Saturday, November 27, 2010

Utica's Cameo Appearance . . .

. . . in a Cato Institute report: Why New York Shouldn't Mourn Earmarks by Tad DeHaven.
New York would actually be a winner under an earmark ban, because research by my Cato Institute colleague Brandon Arnold shows that when it comes to the distribution of pork, no state fares worse than New York.

In 2009, New York taxpayers contributed just over 8.2% of the overall federal tax burden. It would be reasonable to expect a similar percentage of earmarked dollars to flow back to the state. In reality, New York received only about 2.1% of total earmarked funds. As a result, the Empire State has the dubious distinction of being the nation's biggest "earmark donor" state.

New York is not alone. Unbelievably, 90% of the US population resides in an earmark donor state. In addition to New York, taxpayers in 34 other states and the District of Columbia are essentially picking up the tab for 16 "earmark beneficiary" states.. . .

Just as earmarks have achieved notoriety for wasteful and ineffective spending, community development programs funded through traditional means have had the same problem.

Examples from New York abound. The city of Utica spent CDBG funds on a variety of improper uses, such as $902,799 on a marina and $255,158 on ski chalet renovations. The city of Troy used $1.6 million to lure a hockey team to the city. And Niagara Falls and Lockport used $12 million to build an amusement center, which shut down after just six months of operation. . . .

. . . the goal shouldn't be to get the state of New York an equal share of federal subsidies that go to state and local governments, be it earmarks or grants. Rather, the goal should be for New York and the rest of the states to reassume responsibility for their own affairs.   [emphasis supplied]

Friday, November 26, 2010

Barnes Ave. Bungling 2 . . . And Much More . . .

Today is the day the Barnes Avenue Bridge closes. The closing is the subject of another OD article today. Unless you are a bicyclist or prepared for a very long walk, the closure seals off access to a boat launch, picnic pavilion, nature trail system with viewing towers and platform, wetlands (including newly constructed ones) and several businesses . . .

Judging from the comments posted on the story, most people are placing blame on the City of Utica which is responsible for the bridge -- missing entirely the larger cause of the situation. There almost seems to be a sense of entitlement among those commenting that Utica is somehow obliged to maintain the infrastructure on which the Marcy and State property owners depend for access . . .  

Pinning responsibility on municipal labels perpetuates the entitlement mentality,  depersonalizing responsibility and making it easy to lay blame on a "corrupt" government . . . 

When viewed from the perspective of "the people" . . . .  those receiving services . . . those paying the costs to provide them . . . and those handing responsibility for both to "government"  . . . the problem becomes understandable:

Local government no longer binds together the people who receive, pay for, and have an interest in services. 

Marcy cannot give its Barnes Ave. taxpayers the street access they need;  Utica taxpayers have no incentive to give those people access when they get nothing in return; so the bridge falls apart. Had the Marcy Barnes Ave. properties been annexed into Utica, the property owners would have been represented on the Common Council, the deterioration would have been noted, the taxes coming in would have been an incentive to pay attention to the problem, and the bridge would have been fixed. 

The disconnect between people receiving, paying for, and having an interest in services has been institutionalized in the set up of the Water Authority and the Part County Sewer District  -- where most of the customers reside in the City of Utica, but far flung systems that go into Clayville, Westmoreland, or, potentially Verona, must be maintained. The population base within the City of Utica carries these systems in the outlying areas where the population density is too low for them to be self-supporting. The Water Authority and Sewer District are later stages of the same dysfunction that has created the Barnes Ave. Bridge closure.
Take the current Water Authority legal problems, for example. When the system was owned by the City of Utica, Gray Reservoir was just about the right size to serve the water needs of  the population within the City of Utica's limits.  Under the 1917 Agreement, however,  for the city's Board of Water Supply to take additional water from Hinckley Reservoir to supply suburban demand, an expensive expansion of Gray Reservoir would have been required.  There was no incentive, however, for city residents to take on this responsibility as long as the suburban areas demanding water insisted on remaining independent.  The expansion did not get done . . . and the stage was set for events leading up to the present day lawsuit. 

The Sewer System was similar.  There was no incentive for Utica to expand the sewage treatment plant and collector system to serve a wider area as long as suburban jurisdictions were unwilling to become part of Utica and share their tax base.  A county system was eventually created to get around this problem, setting the stage for the suburban sewer violations that now will plague the region with costs for years to come.

The Barnes Ave Bridge closure symbolizes the inadequacy of our city and suburban fiefdoms to deal with regional infrastructure issues. Local government must be reformed to bind together the people who receive, pay for, and have an interest in services. 

WKTV . . . Holding Its Viewers Hostage

WKTV (actually its parent company) is now in a spat with Time Warner Cable.  According to its "Get the Facts" Webpage  . . .
Time Warner Cable’s carriage agreement for WKTV expires on December 15, 2010. After the agreement expires, it will be illegal for Time Warner Cable to continue carrying WKTV on its systems in and around Utica. To keep Time Warner Cable from dropping WKTV, we offered Time Warner Cable a fair deal to extend the agreement.  . . . .
Why has Time Warner Cable refused to pay fair value for WKTV?
We have no idea. Time Warner Cable pays fees for channels like ESPN, TNT, and Fox News. WKTV is – by far – the highest rated and most popular channel on Time Warner Cable’s system. It is only fair that Time Warner Cable pay a fee that recognizes the value of our programming.
WKTV wants to charge Time Warner Cable for the privilege of carrying its signal . . .

Of course, any charge by WKTV to Time Warner will eventually be reflected in your monthly Time Warner Bill which is already far too high owing to other Hostage Like situations created by YES and certain other cable networks.

WKTV intends to collect Money from You via Time Warner . . . for airtime that is already being paid for by advertisers to be free.

WKTV cannot compare itself to Fox or other cable networks.  They do not have over-the-air facilities and are used as enticements by Time Warner to get customers.  People are willing to pay for this variety.

The added value of getting WKTV over cable --  a more reliable signal and no antenna to deal with -- is being provided by Time Warner, Not WKTV.  If anything, WKTV should pay Time Warner for the additional reach that it provides.

People are losing their jobs and are cutting expenses.  Now is no time to shove additional costs down their throats, WKTV.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I received the following in an e-mail and thought I'd share ...

New York
The Governor Elect of New York is jogging with his dog along a nature trail. A coyote jumps out, bites the Governor, and attacks his dog.
1. The Governor starts to intervene, but reflects upon the movie "Bambi", then realizes he should stop, the coyote is only doing what's natural.
2. He calls Animal Control. Animal Control captures the coyote and bills the state $200 for testing it for diseases and $500 for relocating it.
3. He calls a veterinarian. The vet collects the dead dog and bills the state $200 for testing it for disease.
4. The Governor goes to a hospital and spends $3,500 getting checked for disease from the coyote and for getting his bite wound bandaged.
5. The running trail is shut down for 6 months, while Fish & Game conducts their $100,000 survey to make sure the area is free of dangerous animals.
6. The Governor next spends $150,000 in state funds, implementing a "Coyote Awareness" program for residents of the area.
7. The State Legislature spends $2 million to study how to better treat rabies and how to permanently eradicate the disease, throughout the world. 
8. The Governor's security agent is fired for not somehow stopping the attack and for letting the Governor attempt to intervene.
9. Additional cost to State of New York: $75,000 to hire and train a new security agent with additional special training re: The Nature of Coyotes.
10. PETA protests the coyote's relocation and files suit against the state.
The Governor of Arizona is jogging, with her dog, along a nature trail.
A coyote jumps out and attacks her dog.
1. The Governor shoots the coyote with her state-issued pistol and keeps jogging.
The Governor has spent $0.50 on a .45 ACP hollow-point cartridge.
2. Arizona buzzards eat the dead coyote.
And that, my friends, is why New York is broke!!!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Embracing Decline

Didn't want to let this article go by without commenting about it.
Utica officials adapting to declining population, jobs
After decades of failing to push back against a decline in jobs and population, city officials are saying it might be time to embrace it.
"Embrace" decline? These officials lost me there.

Certainly Utica is like other declining Upstate NY cities where the manufacturing base has been totally decimated by New York State's high taxation, high regulation, big union ways.

That said, what has Utica done to drive people away? People do not feel safe. Streets and sidewalks are decrepit. The schools are low performing. And taxation has gotten way too high.

Utica has adopted policies and gotten help from the State and regional agencies that have contributed to it becoming a high-cost unattractive area. . . such as selling its water works which forces Utica residents to subsidize suburban services . . . such as participating in the Oneida County Part County Sewer District . . . which again forces Utica residents to subsidize suburban services . . . such as encouraging the State to take more properties and businesses for arterial highway expansion.

Utica leaders need to stop embracing the causes of its decline instead of embracing decline.

Our Future Congressional Problem . . .

 Low-tax states will gain seats, high-tax states will lose them
Migration from high-tax states to states with lower taxes and less government spending will dramatically alter the composition of future Congresses, according to a study by Americans for Tax Reform . . .
New York and Ohio are likely to lose two seats each. . .

No doubt New York's seats will be taken out of Upstate, because New York's policies have been more toxic to the Upstate economy, driving people away.

Don't be surprised to see our local congressional district significantly enlarged - - - or broken up and combined with others.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Is the Glass Half Full?

The latest twist in the seemingly unending saga of the Mohawk Valley Water Authority vs the New York State Canal Corp and others is the Appellate Division's modification last week of Judge Hester's 2009 ruling. Per the OD, the water authority is still hoping for extra water.

Ultimately MVWA will get the extra water . . . but it will be at a price.

Judge Hester's 2009 ruling "in equity" of allowing MVWA to draw 35 cubic feet of water per second from West Canada Creek without providing compensating flows was the judge's attempt to preserve the status quo among the warring parties while they worked out a long term solution for the taking of greater amounts of water. Litigants on both sides of the lawsuit, however, suspected there was no basis "in law" for the judge's solution, so they appealed on that issue (and others), and the Appellate Division has thrown out  the 35 cfs allowance -- or limitation depending on one's perspective.

The Appellate Division -- as did Judge Hester -- tacitly acknowledged that the 1917 Agreement between Consolidated Water Co and the State of NY is a valid agreement. A plain reading of the 1917 Agreement  makes clear that unless MVWA maintains a compensating reservoir and makes compensating flows to the West Canada Creek (to make up for the water MVWA removes from the Creek during low flow periods), MVWA has NO right to take ANY water from Hinckley.  The issues to be resolved thus come down to whether the state defendants intended to relinquish their rights under the 1917 Agreement or should now be barred from enforcing that Agreement because of their inaction at doing so for decades.

Persons who have not been significantly harmed by the breach of an agreement would not be expected to sue to enforce the agreement . . . at least not until the breach becomes or threatens to become significant.  I don't believe that threat can be seen as significant until (1) Gray Dam was destroyed and (2) MVWA planned to vastly expand the reach of its system.

I believe that this matter will ultimately be resolved by the construction of a new reservoir that substitutes for Gray Reservoir. If MVWA does not willingly construct it, the state will do so in its stead, and then charge MVWA costs for its use.

Either way costs will be passed on to MVWA customers.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Barnes Ave. Bungling . . .

Barnes Avenue bridge closure will strand businesses .
The bridge over CSX railroad tracks provides the only access to several businesses located at the far end of the no-outlet street.
The bridge closure also closes off vehicular access to
  • A well-used boat launching site on the canal
  • The Canalway Bike Trail
  • The Utica Marsh Nature Trail System and watchtower
  • A picnic pavilion and a couple fishing spots
  • New wetlands which were constructed this past summer
What a demotion for the old bridge! Back in 1950, Barnes Avenue connected Oriskany Blvd. in Utica with River Rd in Marcy, and the corridor was planned to be THE major North-South thoroughfare through West Utica via a connection with York Street. See the plan above which, if followed, would also have provided additional access to the Barnes Ave. properties from Genesee St.

The situation that is being created -- public facilities (and money) that will go to waste -- private taxable property that will become essentially worthless -- is the result of bungling on all levels of government. 

First it is absolutely breathtaking that the City of Utica strong-armed CWSI to move to its new Barnes Ave. site this summer while knowing that the bridge eventually was going to go. . . .  and didn't anyone think that the trucks going over that bridge would hasten deterioration?

Second, a LOT of heavy machinery and trucks moved over that bridge when the new wetlands were constructed over the summer to offset wetlands that would be taken for the Marcy Nanocenter.  Didn't the county or the state or whomever planned the new wetlands consider the impacts to the bridge of the construction?

Third, when all the public facilities were planned, didn't anyone think about permanent maintenance of future accessibility?

Utica obviously has fiscal problems.  While the CWSI situation is inexcusable, why should Utica be expected to maintain the only access to properties that are located in Marcy? . . .  properties from which Marcy collected taxes for the last 50 years.  And why should Utica taxpayers be expected to spend millions to provide access to what are regional recreational facilities? 

Why was Barnes Ave. never annexed into Utica after the Thruway severed its connection with River Road in Marcy?  Why do Maynard volunteer firefighters cover this area when Utica has a fire station in West Utica nearby?  Let's keep doing things as we've always done even though it no longer makes sense.

Greater Utica is a practical reality that needs to become a political entity. . . .

Barnes Ave with its stranded businesses and public facilities is the latest victim of local parochialism . 

Friday, November 12, 2010

QE2: An Unconstitutional Taking of Property . . .

A second round of Quantitative Easing (QE2) is now underway, supposedly to stimulate the economy, but effectively devaluing the dollar, much to the chagrin of the US' trading partners.  Cheaper US dollars make US exports less expensive for buyers in other countries, but they also make foreign imports more expensive here.

Supposedly China has kept its currency, the yuan, artificially cheap for years, which has contributed to the US trade deficit. However the US is receiving little sympathy from its trading partners to pressure China to strengthen the yuan because of the US' own rounds of printing money.
A stronger yuan would shrink the U.S. trade deficit with China, which is on track this year to match its 2008 record of $268 billion, and encourage Chinese companies to sell more to their own consumers rather than rely so much on the U.S. and others to buy low-priced Chinese goods.
But the U.S. position has been undermined by its own central bank's decision to print $600 billion to boost a sluggish economy, which is weakening the dollar.
Also, developing countries like Thailand and Indonesia fear that much of the "hot" money will flood their markets, where returns are higher. Such emerging markets could be left vulnerable to a crash if investors later decide to pull out and move their money elsewhere.
In all likelihood the US' newly printed money will NOT stimulate the US economy, but, rather, be invested overseas where better economies will produce a return on investment.

Few outside the conservative media discuss the negative impact of QE2 on the average person: eventual inflation.  The National Inflation Association recently released its projection of future US food prices.
NIA projects that at the average U.S. grocery store it will soon cost $11.43 for one ear of corn, $23.05 for a 24 oz loaf of wheat bread, $62.21 for a 32 oz package of Domino Granulated Sugar, $24.31 for a 32 fl oz container of soy milk, $77.71 for a 11.30 oz container of Folgers Classic Roast Coffee, $45.71 for a 64 fl oz container of Minute Maid Orange Juice, and $15.50 for a Hershey's Milk Chocolate 1.55 oz candy bar. NIA also projects that by the end of this decade, a plain white men's cotton t-shirt at Wal-Mart will cost $55.57.
$23 for a loaf of bread?  OUCH!

NO ONE is discussing the legality of printing money to stimulate the economy.

Back when the dollar was backed by gold or silver, money had clear value.  You could trade your paper dollar for precious metal.  But if someone gave you a counterfeit dollar, you were robbed!

Nowadays, the dollar is (per Wikipedia) supposedly
backed by all - the sum total of - the underlying value systems in an economy, namely sound governance, sound economic policies, sound monetary policies, sound industrial policies, sound commercial policies, etc.
In other words, the money is only as good as the country that makes it, similar to shares in a corporation.

If you owned 10 shares of a corporation that had 100 shares outstanding, you would own 10% of the corporation.  If the corporation simply printed up 100 more shares and gave them away, the corporation just took 50%  of the value you owned in the corporation and gave it away.  That would be theft if it was done without your permission.  That is why creation of new shares requires authorization of the existing shareholders . . .  and that usually requires the corporation to receive something of value in return for the new shares issued.

QE2 is like a corporation printing up more shares. . . But when did you (or your elected representative) give permission for this to happen?  What is the value that the country receives in return?

Essentially the value of your hard-earned savings in the bank is being taken from you.  Debtors, on the other hand, can satisfy their debts with dollars of less value.  Wealth is being redistributed.

The Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution provides that
No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. 
The money you have in the bank is your property.  Through QE2 the government is taking your property's value and redistributing it to others, allegedly for a public use, but giving you nothing of value in return.

QE2 is therefore an unconstitutional taking of property.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Track Addicts . . .

From the OD: Local officials: Give NY more funds for high speed rail
Andrew Cuomo, the governor-elect for New York, recently wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood asking that the funding from Ohio and Wisconsin be redirected to New York if it becomes available.

On Tuesday, state Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito, D-Rome, joined the cause by e-mailing U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats of New York, asking for their support in obtaining the funding. . . .

Comments on New York asking for the money from Ohio and Wisconsin:
* DOT Communications Director Deborah Sturm Rausch: “Everything has a price tag, and the more money we have to support high-speed rail, the more we can do.”
* Utica Mayor David Roefaro: “Absolutely, we’ll take the money because that’s something we desperately need here in Upstate New York.”
The Mayor Roefaro quote sums it up best -- its the MONEY that is desperately needed -- by the politicians in New York State.

As this blog has pointed out several times, no one has EVER demonstrated that the proposed High Speed Rail could significantly reduce door-to-door travel times or reduce travel expenses over competing transportation modes such as the Thruway.  Upstate NY would be economically much better off simply removing the Thruway tolls and making the Thruway like free interstates everyplace else.

All High Speed Rail does is present an opportunity to spend taxpayer money to create a system that will require a constant infusion of taxpayer money to keep it running.

In the process, the MONEY will be used to CONTROL PEOPLE through their government-dependent paychecks.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Upstate Resignation . . .

From Fred Siegel at City Journal . . .
Politically, much of upstate New York has teetered between rage and resignation for years. Begin with the rage: upstate New Yorkers are far likelier than Gothamites to agree with Tea Party supporters across the country in viewing the federal government as a threat to their interests, and they take an even harsher view of their own state government. . . . upstaters often consider Albany a semi-criminal enterprise run out of Manhattan. No wonder: the state’s executive-level leadership—its governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general—all hail from the New York City metro area, while upstate New York contains nine of the ten counties in America paying the highest property taxes as a percentage of home values, thanks partly to the fact that Albany requires counties to pay for a portion of Medicaid. . . .
New York’s next governor will face the task of reconciling the estrangement between coastal and midwestern New York. When I asked a well-educated upstate friend what he thought upstate should do if Andrew Cuomo—who plans to revive the region by rearranging its economic development agencies—wins the governor’s race, he replied, only half-jokingly: “We have to secede.” Here is the one area in which New York already leads the country: its residents, seceding on their own, have made it Number One in outmigration among the states. Or to use another word, they are resigning as New Yorkers.
Read the full article: Upstate Rage or Resignation

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Power to Reform State Government . . .

. . . has always resided with the governor, via the governor's power over the budget, as explained by E. J. McMahon in his City Journal article "The Bucks Stop Here." So with every governor we've had within recent memory pledging to reform New York, why has reform not happened?

It is probably because real reform requires telling special interest groups "No, you can't have that anymore." Most politicians won't do that because it opens themselves up to criticism. . . which could lead to loss of popular support . . . no re-election . . . and an end to a political career.

Instead of reform, we get finger pointing at a dysfunctional state legislature to deflect from the responsible party.

But the responsible party is the governor.

Who among the current crop of candidates will have the guts to use the extraordinary powers of the governorship to institute real reform?  Certainly not an Attorney General who failed to enforce state tax laws against New York's Indian Nations.  Who is willing to use the budget power?