1. One year ago, I wrote about the wild, spontaneous race among municipalities across the country to be considered by the Google company as the test community for its experimental high-speed broadband network (“Request for Information” in issues of April 7, 2010). Some of the attempts by local governments and their enthusiastic residents to gain attention and sell themselves to Google and to the country were imaginative, spontaneous and a lot of fun. There were theme songs and mascots. Some communities pooled their resources and formed strategic alliances, and some used the competition as a springboard to greatly expand and improve their Internet presence and online services. Kansas City, Kansas was selected and the network is expected to be available to residents early next year.
1. Some problems need to be addressed and fixed, not just wished away or bandaged up while we hope things break our way and improve. Nassau County is facing an unprecedented and relentless series of challenges not to frilly things hanging around the edges, but to some of the meat that has made this a place to which people moved their families in pride.
2. We’re not really going to fix these things unless we fix our politics.
3. Politics drives our choices, and the people who drive our politics aren’t giving us all the options we need right now. In some cases, we no longer have time to consider every option, which is how you turn a challenge into a crisis.
Last week, Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt suddenly announced that the Nassau County Legislature would immediately begin redrawing the boundaries of county legislative districts, two years ahead of the schedule prescribed by the county charter and by precedent. If we’re lucky, we will have two weeks between the presentation of the proposed district boundaries and the meeting at which the county legislature will vote to approve the plan. Just like that.
This isn’t being imposed by some outside board. It isn’t a reaction to a revenue shortfall. This bad choice is entirely self-inflicted by us, if we let this stand.
If everyone in the world consumed natural resources and generated pollution at the rate of the mean average American, we would need the productive land and ocean resources of five and two-tenths Earths to sustain our lifestyles. Unfortunately, we only have one Earth available.
It isn’t just Americans. The environmental footprint of wealthy suburbs around the world generally come in at the U.S. level. Great Britain comes in at three planets as a whole, but the suburbs of London are between five and six. A recent study of Cape Town, South Africa, found that the footprint of some of that city’s richest suburbs were so large that 14 planets would be required if everyone lived like them. Americans are not alone in conspicuous consumption, or in a corporate economic environment that measures success in relentless growth. Not just production or profit, but more production and profit. Americans do get some kind of award for making believe it doesn’t matter, and that what is happening isn’t happening. We win that.
1. “In order to earn the public’s trust and begin the process of restoring faith in our government, our elected leaders and candidates for office must commit to reforming our redistricting process. We need nothing less than a completely independent, non-partisan commission in charge…” This is what Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said last year as a candidate for New York State Attorney General. Reform isn’t just needed at the state level.
They left it hanging right out there. $272 million in additional aid to schools is coming from unspecified revenue increases. “Revenue right now is looking good enough that we probably finance the increase from that,” said Governor Cuomo’s budget director. Right now. Probably.
1. Last week, Michigan adopted a new law giving the Governor the power to appoint private companies and consultants as emergency managers of local governments and school districts that are running chronic deficits. These managers now have the power to take complete control of government functions, to cancel labor agreements and to remove elected officials and dissolve local legislative bodies. These powers are utterly unprecedented for a chief executive in North America. Neither our colonial governors, nor the Governor General of Canada, nor President Lincoln during the Civil War had the ability to negate election results and essentially privatize a town or city.
In some ways, I go further than Governor Cuomo regarding potential school superintendent savings. Some districts can share administrators, and not all districts require national searches for prestige appointees. We can have a reasonable discussion about limiting the pensionable portion of higher public salaries. But lines have been crossed in this latest near– hysterical, over-the-top campaign against the honesty and integrity of public school administrators. When we are commanded by powerful political and media forces to feel angry like this, it’s a red flag that we’re not getting the whole story.
The riveting video of the natural catastrophe in Japan captured attention while a simultaneous human-made catastrophe with grave implications for this island played out on the other side of Asia. In Qatif, on the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia, security forces opened fire to disperse protesters. Many of the protesters are part of a repressed Shiite minority, who also live over much of Saudi Arabia’s remaining petroleum reserves.
If you buy ten dollars worth of school supplies for your kid, you’re going to pay between 70 cents and 88.75 cents in sales tax, depending on which New York county you shop in. Investors and speculators purchase trillions of dollars in stocks each year in this state, and pay no tax.
New York State has had a stock transfer tax on its books since before the First World War. Currently, the state charges between 1.25 cents and five cents on every share of stock sold or transferred, depending on the stock’s value, up to $350 per sale. Individuals pay the tax in the form of tax stamps that are purchased and attached to the stock (large brokerages and companies can pay the tax without dealing with the stamps). For exactly three decades, those who pay the stock transfer tax have been entitled to a 100 percent rebate. Just fill out the one-page form.
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Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org