Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Bread and Circuses . . .

Or in Utica's case, beer and hockey.  Such thoughts went through my mind when I read about the County Executive's plans for the "U District."

The County Executive wants to turn Downtown Utica into a combination Theme Park and Hospital District -- a strange combination. Neither is compatible with the nacient private development currently transforming the Baggs Sq. W. and Varick St. neighborhoods nearby; and this proposal seems to provide government-sponsored competition for the latter. The proposal also creates lots of parking lots and more public spaces (and maybe even buildings) for the taxpayers to maintain. The CE offers no study to demonstrate that this project will be self sustaining. We the taxpayers have had millions of our dollars risked on crazy ideas from our politicians.

If these are such good ideas then the private sector would be taking on the risk. . . .

But the private sector won't take on risks when government taxes the heck out of it, seizes its property, and/or goes into competition with it.

Beer and hockey . . . or  "bread and circuses."  According to Wikipedia:
"Bread and circuses" (or bread and games; from Latin: panem et circenses) is metonymic for a superficial means of appeasement. In the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the generation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion; distraction; or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace,[1] as an offered "palliative". . .
Isn't this the perfect description of what is going on here? Local elected officials seek public approval not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion, distraction, or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Anti-Utica Chamber of Anti-Commerce . . .

Long ago (but well within memory) Mayor Hanna called the local Chamber of Commerce the "Chamber of No-Commerce" because it seemed to do little to actually promote commerce. Said chamber went on to drop "Utica" from its name due to apparent distaste for the region's prime city -- only to have to reclaim the name "Utica" a decade later, realizing that without "Utica" no one could find the chamber on a map.

Today, the Greater Utica Chamber of Commerce (GUCC) again demonstrates its antipathy to both Utica and commerce by passing a resolution (left) filled with rah-rah political regional gobbledygook to support the Downtown Hospital concept.

While most people don't object to a wad of money being dropped on the region to build a new hospital, the problem comes in when "Downtown" is appended to the "hospital" concept.

Placing the hospital Downtown will require the taking of some 40 businesses -- businesses that provide jobs and businesses that pay both property and sales taxes.  It certainly is odd for a Chamber of Commerce to support a project that destroys jobs and tax base in a region where lack of jobs and high taxes are longstanding complaints.

Chambers of Commerce usually look out for the well-being of their members. Here, however, the only recognition GUCC gives to that responsibility is the statement ...
"Whereas, the Mohawk Valley Health System has assured our board of directors that our member businesses located within the new facility's footprint will receive fair market value for their properties . . .  
Big Deal! MVHS merely acknowledged its legal obligations, so inclusion of the acknowledgement in the resolution is a meaningless gesture.  As an organization of business people, GUCC knows full well that "fair market value for property" will not replace the "sweat equity" people have invested in their businesses -- which most likely will mean that people will simply discontinue their businesses.

In other words, far from lifting a finger to protect the investments of its business members, GUCC cheer leads their destruction.

Adding insult to injury, the GUCC is now supporting a concept that directly opposes the will of the people and businesses of Utica for a mixed-use, walk-able Downtown as codified in the duly enacted Utica Master Plan -- a Plan that took 3 years of community study as to what would "work" to revive Utica -- a Plan in which Chamber members participated -- and a Plan that the Chamber did little to implement.  The closures of portions of Lafayette and Cornelia Streets and dedication of 34 acres to a single use will ensure that the negative impacts of this project will be felt by businesses and Chamber members located blocks away, including those in the Brewery District and Baggs' Square.

GUCC has gone from being a Utica-hating do-nothing organization to one that is actually bent on destruction! It should rename itself:

The Anti-Utica Chamber of Anti-Commerce!

Monday, April 03, 2017

Destroying Value to Create an "Aura" . . .

Who is more dangerous to the taxpayers of Utica?  County Executive Picente? or Mayor Palmieri?  That was the thought that crossed my mind when I read the OD's  "Big plans near Utica Aud, but what about Insight House?" about how Insight House might be incompatible with their plans for a sports and entertainment district.

Here it seems that Mayor Palmieri thinks a baseball stadium in place of Insight House would be a better fit for the neighborhood in order to create an "aura of a large city appeal driving over 12 North, the Arterial, looking down" about the City of Utica.

So that's what this is all about . . . auras . . . illusions . . . smoke and mirrors . . . to make people think that things are better than they really are?

No, Insight House, a treatment center for chemical dependency, is probably not a good fit for a sports and entertainment district that will include a gambling casino. But will the value of an "aura" from a stadium on Route 12 (minus the expense to create the stadium and minus the negative impact to the existing stadium a couple miles south also on Route 12) outweigh the value that will be lost to the community if Insight House has to be uprooted and moved?

It took many years and many injections of taxpayer dollars through grants for Insight House to develop its current facility and capabilities.  Market value for that property will not cover the actual cost of duplicating the facility's capabilities elsewhere.  This means that a relocated Insight House will either have reduced capabilities, or more money will have to be invested to recreate them.  The difference between market value and actual cost is a value that will be lost to the community at large.  Do you think that the lost value is a fair price for an "aura?"

Whether it is the "Sports and Entertainment District," the Downtown Hospital, Griffiss "International" Airport, various EDGE projects, or the Utica Urban Renewal projects of old, values were, are being, or will be destroyed.  

The lost values from these projects never seem to get calculated. . . and what is actually gained seems elusive . . . like an "aura."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Can the GOP Congress Save Upstate NY?

In an indirect way, national healthcare reform may make this a possibility. 

Ever since the reapportionment of the State Senate circa 1970, which gave Downstate interests control of state government, most places in Upstate NY have seen their populations, job numbers, and economic well-being decline. Upstate NY counties have long dominated the top 25 slots of the most-taxed counties in the nation when property tax is calculated as a percentage of property value. Yet interestingly, on that same list, Kings (a/k/a Brooklyn) and New York (a/k/a Manhattan) Counties in New York City ranked in the mid-1500's (no that is not a typo) -- among the lowest in the nation.

The cost of Medicaid, a health insurance program for people of lower income or means, is shared by the Federal Government and the States. The States manage the programs and determine the levels of benefits. New York State, unlike most other states,  passes a portion of the cost of its share down to the Counties (an "unfunded mandate") who pass it along to their tax payers usually via property taxes. Medicaid has driven much of the high taxation Upstate.

Now, as part of the GOP plan to reform health insurance, it is proposed that NYS will be prevented from passing its costs on to localities outside of New York City.

Per Syracuse.com:
In Oneida County, for example, the county's Medicaid costs account for more than 80 percent of the county's total tax levy. In Oswego County, Medicaid accounts for more than 44 percent of the tax levy.
In another article:
Medicaid is Onondaga County's most significant financial burden, accounting for 70 percent of the property tax levy -- one of the highest rates in the state.
While NYS has been generous in handing out Medicaid benefits, the method of financing these benefits has created harm to upstate localities but not to New York City (where real estate values are very high and there are many absentee foreign landowners.)  Since the NYC metro area controls the state legislature, it is unlikely the Medicaid burden will be lifted from Upstate without pressure from the Federal government.

The GOP healthcare reform, if it contains this provision, may be just what is needed to lift the Medicaid burden from local government and bring Upstate property taxes closer in line to those in other parts of the country with which we compete.  

If successful, Reps. Collins, Tenney, and other supporters of this provision would have contributed more to make Oneida County and Upstate NY more competitive with other parts of the country than perhaps all the local and state economic development efforts of the last 20 years combined.

Of course, there is much more to consider about healthcare reform than just this provision. Reform will require a careful weighing of the issues. As usual, partisanship will get in the way, and many will be tempted to dismiss the possibility of any reform. Per the OD:
Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., called the GOP plan "a political sleight of hand" that seeks to buy GOP votes — and pay for tax cuts for the wealthy — at the expense of New Yorkers.
The Medicaid provision, however, would not be "tax cuts for the wealthy" because Upstate is poor compared to Downstate, and all this provision does is prevent the State from passing its share on to Upstate Counties.  At a potential $244 per Oneida County resident, (see Empire Center) savings could just be enough to to make Oneida County attractive to job creators.  Again, Medicaid and how it is funded is just one issue among many, but since this area has already sacrificed its economy at least in part for New York's generous Medicaid benefits, the issue of Medicaid funding vs jobs should not be dismissed as "political sleight of hand." 

The Big Question is whether the County Executive, Sen. Griffo, and Assemblymember Brindisi will get on board to support this Medicaid provision, since the state is unlikely to do it on its own. If so they will finally do something meaningful for area economic development, if only to make it an issue to be put on the State's agenda. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Stalling the "Economic Engine?"

Following Sunday's  Utica OD editorial touting the "Workforce Development Board," on Thursday Lawrence Gilroy and Dustin Swanger penned an editorial touting Gov. Cuomo's Regional Economic Councils (REDCs): "Guest View: Don't stall economic engine.
“The council used its knowledge of the region's strengths to develop long-term economic plans and create jobs. 
"These new efforts are working, and the success of REDCs is undeniable." (emphasis supplied)


If one defines “success” as spending billions of taxpayer dollars, then, I suppose, “the success of REDCs is undeniable.”

If success means creating an economic environment where businesses are self-sustaining and the numbers of good jobs and population are growing, the “success” of the program is highly debatable.

While our Mohawk Valley REDC seems to take credit for a drop in unemployment rate from 8.7% to 5.2% locally over the last 6 years (NYS Labor Dept Statistics show a drop in annual unemployment from 7.8% average in 2010 to about 5.3% in 2016 in the Utica-Rome MSA), will it also take credit for. . .

  • the drop in the Labor Force from 143,800 in 2010 to 131,083 in 2016 (a loss of almost 13,000 persons)?
  • the drop in the number of persons actually employed from 132,500 in 2010 to 124,667 in 2016 (a loss of almost 8,000 jobs)? 
  • the drop in population from 299,397 (census) to 295,600 in 2015 (estimate Bureau Economic Analysis, US Dept. Commerce) (or 299,281 in 2010 to 296,987 per ProximityOne.com)?  
  • the drop in US Metro area population ranking from 160 to 163?

Locally the economic engine is not just stalled, it is running backward!

When people and jobs stop moving from here to other parts of the country, then maybe people will believe claims of “success.”

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Money Down the "Workforce Training" Black Hole Will Not Bring Back Manufacturing . . .

Today we are treated to another "feel good about us" editorial in the Observer-Dispatch, Guest View: Help grow future of manufacturing in Mohawk Valley, which touts the (taxpayer funded) efforts of our "Workforce Development Board" to provide "training" for area employers.

Once upon a time this region was flush with literally thousands of "high-tech" jobs, many requiring engineering degrees, yet, at the same time, there was no SUNY-Poly or other 4-year state institution, Utica College was merely a small branch of Syracuse University, and Mohawk Valley Community College had neither dorms nor a campus in Rome.

If today's editorial had been published then it would have been met with questions of "Why is it the taxpayer's responsibility to provide training for employers?"

The only jobs supported are those of the trainers who use use the lack of manufacturing jobs to justify taxpayer support of their own.

Simply put, "workforce training" has not and will not bring back manufacturing jobs.  

We are overtaxed, overregulated, and our utility and transportation costs are overpriced to be attractive to manufacturers.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Aborting Bagg's Square's Rebirth . . .

I had high hopes when DOT announced it was going to put Route 5S on a "road diet" to slow traffic down and make the route pedestrian friendly and safe.  I thought it would repair the damage done to Downtown by the original 5S project of 50 years ago.

My hopes were misplaced. 

The picture below (click to expand) is based upon a plan on the NYSDOT Route 5S Safety Project website with certain street corridors highlighted in red and green. These corridors currently tie Baggs' Sq. West to the rest of Downtown.





As you can see once the DOT and Hospital projects are completed. . .
  • The Seneca St. and Washington St. corridors (in red on the right) will be closed as thru streets by medians in the NYSDOT project. 
  • The proposed Downtown Hospital  is expected to occupy the northernmost block of Cornelia St., closing that recently reopened corridor (in red on the left). 
  • Crosswalks for pedestrians will be eliminated at Washington St., and the one at Seneca St. will be in the middle of a 3-block-long stretch of road. 
  • The former connection between Hotel St. and Franklin Square (far right in the photo) that was destroyed 50 years ago remains closed to both vehicles and pedestrians.
  • Only the Broadway corridor (highlighted in green) will remain open to connect Baggs' Sq. W. to the rest of Downtown.

Simply put, while the DOT project "gussies up" a 60's era Arterial with 21st Century trappings of a bike path and greenery, it doubles down on street closures and pedestrian inconvenience, further isolating Baggs' Sq. West from the rest of Downtown.

Why would someone invest in Baggs Sq. West when plans will make it difficult to access?

Monday, February 06, 2017

Bishop Cunningham's Blind Spot . . . (Refugee "Ban")

In Sunday's church bulletin was a statement from Bishop Cuningham which called Pres. Trump's 120 day "ban on refugees" "un-Christian and un-American" and, in essence, said it was "racial and justice injustice."

I am not going to address the claims of "racial and justice injustice" or the "un-Christian and un-American" mis-characterizations, except to say that (1) he is wrong and (2) he is amplifying the false conclusions and claims made by others who have a political ax to grind.

The Bishop complained that "220 refugees who already had been vetted and approved to come to Syracuse are on hold for months" (emphasis added).  He ended his statement with the sentence "Yes, screen vigilantly as we have, but never abandon our commitment to help others seek peace and freedom" (emphasis added, again.).  Those red-flagged words are both the key to where the Bishop is wrong and why the Executive Order is needed.

These headlines/titles speak for themselves:
Official are not going to find links to "radical Islamic terrorism" if they are prevented from looking for them.

After eight years of the Obama administration implementing Muslim Brotherhood affiliated organizations' policy recommendations, it cannot be assumed that refugee vetting is "vigilant," rigorous or adequate.

That is why the so-called "ban" (which is only a temporary pause until the vetting process can be examined)  needed to be quickly implemented without advanced notice.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Electric Shock in NY!

Solar and wind-generated electricity from eleven large projects in NY State that will sell for an average of $16.25 per megawatt-hour in the market will receive subsidies from NYS of $24.24 per megawatt-hour, with wind turbines receiving an additional $23 per megawatt-hour in federal tax credits.

That means that the solar power will actually cost $40.49 per megawatt-hour or 2.5 times the normal cost of electricity; and the wind power will actually cost $63.49 or almost 4 times the normal cost of electricity!

All this expense is to produce an imperceptible if not an incalculably tiny change in temperature to fight climate change.

It takes a special kind of stupid to enact a policy that pays 2.5 to 4 times what something is worth without getting anything tangible in return!

Is it any wonder jobs and businesses avoid NYS?

Get the full scoop from the Daily Caller.


Saturday, February 04, 2017

Executive Order Hysteria Stoking and Protecting Refugees . . .

On January 27 President Trump issued an Executive Order placing a 120 day hold on admitting refugees to the US and barring for 90 days nationals from seven countries (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen) from entering the US while procedures and standards for admission and entry are reviewed. "Spontaneous" anti-Trump protests (organized by the Arab American Action Network ?) erupted at airports all across the country in response. Congresswoman Claudia Tenney came out in support of Trump's Order (official statement here) and called the numerous protests of it "hysteria."

Bravo to Pres. Trump for the Order and to Rep. Tenney for supporting it and calling out the protestations for what they are!

But on Wednesday, the Utica Observer Dispatch stoked the hysteria by penning an editorial entitled "Don't snuff out the lamp at the Golden Door" which quoted Martin Niemoller's famous words  "'First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out  -- Because I was not a Socialist ... Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.'"

Rev. Niemoller's words are compelling, but they are mis-used by the O.D. because Pres. Trump is not "coming for" anyone.  Rather, Pres. Trump is trying to keep out persons -- such as terrorists and criminals -- that 8 US Code Sec. 1182 bars from admission to the country. (I assume that the O.D. is OK with keeping terrorists and criminals out of the US, but that is hard to discern from the the editorial.)

The O.D. implies that the Order is "unjust," states that it "should not be tolerated," and then, using an "us vs. them" perspective which appeals to our civic pride as the "town that loves refugees" and uses our personal friendships with the immigrants who have rebuilt Utica, argues that the order "goes against the grain of who we are." The last three words are red-flagged because they were used a lot by the Obama administration to lecture us on what it wanted us to believe about ourselves rather than represent us as we are reflected by our laws.

To support its call to "stop the ban" (an inaccurate description of a "pause" in admissions while our screening system is improved) the O. D. then veers into, essentially, Democrat Party talking points, cites (without a hyperlink) a "New America" report (challenged here and here), and then repeats an often-repeated claim by Congressman Nadler that "none" of the people committing terrorist acts in the US since 9/11 came from the seven countries named in the order.

Rep. Nadler's claim is refuted by a simple Google search which reveals that the 9/17/16 St. Cloud MN mall stabbing spree and 11/28/16 Ohio State car-ramming and stabbing attack were both committed by Somali refugees. The facts that Nadler's claim and the "New America" report are taken at face value and that the EO is implied to be a Muslim ban ("Muslim" appears no where in the EO) suggest that facts do not matter but, rather, emotion, good intentions, who one's friends are, and political leanings rule.

Coming out of the last administration that denied the existence of radical Islam, the new administration clearly needs to take another look at the vetting system to ensure that ties to that ideology are not overlooked.  

EO Sec. 4 makes clear that revised screening procedures are not only to keep out terrorists but also persons who might commit criminal acts.  Indeed, Somali gang violence in Minneapolis and Sudanese gang violence in Omaha where the victims are also refugees suggest that current vetting is inadequate. Barring those who would commit crimes would protect the refugees themselves.

If the O. D. was talking about Italian refugees instead of people from Africa and the Middle East, no doubt it would demand that all steps be taken to weed out Mafiosi who might be embedded with them!

If the US is serious about protecting refugees, it would ensure that the violence they are escaping from does not follow them here.