Zero Sum Game

January 12, 2014

Our elected officials love to make noise about ‘holding the line on taxes’ — whether at the federal, state, county or local level.

In the private sector, we know there are 2 ways to improve fiscal efficiency. One way is to increase revenues, either by selling more products or raising prices on existing products. Another is to reduce costs.

The public sector is much more complex, because of the layers of government which often overlap and have some redundancy.

One thing is clear: if the federal government cuts back on safety net services to reduce costs, the need for those services is still there. Provision of services (or some substitute) thus rolls down to the state, county or local level. In the jargon of economists, that’s known as the ‘Zero Sum Game’.

I live in the City of Mount Vernon in lower Westchester County NY.

Westchester has a very large share of residents who are among the wealthiest Americans. Some call their Westchester residence home, while others use their Westchester property as a secondary or tertiary residence. Because of these very wealthy families who own extraordinary properties, Westchester has one of the highest median property values in the United States, and is ranked 1st of the 3143 U.S. counties in order of median property taxes.

What they fail to mention is that most properties in Westchester County are taxed by 3 different entities: The County (18%); the municipality (22%); and the school district (60%).

For me and my Mount Vernon neighbors, the estates of the landed gentry might as well be on another planet.

Those of us who live in Mount Vernon are seeing the effects first hand of what happens when politics gets in the way of reality. We experienced a very contentious and hard-fought battle for the office of County Executive in the second half of 2013.

The incumbent, Rob Astorino, campaigned relentlessly on his Tea Party platform of No Tax Increases!

Despite the fact that county property taxes in Westchester typically represent less than 20% of the total property tax burden, the sound bite of No Tax Increases, combined with a consistent message that his opponent – in his role as Mayor of New Rochelle – had raised taxes on New Rochelle property owners, Mr. Astorino gained the support of a number of factions, including some elected officials, and he was re-elected.

Now, because the County has not increased taxes, it has cut funding for vital services, and guess where the vital services are most needed?

Cities like Mount Vernon, Yonkers, New Rochelle, Peekskill are left holding the bag. No funding from the County for services? City taxpayers pick up the tab in their City budget, instead of spreading the tax burden across the broader County tax base and allowing property owners in all areas to share the cost of services which tend to impact most on lower-income areas.

A recent report ranked 4 Westchester towns — including Briarcliff, Lewisboro, Irvington and Pleasantville — as some of the safest areas in New York State to live. Those folks can well afford to pay for great schools, plenty of police, etc. in part because they don’t get burdened with covering the costs of services in less affluent communities.

Here in Mount Vernon, we have an elected City Council member who was a vehement supporter of Rob Astorino in his re-election campaign, loving the promise of no tax increases. Now, the City taxpayers are facing an 8% City tax increase in order to maintain some semblance of vital services which the County will no longer provide due to budget cuts.

Our City Council member is visiting somewhere in the Twilight Zone, creating her own illusions of reality, and she has supporters who believe in her?

Let me warn you folks: Don’t drink any of her Kool Aid! And, be very careful of the messages you hear on the election trail!

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Walrus Feeling Guilty

October 4, 2013

With all of the attention on the shenanigans in Washington and the in-depth moment by moment reporting, I thought the Walrus might sit this one out, but various forces have caused guilt.

Congress certainly has the authority to challenge the Affordable Care Act. Why don’t they just challenge the ACA in Court? Why are they messing with the greatest economy in the World?

Oh, wait. They did challenge it in court. In the Supreme Court. The highest court in the land. On June 28, 2012, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion upholding the constitutionality of the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” finding that the federal government can require people to purchase affordable health care insurance coverage or face an income tax penalty.

So, we have a law which was approved by the House of Representatives, approved by the U.S. Senate, approved by the President of the U.S. and affirmed by the Supreme Court.

But, wait! We also have a splinter group of dubiously elected officials (i.e. the Ayatollah John Boehner, Cruz Control, Private Ryan, Eric “T.P.” Cantor – and others who shall remain anonymous for now).

These creatures have determined (in September 2013) that the only appropriate way for the Congress to arrive at a Continuing Budget Resolution which would keep our federal government running is to open a debate on a law which was enacted in 2010?

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are many times I wish that I could just put all of the clocks and calendars around the world on pause. Just give me a few days to catch up on all of the loose ends, and then I would restart the clocks and calendars as though those few days I had to myself were invisible and inconsequential. Sort of like a short “working vacation” in the Twilight Zone.

Boehner and his Band of Merry Men apparently have gone beyond the Twilight Zone and have jumped all the way down the rabbit hole, desperately trying to drag the rest of the country with them.

I have to wonder – how does the Supreme Court feel about this behavior?

Somehow, Rob Astorino was elected to the position of Westchester County Executive in 2009. Since then, Mr. Astorino has accomplished nothing worth noting, other than a consistent and flagrant disreguard for the laws of New York State and the United States of America.

Now, Mr. Astorino is showing his true colors, attacking his Democratic Party endorsed opponent in the upcoming election for Westchester County Executive, and manufacturing reasons why his silly lawsuits against the federal government are a good idea, despite the fact that none of them have been successful.

Manufacturing his own facts, and drawing on his highly polished skills perfected during his long career as a radio broadcast journalist, Mr. Astorino and his Band of Merry Men are closely following the national model employed by Boehner, Ryan, Cruz and their ‘brothers’ using highly-charged emotional messages backed up by imaginary ‘facts’.

For some unfortunate reason, there seems to be a cohort of gullible — or perhaps dishonest? — New Rochelle residents who are willing to put their own character and reputation on the line to spread false facts.

Meanwhile, Noam Bramson, who has a solid track record of doing the right things to support and benefit the long-term success of all people in the County, is having to deal with the spillover effects of a divisive and dirty attack campaign from Mr. Astorino.

Some days, I wonder if America has been dragged down the rabbit hole by Alice and Astorino, and it’s all just a weird dream which will end with a nice cup of tea?

August 2013.

Westchester County is known as the bucolic gateway to the Hudson River Valley. Located just north of New York City, Westchester has a plethora of attractions, including castles, mansions, historical sites, and the iconic Playland Amusement Park in Rye.

Westchester boasts thousands of acres of parks and nature preserves; world-class museums and performing arts venues; exclusive shopping, wineries and orchards; public gardens; excellent dining; and year-round, family-friendly fairs and festivals.

That’s what current Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and his cronies would like the world to know and believe.

The real Westchester County consists of 45 independent communities on a land area of 450 square miles. Just under 1 Million people live in Westchester, and they are racially, economically and culturally segregated.

From the City of Peekskill (population 24,000) where 51% of the population is white, 14.5% live in poverty, and the median family income is $65,585; to the City of Rye (population 16,000) where 90% of residents are white, just 2.3% live in poverty, and the median family income is $210,824; the contrasts are dramatic.

Meanwhile, it is very clear: Current County Executive Rob “I cut your taxes” Astorino has no shame.

Much like Don Quixote jousting at windmills, Mr. Astorino loves to do battle with various federal agencies. As he stamps his feet and screams, “I want my Maypo”, he tries to divert attention away from the huge financial penalties Westchester County Taxpayers face because of his incompetence, inability to lead and inexperience managing an organization of any size.

The most recent revelation?

The County had been given a deadline of April 2012 to provide Ultra Violet treatment to the water in Westchester Water District 1 which serves White Plains, Scarsdale, Mount Vernon and Yonkers.

Career professionals in the County had developed solutions; Astorino allowed the progress afforded by the solutions to grind to a halt.

Now, we find out that the County has been in violation of the mandate to deliver clean drinking water for 16 months, with probable fines of $37,500 a day. 16 months x 30 days x $37,500 is $18 Million. That’s a lot of money!

Cryptosporidium is the pathogen that is often behind the syndrome sometimes known as “Montezuma’s Revenge.”

It is highly resistant to chlorine disinfection, which is the primary form of disinfection used at most water treatment plants.

As long ago as 1999, the US EPA published definitive research showing that UV treatment is the only reliable and effective treatment system against all pathogens, including Cryptosporidium.

It is somewhat surprising that CE Astorino would mess with folks in Scarsdale.

His predictable pattern of abuse and benign neglect tends toward Mount Vernon, Yonkers, Port Chester, Peekskill and New Rochelle. Those folks just don’t seem to make time to come out to vote, and they mostly don’t make campaign contributions.

Maybe his campaign advisors told him, “Don’t worry, boss. People in Scarsdale don’t drink tap water. They drink bottled water. They will never find out that we are sending them potentially dangerous water.”

Hopefully, some of our neighbors in Scarsdale who do vote will get a bit vociferous about the gamble Astorino and his cronies seem to be willing to take with the physical (and financial) health of fellow Westchester residents.

The Environmental Protection Agency filed a lawsuit against Westchester County this month after county officials refused to enter into a consent decree to resolve the violations.

The potential legal fees and fines are astronomical.

What is even worse?

The lack of UV treatment puts thousands of Westchester residents (the majority of whom are registered Democrats!) at extreme risk of serious illness or even death from drinking improperly treated tap water.

Pretty clever political strategy, I think.

If you can’t convince the other party you have a solid plan and strategy, then disable or kill them so they can’t vote.

Brilliant move, Mr. Astorino!

It’s a fact: there is no requirement that members of Congress (Senate and/or House of Representatives) have a college degree.

This fact raises an interesting question: ‘How many of those elected to the House and the Senate are college graduates?’

The answer is: Almost 95 percent of those serving in the 112th Congress have earned at least a bachelor’s degree.

The colleges and universities where our Senators and Congressmen earned their undergraduate degrees include: Harvard; Stanford; Yale; UCLA; Georgetown; University of Florida (Gainesville); University of Georgia; University of Wisconsin (Madison); University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill); Brigham Young; George Washington University; Louisiana State; University of California (Berkley); University of Missouri; and University of Tennessee.

Now, this information begs another question: ‘Have our colleges and universities failed to provide a sound basic education in economics to their graduates?’

It would seem so, based on the statements emanating from our elected officials in the most recent debate around our debt ceiling.

Which of these statements do you think is true?
1. Columbus was wrong: the earth is flat.
2. Global warming is a fraud, one of the greatest scams of the 20th Century.
3. Bernie Madoff is one of the best investment advisors ever.
4. Enron stock is a great buy.
5. Raising taxes will kill jobs.
6. “Cut, Cap & Balance” will solve our current financial crisis.

Yes, I know. This is a very tricky question, because the answer is “None of the above”.

Why are some of the elected officials serving in our 112th Congress unable or unwilling to grasp the basic principles of how an economy works?

One possible explanation: Some of the elected Republicans from south of the Mason-Dixon Line are really Al Qaeda operatives in disguise, sent here to create the ultimate Economic Jihad, certain to derail our economy and cause our country to become a North American subsidiary of the People’s Republic of China….

Almost Perfect Weather

June 1, 2011

We had cold and rain here just about all of May, and on the first of June, we now have 90 degree weather with humidity. The weather service posted a severe storm warning around 5 PM today, so I assume a cold front is coming in.

We pay major bucks in taxes here in the Lower Hudson Valley of NYS in exchange for promises of perfect weather.

I think our boys in Albany have recently begun to promise a bit more than they can deliver.

I guess with the climate change, they will have to be raising our taxes again in order to upgrade the tools needed to keep pace with technology so that they can go back to delivering perfect weather.

As a loyal New York State taxpayer, I can tell you, “It’s worth it!”

With the exception of a few NYS Senators who have had to go back to meteorological school (Guy Velella, Joe Bruno, Hiram Monserrate, Efrain Gonzalez, Pedro Espada and Vincent Leibell are now in school, or have recently graduated), our boys in Albany are among the finest Elected Officials in the U.S.

Mighty pleased to be a taxpayer in New York State, and looking forward to a return of Perfect Weather!