Thursday, March 31, 2011

Yankees Rule

Okay, I have a lot more to say about the thugs, thieves and boobs running this state, but for now; baseball is back. The Yankees are in first place after an opening day win over Detroit and they have a half-game lead on the Red Sox with just 161 games to play.

Also, by this time next week Strikealinethruit (SALTI) will be back in NY and getting ready to start the 2011 thoroughbred racing season. Life is good; sorta. I need a change of scene. Maybe I'll go back to Boston for reunion weekend in June and play a little golf and drink a little single malt scotch, or hang out at the Sam Adams Brewery in Jamaica Plain and drink some of their craft brews. It's hard to beat Boston in June; except maybe in May or September, or even October.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

We need a change

The state is discriminating against upstate residents with poorly designed school aid programs that favor the more affluent districts (see the Times article below). Our governor and state legislature have also imposed huge cuts to Medicaid that disproportionately impact people with disabilities and the working poor while allowing some legislators to collect both their pensions and their legislative salaries. On top of that, they are giving a tax cut to affluent people who already received a federal tax cut last year when the Bush-era tax increase was allowed to expire.
The gap between rich and poor and upstate and downstate continues to grow with the help of government policies.

We don’t need more taxes. We need a fair and equitable tax system that people can actually understand, fair and sane redistricting that doesn’t ensure that the same people get elected time after time, full disclosure of who our legislators work for and where they get their outside income and ethics legislation that will actually punish those who abuse their office and snub their noses at the people they are supposed to serve.

Whew. I'm done. That was a little over the top, eh?

From the NY Times - Saturday, March 26, 2011
Rich District, Poor District

To balance New York State’s budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to cut a record $1.5 billion from the $23 billion budget for grades K-12.

The cuts would scarcely affect wealthy districts that rely primarily on local taxes to support lavishly appointed schools. But they would be catastrophic for impoverished rural districts that have been starved of state aid for decades and are still reeling from cuts levied last year when David Paterson was governor. Already struggling to furnish even basic course offerings, the poorest districts would need to cannibalize themselves to keep the doors open and the lights on.

The fundamental inequity of the cuts, as currently proposed, can be seen in how they would affect two of the state’s school districts: Ilion in the economically depressed Mohawk Valley, and Syosset, a wealthy town in Long Island’s Nassau County.





The system is one of the poorest in the state. More than a third of its 1,600 students are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches, and that figure would no doubt be higher if some families whose children need free lunches to eat nutritiously were not too ashamed to apply for it.

Impoverished districts like Ilion, which has an eroding tax base and relies on the state for more than three-quarters of its budget, were supposed to fare better after a 2006 court ruling that ordered the state to give each district enough money to provide every child with a “sound basic education.”

Under a new formula created by the Legislature, some of the poorest districts were promised as much as an 80 percent increase. The increases were to be phased in over four years in steadily larger amounts. Ilion, which had been promised a 35 percent increase, got a modest boost in the first two years. But then the state ran into fiscal trouble; funding was kept flat in 2009 and cut in 2010. Like many other poor districts, Ilion retrenched. It laid off teachers and backed down from plans to expand its course offerings.

Thanks to an ambitious school building program carried out by the state, Ilion’s low-rise brick high school is in great shape and indistinguishable from similar buildings even in wealthier communities. The course offerings tell another story. The school offers only one foreign language, Spanish, and is unlikely to offer any others until and if the economic climate improves. As a result, a transfer student who was seeking a third year of French has had to take the course online.

The school offers only four of the possible 34 Advanced Placement courses, which allow students to earn college credit in high school. The Advanced Placement course in biology was particularly hard won: school officials said they had to “steal nickels here and there” to buy microscopes and other material necessary to run the course, which is certified and overseen by the College Board.

Under the Cuomo administration’s proposal, Ilion would be asked to absorb a new $1.1 million cut, on top of the $450,000 cut it took last year. That would not even come to a rounding error in the state’s richest districts. But for Ilion, whose budget is about $25 million, the new cut, combined with the $1.3 million the district is obligated to pay for raises, benefits and other costs, produces a deficit of about $2.4 million.

Mr. Cuomo has left the impression that school districts like Ilion could weather cuts by tightening their belts and winning pay freezes through negotiations with their employees. A pay freeze would save Ilion only $600,000, leaving a huge deficit of $1.8 million. The district could save money in the long term by getting teachers to contribute more to their health care costs. But that will not happen, if at all, until the current contract expires next year.

Moreover, pension expenses, which will cost the district more than $1 million this year — and about 2.5 percent more next year — are locked in by the State Constitution, which makes it illegal to reduce benefits for workers already enrolled in the system. Proposals that would create less expensive pension plans for future employees will take decades to produce significant savings.

Ilion is seeking to save money by merging with three districts nearby. But the results of a merger feasibility study will not be known until the fall. The only short-term way for Ilion to cut costs is to lay off teachers while savaging academic programs that are already inadequate.





Meanwhile, prospects remain bright in affluent districts like Syosset in Nassau County, which has a rich local tax base and, according to the most recently available statistics, gets only about 12.6 percent of its budget from the state. The district’s course catalog runs more than 130 pages. It offers students Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Latin, American Sign Language and Mandarin Chinese. College-bound students, which is to say, just about everyone at the high school, have access to a dazzling array of almost 30 Advancement Placement classes that include different levels of calculus, physics, economics, environmental science, music theory and studio art.

Signs outside the low-rise building that houses the high school proudly proclaim that the United States Department of Education has cited Syosset High for the excellence of its academic programs and that the system’s arts education program was ranked first in the nation in 2002. Whereas most Ilion students end up at local community colleges, Syosset launched nearly all of its graduating seniors into four-year colleges last year. A significant number of them enrolled in schools like Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Cornell.

The district could easily raise enough through local taxes to support its entire $188 million budget. Despite its lavish programs and a budget more than seven times that of Ilion, Syosset would get roughly the same cut under the Cuomo plan, about $1.4 million.

Districts like Syosset also benefit from loopholes in the state funding formula that drive hundreds of millions of dollars each year toward wealthy and moderate-income school systems that could do without it.

The most obvious of these is the so-called high-tax aid provision that reimburses wealthy and moderate-income districts that tax themselves heavily to fund high-end school programs. By state estimates, this provision inflates the school budget by about $200 million per year. Another provision that deliberately underestimates the poverty levels in the poorest districts has cost those districts millions in aid. Yet another provision that allows districts in wealthy areas to have a larger portion of basic education funding covered by the state siphons off even more money.

No one should begrudge wealthy districts like Syosset their wonderful course offerings. But the state must do more to improve and better fund public schooling in economically depressed parts of upstate New York.

Governor Cuomo has made revitalizing these areas a priority. But the region stands little chance of attracting high-skill jobs if its schools are allowed to deteriorate. Instead of swallowing the Cuomo proposal whole, the Legislature should fashion a fair system that cuts out the givebacks to the wealthy while driving more money toward the starving, poorer districts that so desperately need it. By helping those districts survive tough times, the state is also looking out for its own best interest.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Wheeling and dealing

The NYS Budget is in and though many are happy with it, it is a case of the politicians taking care of their own and ignoring many of the most vulnerable and powerless among us.

The governor allowed the legislature to restore some of the cuts to education, removed the medical malpractice suits limit and gave a tax break to those making over $200,000 a year. The winners are the teachers' unions and trial lawyers. The big losers are people with disabilities and the working poor. Cuts in Medicaid, Early Intervention and other programs will result in the loss of sevices and the loss of thousands of low-paying jobs. The loss of those jobs means more people on unemployment and public assistance and increased costs to the taxpayers.

Meanwhile the people making over $200,000 a year will get a tax cut. The powerful media commentators on the righ are calling this a refusal to raise taxes, and of course that is a lie. The tax was in place. This is a tax cut for the rich and powerful at a time when the state can least afford it.

The budget is done, now it is time to see if Cuomo and the Legislature deliver on their promises to redistrict fairly and pass meaningful ethics legislation. Don't hold your breath.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


I guess it's true that we are all only six degrees removed from anyone else in the world, at least on facebook. A friend mentioned that she stalks friends friends' lists to see who they know and to view interesting photos they may have posted on their pages.

That's not something that especially appealed to me, but if she thought it was interesting, who am I to judge? Hey, my life is not all that interesting, so I don't need to see other people's lives, either to feel good because they are even bigger losers than I am, or to send me into a funk because I find hundreds of people with lives full of fun, adventure, romance and sex. I have plenty to do just trying to keep my own little corner of the world intact without digging into the daily activities of others.

I did do a search of the list of people that facebook says I might know and found that interesting. If you browse that list, you will see many names of famous, or semi-famous people, because they are one of the 1,357 "friends" of one of the peolpe on your friends' list. I found the photos of broadcasters, actors and politicians on the list, simply because one of the people on my friends list who happens to collect friends has a connection to the famous person through one of their contacts.

I'm now in the process of going through my list of friends and eliminating anyone who has friended more than 100 people. I will keep family members that may have more than that on their list, but the rest must go. Facebook is not a contest to see how many people I will never meet I can add to my list. If I want to stalk someone, I'll do it the normal way, by hanging around their house after dark or following them to the local pub and rummaging through their car while they are inside having a drink.
Where's the excitement in looking through stuff people actually expect you to find?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Blowing Smoke

Richard Iannuzzi, the head of the very rich a powerful New York State United Teachers union made some very good points in an op-ed piece published in yesterday's Albany Times-Union. He also left some very important points out of his piece, as you might expect. After all, he is fighting for the status quo, which right now favors the public employee unions. The pendulum always swings back and it will begin towing back towards equilibrium in relations between government and public employees unions very soon.