Thursday, May 24, 2007

Pure ... Unadulterated ... Hype

After a while, you become sensitive to certain language ... certain words and phrases that are intended to make the reader feel good about his or her lot in life ... about his or her government or governmental leaders and what they are doing ... certain words intended to build regional "self-esteem"... certain words and phrases that have been repeated so often with nothing substantive that follows, that they now become red flags for "more of the same," and a warning to "Watch out ! You are going to be taken to the cleaners again!"

That is the impression I got this morning when I read the editorial by Messrs. Simpson and DiMeo in today's OD, about Central New York being at the the core of an emerging green economy -- an impression that was strongly reinforced when I visited their flashy, pretty -- but devoid of content -- website. (Paris Hilton immediately came to mind: nice form, no substance.)

The last time we heard this level of rhetoric was when the "world-class" research facility, the Griffiss Institute for Information Assurance, was invented. We now all know what happened there. Interestingly, many of the same institutions listed in today's article were participants in the Griffiss Institute fiasco. We heard similar rhetoric with our allegedly "shovel ready" chip fab site, and the Center for Brownfield Studies before that.

We seem to get at lot of pure, unadulterated, hype. No substance. However, we do not need a marketing campaign to make us feel good. Nothing will build our self esteem more than real, solid, success: when businesses and people come here because they WANT to be here, not because they have been paid (in cash or goods or services or tax breaks) to do so.

Yes, this region has a lot of pluses. It is the best place in the world to live (my hype) -- as long as you have a good job. All the slick, glitzy marketing in the world will not make up for a defective product. Fixing what is wrong is what we need to be focused on. Then and only then will our region experience true success.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Moratorium Remains

The State Department of Environmental Conservation is not backing down on Oneida County 's sewer overflow fiasco: the connection moratorium remains ... as well as the fines. [An updated story is here.]

"The county plans to meet with state environmental officials within the next 10 days to discuss the order further."
There is nothing to discuss. . . The problem needs to be solved ASAP.

If the county does not like the consent order, it can always ask the agency for a adjudicatory hearing. . . . It would be interesting to see how the county would fare then.

Brain Drain Boondoggle . . .

According to the Times-Union, Mrs. Spitzer is going to lead an initiative to keep young workers from leaving Upstate New York. Mrs. Spitzer is probably a nice lady, but . . . really . . . a "summit" of the governor, his staff, community leaders, business and academic officials, etc. ? . . . to figure out "what's driving out young people and to identify public and private programs to reverse the flow" ?

If these people need a 'summit' to figure out why young people are leaving the state in droves, then we've been giving them far too much credit as leaders.
"Abraham Lackman, president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, said Wall Spitzer is doing "important due diligence." He predicts 40 good ideas will surface at the summit, a few of which will end up in the governor's next budget plan."
Of course . . . There it is right there in black and white . . . more government spending!
"One idea, he said, is to improve postings of internships and job opportunities for college students."
We already have,, and a myriad of other job sites. We also have Working Solutions. Anyone remotely interested in finding a job already has plenty of tools to discover what is available. And this guy thinks we need to improve postings to fix things! (Sounds like another Genesis project.) This is a perfect example of the "brilliant" thinking we've had in New York for too many years . . . thinking from people already heavily feeding at the public trough . . . thinking up new ways to take even more of our money.

Improving the posting of jobs does not mean a whit if jobs are not plentiful, do not pay a living wage, and do not come with a meaningful career path attached. No studies are needed to figure that out -- just ask ANYONE. And young people will stay here if they can have a meaningful career here -- just ask ANYONE.

And jobs and careers will NEVER be plentiful if we have to depend on the government to create/subsidize them. Just look at the pathetic economies that were produced by the centrally planned Soviet bloc countries. That's what NYS is becoming.

The answer to keeping young people here is the opposite of what the governor now proposes. Stop spending taxpayer money to create another program to solve a problem that the government created. The problem is too much government and unneeded government. If businesses had fewer government created expenses and less red tape, and if people had fewer taxes and fees, we would have more good jobs, a higher standard of living, and fewer "goodbyes" to our children.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Uh Oh . . .

A short story out of the Big Apple indicates that their hybrid buses are breaking down. This cannot be good news for local Orion employees.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Terminal Case of Economic Deficiency Anemia

The Sentinel calls our attention to another informative Brookings Institute report, "Restoring Prosperity - The State Role in Revitalizing America's Older Industrial Cities." [Entire report in .pdf format is here. ] The New York State information and statistics [here], reveal that virtually every Upstate metropolitan area is economically deficient when compared with other parts of the country. In spite of the bleak Upstate NY statistics, The Sentinel quotes the Rome C of C president that "Rome already is demonstrating plenty of signs that it is rebounding, based on various examples of development and employment growth."

Let's not confuse the heavily subsidized (by Oneida County and others) "development" and "growth" with the genuine items. New York's approach to economic development is to give ever bigger taxpayer supported incentives and special benefits to businesses to partially offset the higher cost of doing business here. A recent example is the Beachnut announcement last week, that its national headquarters will move to near Amsterdam, while one of its major plants in nearby Canajoharie will be closed. Dan at Upstream reported that vast sums are going to be spent by tax payers and even National Grid ratepayers to pull off this transaction -- so much so that it might be better just to give the money away. This "band aid" approach masks the region's underlying problems rather than solving them.

There is so much information in the Brookings report that it will take a while to digest. The following statement caught my attention, however:
Throughout older industrial states such as Pennsylvania (2,633 general governments), Ohio (2,338 general governments), Michigan (1,858 general governments), and New York (1,602 general governments) an enormous number of artificial municipal boundaries require what are otherwise interrelated communities to provide their own set of largely duplicative services to their residents, and at the same time force them to compete for revenue generating development. And it is the central cities that usually lose out: Businesses and residents can locate within a few miles of the core, pay fewer taxes, receive better services, and enjoy all the amenities and benefits the city has to offer, giving them little incentive to actually locate there." (p30 of 84, emphasis supplied).
This is exactly what has happened in the Utica area, is part of the reason why local taxes are so high, and is why this region cannot compete with other regions in the country. Our local interrelated municipalities are spending taxpayer resources duplicating each other and competing with each other. In other parts of the country, they would be one.

Until New York restructures its system of local governments, all the special economic development programs will just be throwing more good money after bad.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Big Money . . . Bah!

News 10 Now report that the "Republicans propose big money solution to struggling economy."

Sorry, Republicans, especially Mr. Bruno . . . You have lost all credibility as to your ability to straighten out the Upstate Economy. What exactly did you accomplish in the last 12 years for attracting jobs while you controlled both the Senate and the Governor's Office? In CNY alone in just the last 5 years: Ethan Allen, Oneida Ltd., Carrier, Union Fork, LaSalle Labs . . . . . gone or severely downsized.
"Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and other members of the Republican Conference introduced the ten-point plan that includes business tax credits, infrastructure improvements, and low-cost power for manufacturers."
In other words, they propose more subsidies by taxpayers and ratepayers -- more people and businesses reliant on the politicians for their survival -- more of the same old same old that got us here.

No one ever seems to think that less (government) may mean more.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Rudy Awakenings . . .

We thought we knew Rudy Giuliani . . . the capable and brave mayor of New York . . . who took a crime-ridden city and made it safe . . . who guided that city steadily in its darkest hour . . . someone who could get things done.

As Upstaters, our first concern over how he would be as a potential president surfaced with Canadian owned NYRI because Giuliani's firm is one of NYRI's chief lobbyists. This was a surprise because Giuliani always seemed to me a man of the people, not special interests. Of course, lawyers don't always control who their clients are, and it would be unfair to paint them with the same brush.

But today there are more disturbing revelations in World Net Daily. The Giuliani firm is involved with Spanish and Australian investors taking over U.S. highways . . . including participation with the so-called "NAFTA Superhighway." (There are fears in some quarters that the highway is part of a scheme to meld the US, Canada and Mexico into a European-Style Union.) There is also a link to an old Michele Malkin article describing how NYC during Giuliani's reign continued even after 9/11 to be a safe haven for illegal immigrants.

Rudy Giuliani: Man of the People, or Man of Special Interests?

Time will tell.

School Board Votes Today

Today is Super Tuesday for school boards across NYS. There are hotly contested races in Utica and New Hartford to make it worthwhile for voters to get out of bed and get down to the polls. New Hartford Online has the scoop on what is happening in Utica's largest suburb: some grass-roots challenges to the status quo. It will be interesting to see if New Hartfordites are interested in the out-of-the-box thinkers, or more of the same old same old.

Get out and vote!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Down and Up

We all just knew that this was coming. The famously high Oneida County sales tax will be brought down only for the property tax to go up.
"In order to get us stable, we will probably have to raise property taxes," Picente said. "It's not going to be zero — I can tell you that. That's why we're in the mess we're in."
Everyone knows that our high level of taxation is one of the top reasons why we're in the mess we're in -- why people and jobs are leaving the region in droves. So, what is being accomplished? The county is merely switching the pockets it wishes to pick from. It is just more of the "same old, same old" government we've been forced to live under for the last 30 years or so. Where will it get us: the poorhouse.

Again, "The Statistic:" Oneida County has lost 26+% of its population since 1970 -- about 85,000 people.

However, you don't need statistics to know that county government has significantly grown. Its building expansions are plain evidence: A new county law library building in Utica. New County offices at Union Station. The Rome campus of MVCC. Etc. It would be interesting to compare the county's building inventory when it served 320,000 residents in 1970 compared with serving under 235,000 now in 2007. Remember 1970? Life here was comparatively good.

With a declining population, government should be contracting. It should be spending less.

But that, apparently, is not something Mr. Picente wants to talk about. Instead he wants to reward his friends in New Hartford with a $150,000 check -- a "small token of the County’s appreciation in recognition that the Town is the economic engine that drives Oneida County" according to Leg. D'Onofrio. Giving money to New Hartford is like bringing coal to Newcastle. This is cheer leading the expansion of infrastructure that we all are going to have to pay for.

Don't go telling the taxpayers that spending cuts cannot be made.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Dealing with Distractions . . .

At least one CNY school district has come to its senses about distractions in the classroom, and is saying Goodbye to its student laptop computers. We can only hope that more districts start to think about how to best attend to their tasks. CNY Circus has the scoop.

Throwing Good Money After Bad . . .

The Griffiss Institute is now doubling in size, morphing from what was supposed to be a "world class" center of cybersecurity scientific research into a business incubator. . . . Talk about throwing good money after bad!

What We Were Thinking . . .

CNY Political Insider was thinking what we were thinking when we opened the O-D yesterday.
"Is there really NO ONE ELSE?"
Julian vs Meola for Utica Mayor, both with questionable pasts. It's probably not going to make any difference given the party politics in this area, but at least the O-D brought these issues to light for public discussion and consideration . . . unlike other races in the past.

Maybe the blogosphere had something to do with this story being published, since CNYSnakepit beat O-D to the punch.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Kernan Kidz at Kollege

More distractions for the students at Kernan School in Utica -- more money-wasting for the taxpayers of Utica. Now 3rd, 4th and 5th graders are taking all-day field trips to Utica College, to "learn" about college - visiting dorm rooms, the library, talking with college students, etc. What have they learned?
"If we had a swimming pool in our gym, that would be cool," said third-grader Dionicio Colombo, 9.
Cool . . . Maybe swimming pools in all the elementary schools will be part of Utica's profligate capital construction spend fest.

As previously blogged about, Kernan School seems to have a problem with attending to its task of teaching the 3 Rs. Just add this latest adventure to the yoga classes (by a social worker) and the conferences at the Radisson with "community leaders."

While the organizers of the trip may be well intended, it really is just a "fun" event for the instructors and students -- at the expense of time that should have been spent giving the students a thorough grounding in reading, grammar, spelling, computation, etc. etc. . . . the things that they will be assumed to know by the time they reach college. Days on field trips break the continuity and reinforcement of academic lessons. The students are being deprived of a day of school. The taxpayers are being deprived of the day of school that they paid for.

And we also read today how Utica will be getting a federal physical education grant. Physical education lessons that are going to be "blended with core academic subjects." Wonderful! PE is important, but we should not be doing hand springs to blend PE in with, for example, New York State geography. Academic subjects have been watered-down enough.

Hopefully the students got a good look at college, because many will never have the opportunity of actually attending one. Doesn't anyone on the school board connect these distractions with Utica's dismal graduation rate?

* * *
11PM Update: A reader wrote that New Hartford was introducing Spanish at the elementary level and Mandarin in high school and asked what I thought of it. Here's my take: In general, I like languages. Being multi-lingual is common place in Europe and in parts of Canada, and will be increasingly useful in a global economy. There is also a rigor and discipline to learning a foreign language that may even help students understand the structure of English. With all the distractions in schools these days, however, you have to be careful that Spanish does not become another one. Introducing Spanish in the elementary grades may be a good idea as long as it does not hurt "core academic subjects." New Hartford is probably a good place to try this out because its academic house seems in order. Mandarin in High School? Of course, especially with China becoming an economic power house ... Just make sure there are enough students to make it cost effective to hire an instructor. If there are not, teaming up with other districts through BOCES with a distance-learning setup could make it possible.

Oh - Here are more distractions: here (the annual Law Day confabs) and here (the mock crime scene).