Civic Union 2020
My name is Lawrence Dominick (Larry) Littlefield, 43 years old, a resident of Windsor Terrace, a husband and father of two daughters, and a career public servant with a variety of agencies working as a regional economist, budget analyst, and city planner. I am also the author of a comprehensive overview of comparative state and local taxes, spending, employment and pay, published on the internet by N.Y.U.'s Taub Urban Research Center at http://urban.nyu.edu/research/littlefield/index.html.
As I have learned how the New York State Legislature operates, and how New York State's fiscal priorities compare with other states, I have become more and more disappointed. I had expected that government officials would collect facts, and based on those facts and on their values, elected officials would make decisions. I have found that at the state level no one is interested in facts, few have values, and no one makes decisions -- they make "non-decisions" and do deals. My research has shown that New York spends far more than the national average in some categories, and less in others. In other words, there are "winners" and "losers." In the late 1990s boom, the state government made a series of deals and non-decisions that locked in more money for the winners. And in this recession, as in the early 1990s recession, it is the losers who are made to pay the price. John Tierney of the New York Times described this process in an article, using data I provided, on February 12, 2002 . The Governor and New York State Legislature are to blame.
In the past six years, through a series of reports I have written on my own time, I have tried to convince those in the political world, various newspapers, and others that something could be done to challenge the stagnant New York state legislature and bring about change. There has been some progress, with the Times publishing a series of articles on "Fixing Albany," Newsday threatening not to endorse incumbent legislators anymore, the Daily News pointing out that may of the problems associated with New York City government are actually caused by the state, and Nassau County Executive Suozzi threatening to sponsor candidates against the incumbents. Even so, I expect that in most places the incumbents will be the only real choice on the ballot on Election Day, since few are willing to vote for candidates of the other major party. After the deals made in the 1998-2002 period, deals that have threatened our future and cheated our children, I want an alternative.
Therefore, at some cost to my family, including the loss of my job, I have decided to become a candidate for New York State Assembly. Not as a Republican, not as a Democrat, not with the backing of any organized group active in state and local politics, not with any major source of funds that someone will expect to be repaid. I hope that you will repay my effort by reading the rest of this and, if it makes sense to you, e-mailing me at email@example.com for electronic copies of this and other information to distribute to others. Put "Civic Union 2020" in the title so I will recognize that your e-mail is not spam. Some folks have already helped me to get on the ballot against the incumbent, something that is virtually illegal in this state. I am running not against one individual, but against the entire way the state legislature is run, and all the incumbents responsible for it.
Can I win? It depends of what you mean by winning. I believe that I can win even if I lose. If I can make enough noise, and attract enough votes, it just might make the perpetual incumbents in Albany nervous. And if my efforts motivate others to follow my example in the 2006 election, they might have something to be nervous about. In that case, things might begin to change, and the "losers" might begin to get a fair shake. Every vote for me or another challenger is a vote for change. Every vote for an incumbent means you'll take what they give you. You might as well not vote at all.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Why do New York City residents pay double the national average in local taxes, and higher state and local taxes as a share of income than just about anywhere else? Why do many self-employed people, small and new businesses pay two local income taxes on the same income in New York City (few other places have even one local income tax), while the city and state give huge tax breaks to large existing companies, many of whom then leave the city or state, merge, or go out of business within a decade? Why have the state's businesses faced soaring unemployment insurance taxes in a recession, at the worst possible time, because the state fund has no reserve?
Why, despite these high taxes, is New York City's spending on education, parks, recreation and culture far below the national average (as a share of its residents' income) year after year? Why is New York City's per-child spending on education (adjusted for the cost of living) among the lowest in the state? Why has New York City's share of New York State school aid been below its share of public school children for 30 years? Why has New York City's share of state school aid been below its residents' share of state income tax payments for 30 years? Why did the city's "representatives" in Albany vote in favor of budgets with this inequity for 30 years? What did they get in exchange?
Why are the credit ratings of New York City and State so low? Why are debts so high? Why did the City and State borrow so much in the middle of the 1990s boom, with New York's state and local debts rising from $133 billion to in 1994 to $178 billion in 2000? If New York City had a $2 billion surplus for several years in the 1990s, why didn't it have $8 billion in the bank instead nothing when the recession arrived? Why did the 2000-04 MTA capital plan include so much debt, even as the Second Avenue Subway and other major improvements were just in the planning stage? How will the improvements be built now that so much has already been borrowed? How will the state's infrastructure even be maintained with all that debt already on the books?
Why do so many New Yorkers lack access to health care, given that New Yorkers pay so much more than the national average for the nation's most expensive Medicaid program? Why are New York State's hospitals always on the brink of insolvency, when we already pay double the national average per Medicaid recipient? And given that overall payments are so high, how can New York have among the lowest Medicaid payment rates for physicians in the country, and the mentally ill in the state's Medicaid-financed nursing homes receive such poor care that, according to news reports, many die prematurely? Why did the state decide to pay the health care industry even more under Medicaid, even amid calls for "shared sacrifice" from everyone else in the wake of 9-11? Why do Medicaid and public hospitals now account for over 75 percent of New York State's spending "for the poor. " The poor and "welfare" were blamed for federal, state and local budget problems in the early 1990s. So why all the fiscal trauma and federal, state and local deficits today, even though annual cash welfare payments are lower than the annual interest on just this year's federal deficit?
Why is the pay for many categories of public employee in New York City so low that competent workers cannot be recruited? If pay is so low, why is total cost of government labor so high? The State of New York claimed that the big pension deal it passed in 2000 would be "free, " since the City and State pension funds were over-funded. Then why is the City of New York being forced to drastically increase its pension contributions, at a moment of financial crisis, leaving absolutely no money for wage increases? Why does the state impose benefit pension increases for public employees with seniority in booms, resulting in wage and benefit reductions for new public employees-the ones actually providing services now and in the future--again and again?
After thinking about it, I have reached some sad conclusions.
- The State of New York is one of the most inequitable state governments in the United States.
It is the land of the special deals for the "special" people. Most state residents and businesses face relatively high taxes, and some receive poor services, but politically influential businesses get special tax exemptions, and politically influential non-profits, contractors and unions get high prices, staffing levels, and early retirement for those cashing in and moving out. Those who benefit from unearned privilege in New York, even those in the private sector or in local government, generally have some state law or regulation ensuring that privilege. For the State of New York's political leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, the equal protection clause of the constitution is more honored in the breach than in the observance.
- The State of New York is the most stagnant state government in the United States.
For at least 30 years the same set of politicians, backed by the same set of interests, have shared power in Albany, with Democrats controlling the State Assembly and Republicans the State Senate. And they have done very well for themselves. If the goal of the Republicans is to force ordinary people to accept less in public services, and the goal of the Democrats is to get them to pay more for it, in New York State both have succeeded. With both major parties in on the deal, the public, though dissatisfied, has nowhere to turn. People get one choice in voting for the state legislature: the incumbent. Moreover, with the state's population changing, but the same old faces in Albany supported by those who are moving away, the state runs its finances as if the future will be someone else's problem. New York State cheats its future to enrich those with one foot out the door.
- The State of New York represents feudalism, American style.
Under capitalism, you get what you earn, at least in theory. Those who believe that people need an incentive to work and innovate can agree with that. Under socialism, you get what you need, at least in theory. Those who believe that we are all part of one human family can agree with that. But over time, when you have the same group of people in power, both capitalism and socialism degenerate into feudalism, under which the privileged expect to continue to get what they have been getting, and perhaps a little more, whether they need it or not, deserve it or not. For those who have real needs, and who produce real earnings, it's just tough luck. The feudalism of unearned privilege explains much about the state of the State of New York, where all past deals are set in stone.
- New York State's governments provide poor value for the tax dollar.
Like many people in my community, I am willing to pay more in taxes to receive quality public services, and to ensure that the needy are taken care of. In New York, however, we do pay more, in many cases we do not receive quality public services, and in many cases the needy are not taken care of. In a low tax state, like Virginia, Alabama or Tennessee, I'd be advocating higher taxes. In New York, that isn't the problem. A career public servant, I am well aware of the unappreciated quality work that many public employees and contractors do, and the fact that many, especially those in lower pension tiers and with less seniority, are neither overpaid nor unproductive. The fact is, however, that because public employees and contractors are among the few organized and active interests in state government, New Yorkers receive poor value for the tax dollar.
- Both major political parties pander to the selfish and irresponsible.
Aside from lobbyists who are just out for a dollar, politics appears to be driven by two different concepts of the word "freedom" that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, one good and the other (for lack of a better word) evil. The good freedom might be called freedom of identity, or of lifestyle. For a brief period after World War II, many Americans believed that if you didn't look like, act like, think like, and live like everyone else, then you shouldn't be accepted. The idea of America as a land of social conformity is mostly gone, but politicians can still get elected by manipulating 35 year old resentments with tribal appeals to groups of people, and the invocation of "values" issues on which they have no intention of changing anything. Sadly, tribal politics determines how many people vote, among those who vote at all. They are suckers.
The evil idea of freedom is freedom from responsibility, which has both a "liberal" and a "conservative" version, depending on which responsibilities one does not want to meet. Liberal Democrats have sought to attract votes by telling the poor and not so poor, the old and not so old, the sick and not so sick, and others that they do not have personal responsibilities to work and earn their own living, or to take care of their family members. To knowledgeable critics, their excuse for irresponsibility has been "social realism, " the assertion that this is the way people live today (because they are free to live that way) and government programs, paid for by someone else, must limit the damage. And they have cultivated a sense of entitlement to assistance, causing recipients of public benefits to feel anger at anyone who dares to make demands on them in exchange.
Conservatives and Republicans have sought to attract votes by telling the better off that they do not have social responsibilities to their communities, to the less well off, to the rest of the world, and to the future, particularly with regard to taxes and debt, but also with regard to the environment. To knowledgeable critics, their excuse for irresponsibility has been "economic realism, " the assertion that the affluent are self interested and mobile, and if you make demands on them for the benefit of others, or for the benefit of the future, they will take their assets and go elsewhere, leaving you worse off than before. They also cultivate a sense of entitlement, telling the affluent that their position of privilege is the result of their own moral superiority, not social advantages or luck or (as the business scandals show) worse, and that they do not owe anything to anyone in exchange for it.
With all this grasping for advantage, and pandering to selfishness, the federal government is beginning to be run as incompetently as the State of New York. No wonder that the richest generation in the richest nation in the history of the world is passing a huge debt onto its children. No wonder it is unable to offer universal health coverage despite the fact the federal, state and local governments are already paying, directly or indirectly, for about 75 percent of all third party health care expenditures - more than 80 percent excluding non-vital services such as dentistry and chiropractic. Our governments spend more and more, on fewer and fewer. And many tax rates keep going up, even as revenues - shrunk by tax breaks, deals and fraud - are not keeping pace.
At the state level, the nonsense coming out of Albany was always disappointing, but after September 11th it is intolerable. With threats continuing, everyone who is still here has made a decision and a commitment to their community, but the hard work and good intentions of so many New Yorkers have been and continue to be undermined. It is time for those who expect to be living here (or hope that their children or grandchildren will be here) in the year 2020 to turn the situation around by finding way to throw the incumbents out. After many years of hoping someone else would, I now believe it is my civic duty to try. I cannot accept that we cannot do better than this.
As your representative, I would be guided by four principle themes:
Equity and Simplicity in Government
After 20 years in government, I have come to take a simplifying view of policy and politics. I believe that the burdens of government, financial and otherwise, should be limited to those that the government is willing to impose equally on everyone, or at least on everyone in equal circumstances. I believe that government protections and guarantees should be limited to those that the government is willing to provide equally to everyone, or at least to everyone in equal circumstances. I believe that public services should be limited to those the government is willing to provide equally to everyone, or at least to everyone in equal circumstances, and to those that people are required to pay for, or to work or make sacrifices in exchange for. I believe that the only circumstances that should be used to differentiate people in order to allocate burdens and benefits are those that are clear, simple, irrefutable, nearly impossible to fake, and do not rely in any way on judgment. In New York, complexity is just a way to cover up inequity. Anything that isn't simple is a rip-off.
As your representative, I would lean against the wind in researching, exposing and opposing special deals, tax breaks, exclusions, and benefits, not only those that are proposed, but also those that already exist. I would hold each up to scrutiny and ask "why it is fair" given the taxes others must pay and the basic services, often inadequate, that others receive? I would support improving basic services for all, meeting the basic needs of the worst off, and imposing lower base tax rates. Special deals are like weeds -- we will never get rid of them, but if no one fights to keep them in check, they eventually choke off everything else. Someone needs to stand up to them. In Albany, no one does.
At one time, the U.S. was not very good to its senior citizens. In 1950, the suicide rate for people age 65 to 74 was 29.3 per 100,000, while for those age 15 to 24 it was just 4.5. In 1969, the percent of persons age 65 and over in poverty was 25.3 percent, compared with just 13.8 percent for those under age 18. In the 1950s and 1960s, before Medicare and the creation of other senior benefits, everything was for the children and the young, while the old, who had worked and sacrificed, were neglected and forgotten. Today things are just as inequitable, but in the opposite direction. Rising federal, state and local debts will burden future generations, but few major infrastructure improvements are built. Multi-tier labor contracts provide enriched compensation for those with seniority, but diminished benefits more recent employees. The suicide rate for persons age 65 to 74 fell by half to 15.0 per 100,000 by 1996, while that of those age 15 to 24 nearly tripled to 12.0. In 2002 only 10.4 percent of Americans age 65 and over were poor, compared with 16.3 percent of those under age 18. Today's elderly are not, on average, the most needy anymore.
As your representative, I would take the difficult road of standing up for generational equity. Yes, we need to do right by the seniors, but we need to do right by someone other than the seniors as well. I would oppose additional debt, and demand that the ongoing renewal of our infrastructure continue, paid for out of current revenues. I would reject attempts to defer paying for public employee pension liabilities from the past into our future. I would insist on health care for the uninsured before any additional benefits are added for those over age 65. I would tell the truth about the future of Social Security. And, unlike the city's representatives in Albany over the past 30 years, I would not vote for state budget that denied New York City's children a fair share of state school aid. Even if offered a grant to provide a select few with taxpayer-funded trips to Atlantic City in exchange.
Personal and Social Responsibility
Some people are grateful for what they have and try, over the course of their lives, to contribute more to others than they have received themselves. I am very grateful to my neighbors who have worked to build up our community, running soccer leagues, organizing the rehabilitation of the parks, working to improve the schools, providing services as volunteers in churches and other organizations, and taking care of their family members. I am also grateful for the many assets and institutions provided to us by prior generations, assets and institutions that contribute to our lives today. New York State politics, however, is dominated by those seeking to leave life with a "profit" by imposing a loss on others. Quickly acclimated with and bored by whatever they have, made to feel envious and inadequate by television commercials selling what they don't, far too many people feel needy today. Our state capital is a place where people are focused on themselves.
If you are a net contributor to those with greater needs, you are a good person. If you are a net contributor to those with a greater sense of entitlement, and a greater willingness and ability to work the system, then you are a sucker. Our state politicians have become perpetual incumbents by pandering to the organized selfish, and telling them what they want to hear. As the un-politician, I would tell it like it is, and try to let the losers know who they are. In doing so, I would represent the responsible and considerate people of this community and this state, and would allow their voices, for once, to be heard. And I would work to ensure that their net contributions go to the needy, and to future generations, not to the greedy.
There is an exchange of value between private-sector workers and public-sector workers, with each working to provide goods and services for the other, but there is a critical difference in the way each is paid. In the private market all transactions are voluntary, and if the seller does not provide "fair value" in goods or services, the customer may go elsewhere for a better deal. Whenever there is a monopoly, it assumed that consumers are vulnerable to abuse. In the public sector, on the other hand, money is collected from the "customers" up front in taxes, and is paid to public employees and contractors regardless of whether the customers are satisfied. The question is, given that the government almost always is a monopoly, do the customers receive "fair value" in exchange? The answer is often "no."
New York's state and local politics are by dominated by the representatives of the producers, who have a far greater financial incentive to organize and pay attention to the details of public policy, such as labor contracts and bidding procedures. In an era in which virtually all incumbent legislators at the state and local level are re-elected, generally unopposed, the money required to keep challengers off the November ballot is more important, politically, than votes. Public employee unions and contractor organizations claim to represent the interests of those they serve, but when push comes to shove they look out for their members, or just those with seniority or retired, or even just themselves. And when there is opposition, it is generally from wealthy interests that do not require public services themselves, and do not want to pay for them in taxes. Thus, "consumers" of public services are often unrepresented - especially in the state legislature. As a career public servant I have had an inside look at the problems, issues and dilemmas of public management. As your representative, I would work to make sure that consumers of public services, especially the working poor who depend on them, were treated fairly. In this case, as well, I would represent the unrepresented, those who have been losers in the current political scheme. Someone has to.
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