Thursday, September 3, 2015

Governor Cuomo, thanks for the big, fat favor

Welcome to New York… That’s what my property tax bill might have said when we moved back to our home state.  My taxes are higher than my mortgage payments.

I suppose that may or not be true for every resident of the state.  However, this much is true:  New York has the highest tax burden and the secondhighest amount of public debt per capita in the country.  So, despite taking more of my income than any other state, our government can’t seem to improve its balance sheet.

All of this was rolling around in the back of my mind while I was listening to one of my favorite talk shows on public radio.  At noon each weekday, Evan Dawson interrogates reality on WXXI, our local NPR affiliate.  He is incisive and upbeat.  Listening to his show is a great way to learn about our community – locally, nationally and globally.

Last Tuesday’s show featured University of Rochester President Joel Seligman and others leading an initiative to “win” one of three $500 Million economic development “prizes” being offered by the state government and touted by our governor, Andrew Cuomo, as part of his commitment to upstate New York. 

I came away impressed by Seligman and his colleagues and feeling that our endeavor was in good hands. 

But, here’s the question no one bothers to ask…  Why are competing to “win” back our own money?

The very idea that we should compete for the benefit of tax dollars is appalling. 

And, if we “win” (I can’t seem to stop myself from putting the word in quotes), the governor will no doubt show up in town and act like he is doing us a big, fat favor.

He’s done it before.  During his reelection campaign, he designated $3 Million to the environmental cleanup of a new commercial development in a nearby Finger Lakes community and then declared that it was the kind of “investment” the state would make “all day long”, as though he was doing us a big, fat favor. 

No doubt the project will create some construction jobs for the duration of the project.  And, no doubt the resulting development will provide some retail and service jobs for the longer term.  However, the $3 Million goes into the pockets of the already wealthy real estate owners and developers driving the project.

Thanks for the big, fat favor, Andy.

This paradigm is so ingrained in the public mind that no one even questions it anymore. 

The mentality also affects our thinking in other endeavors.  The state takes some of our tax dollars and gives it back to the school districts that educate our children.  Now, the governor – in an apparent effort to make scapegoats of teachers – is specifying how they should be evaluated.

Whether you agree with his ideas on how to evaluate teachers of not, you have to wonder why our money has to go to Albany so that some group of bureaucrats can decide how our school systems should be managed. 

There is a financial cost to sending money to a central government (economists call it ‘agency cost’).  And, there is a non-financial cost to our community to placing our future in the hands of people who don’t live here and are subject to political and social agendas that don’t necessarily serve our local interests.

It’s time to place these events in perspective.  Our high taxes and bureaucracy have cost us jobs and endangered the future of the (once) Empire State.  Local employers who have the resources often invest in projects to expand their businesses in other states.  Others have left the state completely.  Meanwhile, a recent study has judged New York to be one of the hardest states in the nation to start a small business. 

If the governor wants to do us a big, fat favor, he could start by eliminating a bloated state bureaucracy and lowering our tax bill so we don’t have to compete to “win” back something that was ours to begin with.

Then he can stop doing us big, fat favors.



  1. I always find discussions about more or less government difficult to reach a conclusion with. If we have less government, we end up with the bank fiasco of our last recession under Mr Bush. But with more government, we have the tree hugging philosophy of California. An example of the latter effected me some years ago. We sell plating kits, one being chrome. It has a kilo of chromium oxide in it and we'd sold 10 kits to Ca in 5 years.

    They actually passed a law banning chrome kits,(I'm the only one selling them) to stop about 5 kilos of this material reaching the state. Most chrome shop employees in Ca take more home on their shoes. Ca lost all credibility with me after this fiasco. And now prototyping workshops can't do one off plating jobs.

    We've reached a stage in New York where we have so much government it's ridiculous.
    Take our police as a prime example; we have village police, county sheriffs and State Troopers. We have the puniest villages running their own police force at horrendous cost to the villagers. Why?
    And the village next door is doing exactly the same thing. All paying for cars, police chiefs, building costs, etc. From what I can glean, these costs represent a huge portion of the local tax bill and could be eliminated if the County took over policing.

    Then there's the schools, a horrendous drain on taxpayers, to produce an educational system that fares at the bottom of the world scale in education. Europeans laugh at our standards.

    Then there's the taxation system, sales tax collection system is so screwed up, yet as soon as I mention VAT, the system the rest of the world uses successfully, everyone holds their hands up in despair, shouting. "No more taxes".
    It's not about adding a tax, it's about changing the system to something that actually works. At present, all products orders from out of state, or worse from China, are sales tax free. We shoot ourselves in the foot, and have to continually raise the rate of tax to pay our bills. If only people would get on board with VAT, I believe you could reduce the tax rate to 5% quite easily. VAT would also put a stop to all the moonlighting under the table jobs too!

    There! I feel better now!

  2. Well said John. Loved the quaint Massachusetts town meetings where budget items were decided at the town level and the resulting property tax was a result of the budget decisions. Some real values battles but it was democracy at work!