been percolating for some time. With many now resigned to the idea that no help will be coming from Washington, probably ever, the idea is now geysering up. There are bills in at least eight states to create a state-owned bank (or a trust or public authority with banking powers) and bills in at least eight more states to direct some agency to study the possibility and report back.
In Albany, where the bank buildings along State Street are taller than the Capitol building, a bill to create a study commission has been introduced by Member of Assembly Sandy Galef of Westchester County (bill A.1696). Since the 2012 session, it has jumped from two co-sponsors to nine. By the next session, there should be a lot more.
North Dakota is the only state enjoying consistent, comfortable budget surpluses, and it has the lowest rates of personal default and unemployment in the country. One reason is that North Dakota has a public bank.
The Bank of North Dakota is owned and operated by the state. It was designed over 90 years ago as a bank with a mission. It makes low-cost credit available to start-ups and other small businesses, farmers and students (as of last week, 1.78 percent APR on student loans). BND buys municipal bonds, ensuring favorable rates for local governments. BND doesn’t replace private banks, and BND partners with them to provide secondary markets for mortgages. There is plenty of room for the privates, but in North Dakota they aren’t the only option when critical functions and priorities are at stake.
In 2012, BND enjoyed its ninth consecutive year of record profits with $81 million in net earnings on $463 million in capital. That’s a return of about 17.5% for North Dakota, which has a little less than half the population of Nassau County, and a fraction of our wealth and potential.
This is why it isn’t just state governments thinking about this. There are legitimate grassroots groups organizing petition drives and publishing newsletters urging local governments to create a public bank in Miami-Dade County in Florida, Sonoma County in California’s wine country and Berks County, one of Philadelphia’s wealthier suburbs.
My local school district, medium-sized, has budgeted $951,000 to pay off debt in 2013-2014. Significant reductions in interest payments for our schools and local governments could help sustain, maintain and modernize worthwhile services and programs.
A public bank, a bank with a mission, could offer us a realistic way to begin addressing our infrastructure problems, like the county’s nightmarish sewage treatment system, or the 13 bridges in this county that the federal government rates as structurally deficient. Business-as-usual isn’t working. Nothing is “usual” anymore.
Our economy and our governments run on credit, even if we sometimes use different words for it (such as borrowing, debt or bonding). Credit is tight and we need other options.
A public bank would be similar to a credit union in that it would be not-for-profit and pay dividends to members. The public is the membership of a publicly-owned bank.
At the state and local level, we’re just about out of gimmicks. A public bank is just one tool, but it can help make the difference.