The recent political chatter about “Obamacare” before the Supreme Court of the United States got a great deal of media attention. President Obama added fuel to the fire when he declared, “Ultimately, I am confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”
For someone who was a law professor those words were absurd. Even if a bill passed unanimously in the house and senate, it could still be overturned – if the law was in violation of the Constitution.
Giving up is not “reform.” County Executive Ed Mangano’s proposal to transfer property assessment from the county to the towns might possibly speed up assessment decisions by replacing one large and overwhelmed bureaucracy with several somewhat smaller ones. It will likely recreate problems that were major motivations in creating our highly centralized county government 75 years ago.
The 1938 county charter merged the town Boards of Assessors and the County Board of Equalization, ending three decades of complaints, lawsuits and hard feelings about the lack of specific, uniform levels of property assessments between the towns. In a tax system screaming out for simplification, clarification and a sense of certainty, spinning off assessments to the towns will reintroduce “equalization” as an annual issue. Tens of thousands of residents are still trying to figure out why their assessment went down but their tax bill still went up. The division of taxes heading up the tax food chain in an equitable manner is the most complex subject in local government, and it’s all going to make people very sad, particularly in villages and school districts that are split between townships.
Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.) Robert Morgenthau was facing a spirited Democratic primary challenge from a former judge in 2005, but his opponent had trouble finding anything substantively negative to say about Morgenthau.
The reason I know this: a city-based tabloid newspaper reporter called me weeks before the election, asking whether it was legal to have a Manhattan driver’s license while at the same time registering and insuring a car in Dutchess County, where auto insurance premiums are much lower. The answer: yes, so long as the insured vehicle is primarily garaged in Dutchess County. I was the director of public affairs for the New York State Insurance Department at the time and knew immediately the question pertained to Morgenthau because he met those criteria.
Written by Michael A. Miller Friday, 01 February 2013 00:00
There is still time to do this better. The Nassau County legislature has a statutory March 5 deadline to adopt a districting plan that doesn’t inject more poison into a system that is already dripping with hostile gamesmanship.
Nassau County is still on one knee from a natural catastrophe. Can’t we agree to skip another political catastrophe right now?
How legislative districts are drawn can matter. The situation in Washington is a direct consequence of heavy gerrymandering of districts, encouraging irresponsible behavior by November-proof Representatives who only fear party primary elections. Over the next few months, it may put our national government back on the brink. The continual gear-grinding in our county government is directly traceable to deals regarding a court-ordered restructuring of the legislature cut by some members of the old Board of Supervisors in 1993. We’re stuck with a system that was designed to maintain a status quo that’s no longer valid.
Let’s acknowledge the late May Newburger of North Hempstead, who as a member of the Board of Supervisors in 1994 tried to undue some of the damage and proposed superior alternatives that couldn’t even get seconded. She was publicly booed, literally, by well-meaning people who were misled into supporting arrangements that benefited only a few. We ended up with exactly the kind of legislature, dominated by partisanship and careerism, that residents testified they didn’t want when this was set up.
Just as it happened a decade ago, the appointed redistricting commission failed to recommend a plan to the county legislature. This “temporary advisory commission” was designed to fail in the county charter. It was always intended that most legislators would pick their constituents. The 1994 charter amendments were based on an assumption that it would always be Republicans making those picks. What is playing out now is delusional thinking on the part of some that with a little help, the natural order of things will soon be restored.
Well, nuts to that. Some of the population shifts between the 19 districts have been fairly extreme, ranging from a gain of just over 12 percent to a loss of just over 8 percent. There’s some heavy population turnover and churn occurring in some neighborhoods, which is being reflected in changing vote patterns. The political parties, now essentially devoid of their old field structures and lacking meaningful intelligence, are largely clueless as to what is really happening out there or what it all means. They’re mostly guessing, and they might as well roll the dice on something that allows citizens to not feel mugged.
Although Republicans may get to mess around with the political fortunes of some Democratic legislators, the districts they’ve proposed aren’t, in the long run, much of an improvement for them and they will not be able to hold even the illusion of “control” for anything like the next ten years. Of course, some of this depends on Democrats.
It is unfortunate that some observers have hooked onto this idea that as few residents as possible should be moved into another district. This reinforces this misconception that these districts belong to the individual legislators. It isn’t “his” district or “her” district. They are our districts.
We could have fair districting right now. All the parties have to do is agree to do it. Insiders no longer have semi-exclusive access to detailed population data (see the Nassau County United Redistricting Coalition web site for one example). Motivated civilians with knowledge of the county can draw a reasonably good map that meets legal requirements in a day or two.
County Executive Mangano can step up. He can appoint such a group and ask the legislature to approve that plan by March 5.