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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Public Policy Smackdown

1. For New Yorkers, this year’s federal stimulus mostly was a tax stabilization program, holding off state and local government budget meltdowns. This was a useful, if unromantic, purpose. Unfortunately, it is hard to turn around a national economy when no one really knows what our economy is supposed to look like. Create jobs? There are plenty of new jobs for which Americans can apply; many of them are in Guangdong Province where the salary explosion has jacked up average pay to over $6,000. The 1988 free trade agreement between the U.S. and Canada actually created a boomlet in Western New York, where salaries and other costs were a little lower than those in nearby Toronto. Free trade in the 1990s and 2000s has largely meant free access to cheap, exploited labor. Elsewhere. At this point, the jury is back and those who pushed for the kind of free trade we actually got should probably just take a deep bow and gracefully retire from public life forever…

 

2. Ninety-six percent of all clothing sold in the U.S. is not made in the U.S. When I was born, 95 percent of all the clothing worn in this country was made in this country, and a lot of it was made in New York. The fashion and clothing industry included upstate mill workers and downstate designers, cutters, finishers, sellers and executives. It’s almost all gone…

3. The state will have to increase core school funding by $2 billion starting in 2011 to make up for the end of temporary federal stimulus aid. This seems unlikely at the present time…

4. The sound you hear is Business As Usual (“Punt Until Something Comes Up”) losing cabin pressure and groaning as its nose slowly points downward…

5. The Chairman of the Milwaukee County (Wisconsin) legislature is proposing to replace the elected county executive with an appointed professional administrator. The county executive countered with his own proposal that would eliminate a large portion of the county government, shifting many services to the state or to cities and villages. Meanwhile, a blue ribbon commission in Indiana proposes that town functions across the state be moved to the county. I have lots more. All across the country, as the crisis atmosphere grows, all kinds of ideas for change are being slid onto the table. Not here, where much of local government is frozen in time, but in other places…

6. In 1915, a law was passed eliminating Nassau County’s town tax receivers and replacing them with an appointed county tax receiver. It was struck down by the courts on a legal technicality that no longer applies. In 1967, Democrats and Republicans in the county legislature unanimously agreed to the same change, but the proposal was included in a comprehensive overhaul of the county charter that was defeated in referendum. This subject has come up numerous times over the years. There is no longer a rationale for towns to collect and pass along property taxes, especially when the county is responsible for assessments, or for this to be an elected position. Now, North Hempstead’s Receiver position is being vacated, creating a logical opportunity for local leaders to make a statement in support of streamlining and consolidation. Dozens of New York towns have eliminated the Receiver position. There are several models, but many have merged it with the Town Clerk. For decades, it was practically an article of faith in the local Democratic Party that these two positions should be replaced by appointed professionals (referenda have appeared on ballots in all three towns over the years). Either the Town Board should begin the process of eliminating the position, or the new county administration should revive the old, well-regarded proposal to merge the redundant collectors into one county position…

7. One positive development on the local public affairs scene is the publication of another book of thought-provoking, amusing and highly spiritual essays by Chuck Cutolo, the respected Director of Governmental Affairs at Nassau Community College. Parables…And Other Stuff From Life delves into Washington intrigue, religion, living life and other big ticket subjects. It’s available at amazon.com and some public libraries.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. He lives in New Hyde Park.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net