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Bob McMillanAn Opinion

By Bob McMillan
Presidents v. The Supreme Court

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.


Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
Yellow Margarine And A Pitch For The Ages

In early 1946, a brouhaha erupted between the AFL and the CIO, the state’s rival federations of labor groups. Republican leaders in the state legislature endorsed the upstate-oriented AFL’s proposal that New York license and regulate barbers and cosmetologists. The downstate-oriented CIO, which had members who couldn’t document the required formal education, launched opposition so fierce and threatened political retaliation so severe that the legislation was considered dead. And then, as the 1946 session was drawing to a close and the CIO was concentrating on other things, the “barber and hairdresser bills” started moving through both houses, with almost total Republican support and Democratic opposition. Member of Assembly Genesta Strong, first-termer from Nassau County, dependable, safe and already expected to step aside, was asked to be the official sponsor of the cosmetologist licensing bill.

Governor Dewey’s signing of the bill cemented support for his re-election from the powerful AFL, which had been the whole point. To those in political inner circles, Mrs. Strong had proved herself a reliable team player whose dignity was useful in deflecting potential attack.


Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
Sustainable LI: Getting Good Things Done

Farmingdale-based Sustainable Long Island is hosting its eighth annual Sustainability Conference on Friday, April 4, at Carlyle on the Green, at Bethpage State Park.

The event will run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and traditionally draws hundreds of people from all walks of life: government, business and not-for-profits. This year’s theme is “Accomplishing More Together.” Tickets are $75 per person, which includes the cost of lunch.


Voters, Donors And Post-Election Reality

Have you ever contributed $5,000 to a political campaign? How about $10,000? Are people and partnerships and committees and businesses who make contributions like that, bless them, representative of the typical resident of this county? Are their priorities the same? Their motivations? Their expectations?

As of 11 days before Election Day, the campaign committees of County Executive Ed Mangano and former County Executive Tom Suozzi had raised $10.718 million during this campaign cycle, and 50.8 percent of it, just over half, was raised in contributions of $5,000 or more. $3.25 million of it came from contributions of $10,000 or more. Those 187 checks of $10K or more averaged $17,407.

According to Newsday, the portion of the property tax bill that goes to the county government increased by $220 a year for the average household due to the 2003 and 2009 tax rate increases we’ve heard so much about this campaign season. Even if the home of a $10K contributor had a valuation of 10 times the average, or 20 times, how big a concern can county property tax bills be to those who fund these campaigns?

For many of us, the taxes on which local governments most rely, property taxes and sales taxes, hurt the most, because they do not represent any relationship to actual wealth or the ability to pay.

In 2009, the last year for which our state government makes full statistics available (releasing the information faster would be tattling), the 43,876 full-year residents of Nassau County reporting state taxable income of at least $200,000 earned more than the 600,773 filers who made under $200,000 ($23 billion to $21 billion). The 10,191 residents reporting state taxable incomes of $500,000 or more earned significantly more than the 501,111 filers reporting incomes of less than $100,000 ($14.5 billion to $10.3 billion). That was at the height of post-2008 losses, from which most very high-income earners have fully recovered.

The people for whom local taxes are an extreme and growing burden, and the people who get to personally inform politicians about what they want, need and expect from local government are increasingly two different groups of people.

Most people entering politics have trouble asking people for campaign contributions. It’s a hard and humiliating thing to do for most well-adjusted people, but I know something that’s harder: Taking a check for $17,407 from someone and then telling them something they don’t want to hear.

And that’s how we end up with these dreary, insipid, lowest-common-denominator, meat-free campaigns in which very, very little is settled, proven, verified or affirmed by public balloting. In case you were away, here is all you need to know about the campaigns for Nassau County Executive for most of September and October: “He raised the debt.” “No, he raised the debt.”

We all raised the debt, because we have an unsustainable system of local public finance made worse by an economic situation that is far beyond the county government’s control no matter who is elected, and this is only going to get worse if we do nothing. Some choices are more unpleasant than others, some are fairer than others, some might give this county a fighting chance to thrive in a future that looks bleaker and bleaker for many suburban communities across this country.

Simply averting a crisis does not mean anything is fixed. I don’t just mean fixing finances. We can’t run governments in 2014 using playbooks from 1974.

If we’re not going to actually try to fix anything, then we need to begin a strategic retreat and disengagement, salvaging the most important functions and services before we lose room to maneuver and unpleasant choices are made for us.

Michael Miller's Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it