1. By the time you read this, a state financial oversight board may be taking control of Nassau County’s finances, limiting the ability of locally-elected officials to make decisions regarding budgets, revenues, debts and contracts.
Six years ago, I wrote at length about massive federal government deficits and the eventual possibility of slashed spending “cutting off not only the most vulnerable individuals but also every state and local government program that relies on Washington dollars.” Federal government debt at that time was just closing in on $7.4 trillion. This week it hit $14 trillion. The federal budget deficit six years ago was a mere $430 billion ($560 billion if Social Security funds were excluded). Child’s play.
Four days after the big storm and highways with two lanes still have only one open, and shops along major thoroughfares are losing revenue because no one can come close to parking near a curb. Yesterday, I passed a small street that looked like no plow ever came through.
I grew up in an unincorporated neighborhood. Back in the day, not long after a big snow, town crews using dump trucks and backhoes would clear roads to the curb, dumping large piles of snow in parks and other strategic locations. All winter, kids sledded down the snow hills, sometimes maybe 15 feet high. But the streets, corners and intersections were cleared. Around much of Long Island, this is a lost municipal art. We’re losing institutional memory of how to attack a major snow fall. But there’s more to it. Over the last twenty years, my town has reduced its highway crew by about half, without significant improvements in technology or in deployment theory. It’s just less.
There was a Trojan Horse in the big Washington tax cut compromise last week. As part of the deal, the Build America Bonds program will be allowed to expire in a few days.
The Build America Bonds were created as part of the 2009 federal stimulus. The federal government pays 35 percent of the interest costs on these taxable bonds in order to drive down borrowing costs for local governments and funnel money into infrastructure projects that create or maintain jobs. The program has been wildly popular with investors and underwriters. $185 billion worth of bonds have been sold, restarting the slumping market for municipal credit, which puts dollars into the pockets of every state and local government taxpayer. The popularity has only been growing. In November, states and municipalities issued $15.8 billion in Build America Bonds, the highest one-month total since the program began.
The bonds are helping to build and rebuild bridges, highways, dormitories and more.
There are 174,000 veterans in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, including people who have served in the Reserves and the National Guard. Only San Diego exceeds Long Island in the percentage of veterans among adult citizens. Some 7,000 Long Islanders have served in the Armed Forces since September 2001.
Although Long Island has no active duty bases, 11 different units of the Army and Air National Guards, and the Army, Naval and Marine Reserves are based here. Many Long Islanders, of course, serve in Guard and Reserve units based in other parts of the state.
Starting during the summer, a group called Education Reform Now Advocacy Committee sent a series of mailers to voters, pumping Senator Craig Johnson for “fighting for the education our kids deserve,” and “fighting for our kids’ education.” Most voters probably assumed that this was about support for public school districts. Actually, this group is an advocacy committee for charter schools. Made me wonder why this group had to be so evasive if their cause was so just. By October, the group’s mailings thanked Senator Johnson for rooting out government waste, investing in green technologies and other activities that don’t seem directly related to education.
“Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.”
That quote is from the 1912 platform of the National Progressive Party, formed by supporters of Theodore Roosevelt, resident of Oyster Bay and the man for whom our Nassau County executive and legislative building is named. Even if you don’t agree with that statement, wouldn’t it be refreshing, engaging, even exciting to hear any major political force in this country talk like that today? In one short paragraph, you’ve got intrigue, courage, idealism and even a tip of the hat to the importance of wisdom and diplomacy in government. Statesmanship. One of America’s lost values.
1. “We Do Our Part.” Saw that National Recovery Agency motto and blue eagle logo in the opening credits of a couple of old movies on Turner this week. In 1933, 1934 and 1935, that eagle meant that your company was voluntarily adopting new rules for hour limits, minimum wages and production standards to help stabilize markets and stop the downward spiral of salaries. The New Deal was about balancing the scales between business, labor and farmers. It was about cooperative effort and mutual sacrifice to right the country.
There is no Easter Bunny, there is no Santa Claus, and the American Revolution, including the actual Boston Tea Party, was not just about taxes.
Set the Wayback Machine to the 1760s. The English Empire fought a world war to decide, once and for all, who would get the really good stuff in North America. In Europe they call this the Seven Years War, even though it really lasted nine years, and in the United States we call this the French and Indian War, even though the French and Indians both lost. The English won, but in fighting an extended war in a developing country thousands of miles away, they virtually bankrupted their government. It seemed to his Majesty’s government that the colonies should pay back the crushing debt in gratitude for not having to eat croissants and odd cheeses.
1. Several political races still undecided, possibly for weeks. Most of us are still decompressing from the assault on our senses and our inner peace by ugly, negative, generic and boring campaigns. Let’s keep it light for now with a few random thoughts.
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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