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From the desk of NY State Senator Jack Martins: November 15, 2011

The Mice That Distract Us

Before my wife can comment, I’d like to disclose right up front that I have yet to clean out our garage, but I did attempt to help a friend with his this past week. It was an attempt because just as we began his annual “toss or keep” fall ritual, we were surprised by the scurrying of little feet around the garage.

My friend, doing what any self-possessed, confident guy does, immediately decided not to mention it to his wife, and then armed with a leaf blower and a broom set out to evict the unwelcome visitor. His crusade grew exponentially as he emptied the garage of all patio furniture, bicycles, rakes, and every seasonal ornament known to man in an effort to locate his new-found nemesis. I was systematically assigned guard duty at various locations as he tried to scare the mouse out of hiding. Somewhere about mid-morning I yielded to futility and left only to return that evening to a driveway full of junk and news that the mouse had gotten away.

Our everyday views on government and its policies can be a lot like that. It’s easy to lose sight of what matters most and become distracted by the many issues advanced by various special interests. That’s certainly the case as we digest what’s happening with Occupy Wall Street. It’s been described as a “big tent” in which anyone with a complaint is welcome.

That includes everyone from those angry about corporate pay to young people who want student loans paid off. In fact, the concerns are so numerous and varied that it becomes impossible to fairly judge the merit of the protests based on any of them so I won’t attempt to do so here. What I do observe is that jobs seem to always be the core of our turmoil and yet are routinely overshadowed.  

Ultimately, many of these grievances stem from dissatisfaction with a stagnant job market. We could pay off every student loan in our country tomorrow or tax our corporations, small and large, into oblivion but if people can’t find rewarding employment with which to pursue their own American dream, then they’d simply be in debt again the day after.

We experiment with policy “band-aids” that seek to ameliorate the damage of this increasingly weak job market. We tinker with interest rates, offer earned income tax credits, and even expand social programs to the point of minutia. Then we debate it all endlessly. These are the mice in our garage.

We’re too busy arguing how to replace what’s missing from people’s pockets instead of concentrating on helping them restore it with a good living. The job is what’s missing. One thing has become abundantly clear: government will never take the place of a robust economy and the jobs that come with it.    

This past year in Albany has been deemed a success by many observers. We cut government spending, got runaway taxes under control and started on the road back to accountability. That’s fine but I think we’ve only set the table, so to speak.

We have to continue creating an environment that encourages private sector investment and gets people back to work at jobs that afford a comfortable living. Admittedly, no one has that figured out just yet. For that, we must look to each other. As always, I welcome your thoughts at martins@ny­ on how we accomplish this.