The Best Chance for Election Reform

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Any real reform of elections should include how maps get drawn – legislative district maps, that is.

You may have heard about how the U.S. Supreme Court just came down with a ruling that impacts that process of redrawing legislative maps, known as redistricting.

Does it matter to New York? It does, although it’s more of a wake-up call than anything else.

First, let’s recall that redistricting is the process of changing political boundaries – the districts within a state for those representing people in Congress and in the 50 state houses.

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Campaign Rhetoric vs. Albany Reality

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Candidates looking to replace George Pataki as governor are ramping up talk about reforming state government, changing the status quo.

They say it’s necessary to bring down local tax bills and improve upstate’s dismal job creation record.

Now . . . let’s juxtapose this rhetoric with a big dose of Albany reality – the one that says, “stick your neck out a bit and you’ll get slapped back.”

This realistic message comes courtesy of the state’s public employees unions.

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Tax Talk . . . Both Property and Sales

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

The Buffalo News had a column on Thursday that suggests the candidates for governor need to have a more expansive discussion about local property taxes and tax cuts.

My colleague at the Center for Governmental Research, Erika Rosenberg, wrote that gubernatorial hopefuls are fixating on the STAR (School Relief Tax) program and the expense of other issues that could play a more direct role in bringing down local property taxes.

Also, as Monroe County’s sales tax issue makes it’s way into the courtroom (it is scheduled for Friday, June 23), have a listen as I talk with WXXI Morning Edition host Bud Lowell about getting that sales tax discussion into the meeting room. Have a listen right here (just click on the MP3 button).

Get to the Meeting Room

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

The Brooks sales tax solution is headed to a courtroom.

But perhaps where it ought to be is in a meeting room.

You know the court story by now. Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks announced a two-part sales tax solution to a projected county budget shortfall. First, the county would embrace a trade-off with the state, giving up sales tax proceeds to New York while also giving up the local share of Medicaid. This is called the “sales tax intercept.” The second part would be a sales tax increase of three-quarters of a penny.

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To Clarify or Not to Clarify

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

This isn’t where Steve Minarik wanted to go.

And state Republicans would like to stop from arriving there.

But maybe the state GOP should give a second thought before saying no to… Destination “Primary.”

You already know the story about John Faso gaining the designation of the state GOP faithful this week, grabbing more of the weighted vote than William Weld, the former Massachusetts governor. (Listen to Karen DeWitt’s fine wrap up here for a refresher.)

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Another Taxing Situation

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Monroe County has yet another sales tax complication on its hands

This one over gasoline.

The State Legislature has approved capping the sales tax on fuel as an answer to the gripe by motorists about higher gas costs. Gov. George Pataki sounded like he was ready to support it.

The state proposal also allows counties to cap the amount collected in sales tax on gas. The problem is…can counties afford it? The answers are all over the map.

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Too Much Medicaid Messaging

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Medicaid, Medicaid, Medicaid.

How the cost of this program plays on the minds of local government leaders as they try to make ends meet.

You can’t turn around without seeing some county legislator or executive lament how the local share of this vastly growing social service program beats down their budget.

Look at Monroe County. You’ve seen the stories about how county leaders want to deal with a gap in the budget. Republicans want a sales tax increase. Democrats want to charge towns that use the sheriff’s department directly for the service. Behind it all – Medicaid.

And, boy, if the county doesn’t remind you about it – over and over again. That bad state government, says the county leader. They push that Medicaid cost on the counties and won’t control the spending. Albany allows that runaway freight train to run right over us.

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The Message with Sizzle

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

The people who work in Albany will now be running from Albany to run for reelection.

Many from our region believe they are coming with good news in hand.

Assembly member Susan John proudly touts that she “delivers for Rochester.” She worked to get more state aid to the city and to the City School District.

Assemblyman Joe Morelle talks about how – as chairman of the  Assembly Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Sports Development, he’s “pleased that the Legislature approved $36 million for the multi-venue performing arts component of Rochester’s Renaissance Square project, as well as $5 million
for the construction of PAETEC Park, the new home of the Raging Rhino’s soccer
club.”

Senators Joe Robach, George Maziarz and Jim Alesi are thrilled to report that the budget has $15 million in aid to assist in the construction of a new student recreation center/multipurpose field house at SUNY Brockport.

Hey, even Governor George Pataki – the man who fumed about the veto overrides that kept in place a fatter state budget – is fine with taking credit for approving $26.5 million for school construction in Rochester.

Heck, you don’t get a guy like Pataki or, say, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver out to town on an announcement that Medicaid has been reformed. It’s much easier to announce a tangible item paid for by New York State aid (otherwise known as your money). Just a few years ago, for example, it was the announcement of the state aid for the Fast Ferry that brought Silver here.

And, by golly, it was an announcement of state aid that got Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno to downtown Rochester in 2004.

I had a colleague who gave this advice when making any kind of presentation: Make sure it has sizzle.

To New York State lawmakers, it is the doling out of state money for projects and to local governments that “has the sizzle.” They believe this is what sells to the voter.

It put me in mind of something written by Jay Gallagher, the Albany Bureau chief for Gannett News Service. He posed a few questions in his column a few weeks back. Among them:

How can state lawmakers  hold down taxes by increasing spending well beyond inflation? How come we keep hearing that the state debt is huge, yet we still borrow more?

Aren’t these good questions to pose to state lawmakers when they start on the road to reelection? Don’t these have “sizzle?”