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"Reform" in New York State

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Message Douglas C. Smyth
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NY State government is a mess. It's not only running on nearly empty, its decision-makers, except for the Governor, don't seem to have a clue about solving the mess. The Senate can't even decide what to do with one of its members, who slashed his girlfriend with broken glass (by accident, he claims) and was convicted of throwing her out of his apartment by her hair: a misdemeanor! The Democrats can't act because the Senator holds their deciding vote. The former Republican majority leader was just convicted of graft. It also can't agree on enough budget cuts to eliminate the illegal deficit, leaving it up to the Governor to make up the difference.

So, Gov. Patterson, who has also pitched for a better ethics code, has just made a radical proposal--radical for NY State, that is. Instead of creating new government entities to solve problems, he wants to collapse many into one! He actually wants to reduce the number of offices, departments, agencies and independent state organs. You have to live in NY to realize how radical this is. We have the highest property taxes in the nation, and we have all these mysterious agencies which do their own thing with very little control, even by the Governor, and have only gotten bigger and more bureaucratic as the years roll by--years headed by Republican and Democratic governors, it doesn't matter.

Union and non-union it doesn't matter: AFSCME is a powerful union in NY, so powerful that it was able to extract a no lay-off pledge by the Governor in return for cooperating. However, empire-building upper-level civil servants, and political appointees are at least as powerful. NY has impressive forces arrayed in favor of any government expansion, again, regardless of whether Governors are Democrats or Republicans.

New York has had many layers of administration for generations. After all, we had Boss Tweed and Tammany in the city, and another political machine in Albany back in the late 1800's. They had to distribute jobs to their members, so political patronage became a proliferation of jobs. Even after turn of the century reforms, establishing a non-partisan civil service, state patronage continued. The NYC Board of Ed is legendary for its bureaucrats, perhaps outnumbering the teachers and principals it oversaw. "Work for the City. You'll never be laid off and they'll pay you a pension when you retire."

So, immediately upon hearing Patterson's proposals to consolidate agencies, my automatic response was: Good Luck! They are so much better protected, politically, than private citizens. We can be saddled with a Metro commuter tax (even if we don't commute), but to get rid of an agency? Forgeddaboudit!

New York State is a microcosm of the nation and its governments. One of the strongest and best-placed special interests in every state, and at the Federal level, is the government itself, again, whether it's Democratic or Republican.

I have the example of my own Township's entrenched Republican government, more expansive of government functions than the Democrats who briefly gained control. The same is true at the County level, in which the trash to power incinerator is lovingly protected, even though it is woefully inefficient (and expensive). Republican governments may spend money on different things than Democrats: baseball diamonds, instead of homeless shelters, or libraries. But the governing impulse is to increase the size of government and expand the number of administrators, regardless of overriding economic conditions.

So, Patterson is onto something. He actually has identified...lt; the problem behind the over-sized deficit facing the state. In good times, governments have expanded like Topsy. In bad times, they resist any trimming down to size.

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I am a writer and retired college teacher. I taught college courses in Economics and Political Science (I've a Ph.D) and I've written as a free-lancer for various publications.

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