The New York State Department of Transportation workforce is one-third smaller than it was in the early 1990s. In the past year alone, the total state workforce has been reduced by 10,000 slots. Meanwhile, there’s some kind of contest among candidates, pundits and some elected officials to sound the toughest against the scourge of public sector employees. The rhetoric has never been more heated. And it’s given license to all kinds of impolite, antisocial behavior.
1. A new study by the privately-funded New York State Health Foundation estimates that when it all kicks in several years down the road, 1.2 million uninsured New Yorkers will probably have health insurance. Unfortunately, there are at least 2.6 millionm New Yorkers now without health insurance, including some 350,000 in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. See item No. 4.
1. With more and more economists and analysts warning that the economy is on the brink of sliding backward, our President and our Congress have basically raised their hands and declared that they’ve already done too much to try to put citizens to work and the economic engine back in gear.
Governor Paterson made some rather incredible statements last week. The one that got the most publicity was his assertion that he would now be in the process of being re-elected if he had not ended his candidacy. The most disturbing was his bragging to the media (called, in multiple outlets, his “victory lap”) that the new state budget has “no borrowing. We didn’t borrow a dime.”
Back in the 1990s, the Department of Motor Vehicles took big steps to improve the customer experience. Now they’re straining to stay afloat. Using redial, I got a busy signal at the DMV information number exactly 200 times over a day before giving up. At what used to be a small, fast local DMV office, the lines to get a number were hundreds of feet long. It shouldn’t take trips to three different windows to complete one basic transaction. Government officials need to constantly rethink and reinvent their operations to cope with new needs and circumstances. That isn’t happening.
For a long time, oil drillers saw natural gas as an annoying by-product and burned it off. Not anymore.
There are some 13,000 licensed oil and gas wells in New York State, and about two-thirds of them are bringing up at least some natural gas. In some places, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has already been used in combination with “horizontal drilling” to bring up trapped deposits. What’s new is the increased demand for natural gas and new fracking techniques that can open up the vast Marcellus Shale deposits on a massive, unprecedented scale.
“This is a complex business transaction masquerading as a lottery ticket,” warns the Chenango County Farm Bureau in its pamphlet, “What to Know and What to Do When a Landman Comes to Your Door.”
At this point, who among us really knows what’s in or out of the state budget, which announced agreements are in force or are in the trash, or where we’re supposed to go from here (wherever “here” is). In a kind of self-defense mechanism, citizens are tuning out the noise. Interest in what happens in Albany is fading into a swirling blur. On the day after record vetoes, disturbing threats and unprecedented new lows, both Newsday and the Daily News relegated their little bit of state government news to Page 22. It’s the kind of environment in which calamitously bad decisions thrive best.
In late 1965, Ralph Nader published Unsafe at Any Speed, exposing how and why the auto industry evaded building basic safety features into their cars. By the middle of 1966, despite fierce industry opposition and a national campaign to smear Nader, Congress had passed the Highway Safety Act and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. That’s why we have federal safety standards for our cars and major roads. Contrast that with today. Two years after the Bear Stearns collapse, Congress hasn’t passed financial reform legislation, and the pending Dodd-Franks bill leaves large swaths of our problems untouched.
Everything rides on the two relief wells being drilled on either side of the Deepwater Horizon well. At just over 18,000 feet below the water surface, at least one of the relief pipes will, hopefully, punch into the seven-and-a-half-inch well pipe and close it off with cement and mud. If these two relief wells don’t work, there are probably no options left but to drill more relief wells. There may be a trillion gallons of oil under the well, under enormous pressure and flowing through that one well pipe. We hope.
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Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org