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Michael Miller


By Michael Miller
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New York Train of Thought

Back in the 1990s, the Department of Motor Vehicles took big steps to improve the customer experience. Now they’re straining to stay afloat. Using redial, I got a busy signal at the DMV information number exactly 200 times over a day before giving up. At what used to be a small, fast local DMV office, the lines to get a number were hundreds of feet long. It shouldn’t take trips to three different windows to complete one basic transaction. Government officials need to constantly rethink and reinvent their operations to cope with new needs and circumstances. That isn’t happening.


By showing extra documents and paying $30, New Yorkers can upgrade to an Enhanced Drivers License which can be used in lieu of a passport when crossing into Canada, Mexico and some Caribbean islands. The enhanced licenses are equipped with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips, which border officers use to pull up biographic and biometric information. There are no security features. Anyone with a reader gun can stroll through a marketplace or mall and pick out people carrying unshielded enhanced licenses in their wallets or fanny packs from 30 feet away.

As of 2008, just before the new passport requirements went into effect, Canadians made 2.5 million visits to New York State, spending $679 million. New Yorkers made 1.7 million visits to Canada, spending $561 million.

There are still five points along the U.S.-Canada border that are in dispute. Both countries claim sovereignty over Machias Seal Island in the Gulf of Maine, halfway to New Brunswick. The New York-Canada border seems pretty set.

What’s the name of that new Steve Carell movie? In the 1970s, Senator Al Franken got chastised for trying to write that word into an SNL sketch. Oops. Concentrate.

The 2001 and 2003 federal tax cuts for households with incomes over $250,000 are due to expire at the end of this year.

A new report by Boston Consulting Group says that the total wealth of American and Canadian millionaires increased by 15 percent in 2009.

The total property value of 47 Nassau County school districts went down from 2008 to 2009. There is no precedent for this.

None of us has any idea what our property taxes might be in coming years, even if we somehow know the exact market value of our homes and the exact amount of coming budgets. It all depends on how well market values are holding up on your block, in your neighborhood and at every other level within the county. Some people find a total loss of control fun and exhilarating. Do you?

England, Japan and Taiwan are some of the countries that now modestly tax the purchase and sale of stocks, derivatives, swaps and other transactions in order to encourage productive investment and discourage reckless speculation.

The average Long Islander pays more than 8 percent in sales tax when they buy vital supplies and necessities, but other New Yorkers are involved each day in the purchase of billions in stocks, bonds and derivatives and pay absolutely nothing on those sales.

New York already has a stock transfer tax on the books. Since 1981, the amount owed on the tax (1.25 cents to 5 cents per share) is fully rebated, returned instantly after the taxpayer files Form MT-650. If the state only rebated 80 percent of the money, as suggested by the New Yorkers For Fiscal Fairness coalition, we’d get $3.2 billion in additional state revenue.

New York first enacted a stock transfer tax in 1905. The stock exchange threatened to move to New Jersey. They didn’t. They won’t.

Some philatelists vigorously collect the old stock transfer tax stamps. Philatelists.

Crain’s reported this spring that New York Stock Exchange firms made $61 billion in pre-tax profits in 2009, three times the previous record set in 2006. Government subsidies to banks accounted for the largest portion of the new profits.

You break the economy and the underpinnings of our financial system, you buy the economy and the underpinnings of our financial system, I always say.

Yes, there are all kinds of choices out there that are totally off the table. Go back to sleep, New York. Go back to sleep, America.

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