What Recovery? State and Local Governments Not Sharing in the Economic Optimism

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Joseph StefkoAt long last, we’ve been treated to a streak of positive news on the U.S. economy.  Job growth continues, with 227,000 added in February and 900,000 over the past five months; the application rate for jobless benefits now stands at a four-year low; and the unemployment rate has fallen from 9.0 to 8.3 in a year.  And while the sharp decline in the unemployment rate appears to have slowed in the past three months, there’s even a silver lining there as more people resumed their search for work in the face of a better employment outlook (about 500,000 in February).  It’s tough to argue that’s anything but good news.

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Notes from a Distant Land—and What We Have in Common

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerOn assignment out here in Arizona, I’m led to compare it to my adopted state of New York. First, there’s the weather: no snow, warm temps, bicycle-friendly year-round. Out here, of course, that’s a normal winter.

The big city dominates state politics. Here the city is Phoenix. With two-thirds of the state’s population, the Phoenix metro area carries a big stick. Arizonans living elsewhere complain that they have but a small, quiet voice in state political circles and that the interests of Maricopa County (Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale, etc.) rule. We’ve got our big city, of course: New York City alone accounts for just over 40 percent of the state’s population. Add in Long Island and Westchester and Rockland counties, and metro New York’s share rises to 61 percent. Read more »

If NY Gets NCLB Waiver, What Changes?

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Kirstin PryorSince No Child Left Behind took effect in 2001, tens of thousands of our country’s schools have been tagged “persistently low performing” and “in need of improvement.” Here in NYS, those names are poised to change to the less punitive “priority” and “focus” schools, if the waiver applied for last month is approved by the US Department of Education. Do the names matter?

The cynical point of view is that some of the fundamental critiques of NCLB—that it points a finger instead of lending a hand, and that it sets an impossible target of 100% student proficiency by 2014—were not taken seriously until they began adversely affecting high-performing schools in more affluent districts. But there is a bit more going on behind this waiver story—and it raises difficult questions about the role of the feds in education. Read more »

The Business of Nonprofits: NYS Aims to Revitalize the Sector

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

I remember the looks on the faces of my undergrad sociology classmates when they learned I was also majoring in business. A traitor was in the ranks! How could I possibly be one of the good guys while learning about global markets? Conversely, in my business courses I was suspect for having an affinity for the “softer” side of academia—subjects that surely weren’t as important or rigorous as microeconomics.

This stereotyping divided our student body – groups were aware of each other, but rarely interacted and certainly didn’t recognize their commonalities in perspective or purpose. During my professional career I have witnessed similar antics between our sectors – nonprofit, business, and public. Sure, we know the others exist, but we aren’t really playing on the same team. Read more »

One Seneca Falls – from Concept to Reality

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Scott SittigOn January 1, 2012, the Town of Seneca Falls became a unified municipality for the first time since 1831.  Communities across New York State have their eye on Seneca Falls to see what lessons can be learned from the dissolution of the historic village.  As the largest village to dissolve in New York State, the process and outcomes will serve as a great test case for many years to come.  However, some may be prone to draw conclusions from the outcomes that aren’t warranted.

Dissolution studies in most villages are initiated by citizens or elected officials because they believe it will save them money.  The most common argument is that two layers of government are more expensive than one, and eliminating a duplicate layer must produce savings that will cause a tax bill to go down.  When CGR models the fiscal impact of dissolutions cost savings are typically modest, usually in the 3-10% range.  This was true in Seneca Falls as projected cost savings were a little over 7% of the combined budgets.  Cost savings was not what pushed the lever in favor of dissolution. Read more »

Defined Contribution Retirement Plan: Good for Workers

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent Gardner“And which retirement plan do you want?” Retirement?!! As a newly appointed Assistant Professor of Economics at Potsdam College of SUNY, I was 28 and starting my first real professional job. I was being asked to make a decision that would have little impact on my life for 37 years.

I was offered two options: The first was the NYS Employee Retirement System (ERS). If I stayed in state service and retired at age 65, I would be eligible for annual benefits equal to 70.5% of my final average salary (defined as the highest salary earned in three consecutive years). My contribution would have been 3% of salary for the first ten years. The remainder of the cost would be paid by the state. This is what is called a “defined benefit” retirement plan. Regardless of what happens to the invested money, NYS promises to pay out a specified benefit for as long as I live. Read more »

Redistricting in New York: Same Process, Same Outcome – So Far

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Erika RosenbergDespite pledging in 2010 to reform the process of drawing new lines for state legislative districts, lawmakers instead employed the usual process where they themselves make the maps. And the results, released a few weeks ago, were entirely predictable: The proposed maps would likely enhance the current partisan dominance in each house.

In Rochester, this preserves what is an unnecessary fragmentation of the City of Rochester into multiple state Senate districts—three in the current map and four under the proposed maps. It seems indisputable that the interests of an aging urban center and its residents differ sharply from those of suburban or rural communities. The current and proposed maps significantly dilute the voice of the City and its residents. Adding a fourth district leads to an even more curious outcome: the reconfigured District 61 puts the University of Rochester, one of the key drivers of the Greater Rochester economy, into the same district as the University of Buffalo. And the new lines for District 59 places RIT into another Erie County-dominated district. As Tom Richards, Mayor of Rochester, observed at the recent Rochester redistricting hearing, the state’s new economic development model is a competitive one—while we may have common cause with Buffalo in Washington, we certainly compete with Buffalo in Albany.  See the City’s analysis here.

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Transforming Urban Education: From Despair to Hope?

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Donald PryorI’ve been reading Hope and Despair in the American City:  Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh.  And, like many others, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our urban schools in Rochester and elsewhere and how we “fix” them.

In areas around New York and nationally, there seems to be precious little hope for resurrecting our urban schools and kids —and far too much despair.  Dedicated people, much smarter and more creative than I, have been writing about and wrestling with this dilemma for years.  Despite years of reform, study and advocacy, the problems remain, as most of the available solutions are constrained by limited resources available only within city boundaries—when community-wide solutions and resources are called for. Read more »

Two Cities, Two States and a Bruising Battle for Control

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Joseph StefkoWelcome to the main event!

In this corner, leaders of cities, long accustomed to controlling their destinies! And in the other corner, state governments, anxious to protect the rest of the state from the city’s crisis! It’s a battle playing out in two major communities – Michigan’s largest city and the capital of Pennsylvania – and has the potential to rewrite the book on state/local relations.

Let’s review how we got here. Read more »

UR-RIT Corridor: Rochester’s New Economic Center of Gravity

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerIn Triumph of the City, Harvard economist Ed Glaeser attempts to explain why some cities—think New York or London or Bangalore—have prospered, even as the cost of communication has plummeted. The “death of distance” suggests the death of cities. Why do some defy the prognosis?

Glaeser reminds us that cities are “density, proximity, closeness. . . . [T]heir success depends on the demand for physical closeness.” He asserts that electronic communication is not a substitute for face-to-face contact (a proposition anyone who has endured a few conference calls will accept). Even sophisticated “virtual meeting” suites fall short. (Maybe it looks like Nathan is in the same room, but you can’t go out for a beer after the meeting.) Read more »