Tax Reform in New York?

March 24, 2011

Henry David Thoreau said, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches to one who is striking at the root.”  He was talking about evil, but the same concept seems to apply to almost every problem.

If you want to fix something that is broken, first you need to determine, “what is the root cause of this problem?” 

I think no one could successfully argue that the cost of public services in New York State has spiraled out of control. 

School districts face huge deficits.  The same is true at the village, town, city and county level.  And New York State itself is grappling with a $10 Billion budget deficit. 

In the private sector, such a situation would be met with rapid re-engineering.  Analyze the revenue streams, match them against the expense base, and move quickly to optimize and/or balance the revenues against expenses. 

Throw in the vested interests of Elected Officials, and the private sector model does not seem to easily apply to the public sector.

Our public sector in New York State has not been re-engineered since the beginning of time.

Look at our system of counties: there are 62 counties in New York State. This hasn’t changed since 1914, when Bronx County was created from the portions of New York City that had been annexed from Westchester County in the late 19th century.

The five counties which make up the City of New York do not have functioning county governments, thus the regional government of New York City seems to create a much greater efficiency than might otherwise exist.

Immediately to the east of New York City lies Nassau County, ostensibly one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S.  Census data tells us that Nassau has the highest median household income of any county in the state at $92,221.  Currently struggling to close a $176 million budget gap, Nassau officials face either a 21.5 percent property tax increase, or a workforce reduction of 513, of which 213 will involve involuntary terminations.

Within the 287 square miles of land in Nassau County, we find 2 cities, 3 towns and 64 incorporated villages. Nassau County presently has a total population of about 1.4 Million, and the County employs about 9,000 workers, operating on a budget of about $3.23 Billion.

Compare Nassau to Maricopa County, Arizona with a land area of 9,203 square miles, 32 times greater.  Population:  more than 4 Million.  Phoenix is the largest city in Maricopa County, and there are 13 other cities there, plus 12 towns, and no villages.  Proposed Maricopa County budget for FY 2012 is $2.2 Billion, with 13,000 employees.

How is it that cities and counties in other places — even other states in the U.S. —- are able to operate so much more efficiently than we can in New York State? 

Isn’t it time for independent review and re-engineering?

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