rjm's blog

A Herkimer Home Companion

You may have seen that State Senator Jim Seward was involved in putting together an agreement to keep open the General Herkimer Home historic site in Herkimer County. That site seems far away from what is going on in Tompkins County, but what happened there holds a lesson for us.

Behind all of the happy-talk, the state was going to close the home site and move the historical artifacts in order to save about $320,000 from the state's parks budget.
 
The state had recently spent tens of thousands of dollars fixing up buildings on the site, and much more maintenance was needed.  Staffing to keep the site open was an important part of the cost.  Sites like this are fine in good times, but it's hard to justify borrowing large sums of money to keep them open.
 
Now the site was important to Herkimer County locals, and they banded together to find a way to keep the site open.  In a compromise, the state will grant $100,000 to the Friends of the Herkimer House this year, which will staff the site, at least partially with volunteer labor, this year.  The state will spend much less, and interested volunteers in the local community will do more.
 
We will see this drama repeated across the state, as the state and local governments are forced to  slash their budgets as the reality of the debt crisis is driven home.  
 
Look at the letters in the IJ in the last few days, arguing for maintained state supoprt for SUNY, runaway and homeless youth funding, or the Youth Bureau.  These are just recent examples which may or may not be spared for a while...but know that cuts are coming and they will be deep.
 
The way forward for those things that really matter will not be lobbying for money that just isn't there, it will be in  partnerships where local business and private and non-profit groups take over from unsustainable state financing.  It will be in volunteerism and self-reliance.
 
The Herkimer Home solution reminds me of our homeschool field trip last October, which included a stop at Mount Vernon, in Virginia.
Mount Vernon is owned and maintained in trust for the people of the United States by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, a private, non-profit organization founded in 1853 by Ann Pamela Cunningham. ...  It is directed by a Board of Regents, comprised solely of women, who represent over 30 states.  ...   
 
Mount Vernon is the most popular historic estate in America and is open 365 days a year.  Mount Vernon does not accept grants from federal, state or local governments, and no tax dollars are expended to support its purposes. Primary sources of income are revenue from the retail and dining facilities, ticket sales, and donations from foundations, corporations, and individuals.
I can highly recommend sitting on Gen. Washington's veranda at Mount Vernon, and considering these ideas while looking out across the Potomac River. 
 
Mount Vernon

Picking Winners and Losers, II

As we said, using the IDA (Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency) to grant tax favors for the development of a retail cum housing project, that is, using govenment to pick winners and losers, is in opposition to the principles of free markets and just a bad idea.  The IDA approved the project after some minor tweaking; you can read about in the IJ.
Opponents of the financing agreement on the IDA board said the project sets a bad standard for the kinds of projects that get IDA support and for the procedure, which was rushed after the proposal was revived last week.
 
Proponents said local governments and public schools desperately need the money that the project will generate. The supporters are expecting a property tax cap to be approved by the state Legislature this week.
Yes, it is a bad standard... why are we using tax money to support a membership buying club?  How is this fair to other businesses which pay full freight on their taxes?  Aren't we setting up a moral hazard -- who will want to invest here in the future without getting their hands in the taxpayers' pockets?  
 
Also, the point of the tax cap is to convince local governments to constrain their spending, not to plunge into unwise strategies to prop up revenue.
 
The local GOP is off the rails, too.  In a press release today:
On Monday, March 21, the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) revisited the BJ Arrowhead project.  Reversing its prior vote, the IDA approved the project.  Tompkins County Republican Chairman, James Drader, today said, “It’s a vote for new jobs.  Some Democratic County Legislators have now recognized that jobs and the economy are the prime issue.  These Legislators have now voted for increased tax revenue through BJ Arrowhead without increasing taxes, something they previously voted against.  That revenue could help reduce the tax levy paid by Tompkins residents.  We must reopen New York State as welcoming for businesses and for those with the resources to reduce unemployment and underemployment.”
 
Drader added, “It is interesting that some from the County Legislature, now on the IDA changed their vote, a desirable flip-flop, from those who generally oppose most forms of growth and development.  It is truly unfortunate that we could not have done this without delays.  We sincerely hope that our Legislature will now move toward more growth favorable positions.”
Sigh.
 
Having gone through the work of refining some principles, the GOP is going to have to get into the habit of adhering to them.
 
Once again... Government shouldn't be picking winners and losers. If a project like this is really beneficial to the developer and the community, welcome it without special favors.  If not, let it go.  
 
Don't we tell our children not to be swayed by the argument that "everybody does it?"

Picking Winners and Losers

The last time that the IDA (Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency) was considering "assistance" for the B.J. Wholesale Club (plus apartments, plus a bird sanctuary) up by the mall, I caught Mark Finkelstein discussing the project on the radio and laying out pretty clear conservative principles, including that government should not be picking winners and losers.  I was cheering him on until he got to the end of list and went right off the rails.  In spite of his principles, he said that we need to (publicly, financially) support this project in order to snag some low-level retail jobs in the county.

I was shouting at the radio and just about drove off the road.  
 
If this project were really viable, B.J.'s would want to build it without public assistance, and if not, those jobs wouldn't last anyway and the public money would be wasted.
 
Today, Richard Hanna makes the same argument for govenment not picking winners and losers and then goes off the rails, voting against cutting the federal subsidy for NPR as if somehow support for one notably biased media outlet (and a cheerleader for larger government) isn't picking winners.
 
Picking winners is a hallmark of excessive government and it never ends well.
 
The Chevy Volt is a great example.  Outside of its paltry 25-mile all-electric range, this anemic hybrid (falsely billed as an all-electric) gets less gas milage than a conventional Honda and costs twice as much.  To keep Government Motors and the favored auto workers union afloat, the federal government favors the Volt with a $7,500 tax credit.  
 
Even with the tax credit, almost no one is buying the Volt.  No problem for those that can pick winners:
Recently, President Obama selected General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt to chair his Economic Advisory Board. GE is awash in windmills waiting to be subsidized so they can provide unreliable, expensive power.
 
Consequently, and soon after his appointment, Immelt announced that GE will buy 50,000 Volts in the next two years, or half the total produced. Assuming the corporation qualifies for the same tax credit, we (you and me) just shelled out $375,000,000 to a company to buy cars that no one else wants so that GM will not tank and produce even more cars that no one wants.
OK, back to the IDA.  The B.J.'s project is back.
 
With a few tweaks, the developer is looking for public money for his project.  IDA financing for a retail store was a bad idea before and it's a bad idea now.  If the developer thinks he has a good project and wants to fund it himself, by all means let it go ahead, and make sure there is no unnecessary regulatory burden in his way.  If the developer doesn't want to take the risk himself, then let it go.
 
Doing anything else is trying to pick winners and losers, and taxpayers will end up holding the bag in the end.

He's a Squish

So, the House voted today to pull NPR off the public teat, a bill that won't go anywhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate.  Bills like this are a chance for members to stand on principle -- or not.

Richard Hanna (NY-24) was one of only seven House Republicans to vote against the defunding in what was mostly a party line vote. There are a couple of ways to look at this (if you have more, put them in the comments):
  • Hanna isn't really the fiscal conservative he was billed as.  In the campaign, we heard, "Yes, he isn't so much a social conservative, but at least he is a fiscal conservative."  Well, it doesn't look so far like he is either.
  • Or, maybe, knowing that the bill wasn't going anywhere, and that it would pass anyway, Hanna thought that throwing a bone to the left would build up some good will for a re-election bid.  This is the sort of game Mike Arcuri played last time around, and no one bought that either.  
We're expecting that reps we send to Washington will say what they mean and mean what they say.  
 
This vote says that Hanna is a squish.

Too Early For Turkey Season

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a Continuing Resolution to fund the government for three more weeks by a vote of 271-158.

The CR
  • fails to defund ObamaCare,
  • fails to defund Planned Parenthood,
  • fails to defund public broadcasting, 
  • fails to defund the National Endowment for the Arts,
  • fails to significantly decrease spending, let alone address the debt, and
  • fails to deliver any closure on the budget issue.
Congressman Richard Hanna (NY-24, including Dryden) voted for this turkey.

State Senate Passes Budget Resolution

State Senator James Seward comments on the passage of a budget resolution (March 15, 2011).  You can find his pull quotes on his web page...

Campaign to Defund -- UPDATED

This letter is reprinted from Forward Thinking: The Ithaca Tea Party 

Dear Fellow Tea Partiers:
 
The time has come to honor our pledge to hold the "feet" of the Republican members of the House of Representatives "to the fire."  The issue is ObamaCare, which the House voted to repeal and/or defund.  It appears that the House leadership is reneging on their promise to do whatever is possible to rid the country of this threat to our freedom and the very existence of our country as we have known it. Here are the facts:
 
1. On March 18, 2011, the House will vote on another continuing resolution to keep the Federal Government funded.
 
2. It has recently come to light that buried in the 2700 page so-called "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" are advance appropriations in the amount of $105,464,000,000 providing funding to the Health and Human Services Secretary starting now and extending through FY2019. It took the Congressional Research Service 11 months to identify and total up all the billions of appropriations and fund transfers in the bill. 

3. There is no language in the current version of the continuing resolution to defund ObamaCare. 

4. House leadership, under Speaker Boehner, is reluctant to include language about defunding in the upcoming CR for the usual political reasons. They talk about not wanting to break House rules. The Republicans are the majority party and they can make the rules. They do not want to be the Party to shut down the government. But it is more important to do whatever can be done to remedy this urgent problem than to worry about what will amount to no more than an inconvenience. They seem to want to delay this battle until next year. 

5. Therefore Rep. Michele Bachmann (R.-MN)  and Rep. Steve King (R. IA)  will not support the CR if language to defund ObamaCare is not included.  
 
6. HERE'S HOW YOU CAN HELP.  Contact Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Hal Rogers. Urge them to withhold their support of the continuing resolution unless it contains language to defund ObamaCare. Contact your own representative even if he is the recalcitrant Maurice Hinchey and make your position clear to him. Contact as many members of the Tea Party Caucus, listed below, as you can, and urge them to honor their pledge to repeal ObamaCare and support the CR only if it contains language defunding ObamaCare. 

MEMBERS OF THE TEA PARTY CAUCUS

Sandy Adams (FL-24)
Robert Aderholt (AL-04)
Todd Akin (MO-02)
Rodney Alexander (LA-05)
Michele Bachmann (MN-06)
Roscoe Bartlett (MD-06)
Joe Barton (TX-06)
Rob Bishop (UT-01)
Gus Bilirakis (FL-09)
Paul Broun (GA-10)
Michael Burgess (TX-26)
Dan Burton (IN-05)
John Carter (TX-31) 
Bill Cassidy (LA-06)
Howard Coble (NC-06)
Mike Coffman (CO-06)
Ander Crenshaw (FL-04)
John Culberson (TX-07)
Jeff Duncan (SC-03)

Stephen Lee Fincher (TN-08)
John Fleming (LA-04)
Trent Franks (AZ-02)
Phil Gingrey (GA-11)
Louie Gohmert (TX-01)
Vicky Hartzler (MO-04)
Wally Herger (CA-02)
Tim Huelskamp (KS-01)
Lynn Jenkins (KS-02)
Steve King (IA-05)
Doug Lamborn (CO-05)
Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO-09)
Kenny Marchant (TX-24)
Tom McClintock (CA-04)
David McKinley (WV-01) 
Gary Miller (CA-42)
Mick Mulvaney (SC-05)
Randy Neugebauer (TX-19)
Rich Nugent (FL-05)
Steve Pearce (NM-02)
Mike Pence (IN-06)
Ted Poe (TX-02)
Tom Price (GA-06)
Denny Rehberg (MT-At large)
David Roe (TN-01)
Dennis Ross (FL-12)
Edward Royce (CA-40)
Steve Scalise (LA-01)
Pete Sessions (TX-32)
Adrian Smith (NE-03)
Lamar Smith (TX-21)
Cliff Stearns (FL-06)
Tim Walberg (MI-07)
Joe Walsh (IL-08)
Allen West (FL-22)
Lynn Westmoreland (GA-03)
Joe Wilson (SC-02) 

If you have any questions about any of this, let me know.  Remember this has to be done before the vote on Friday, March 18, 2011.
 
Thanks for all you do,
 
Fran Weissman

UPDATE:

Dear Tea Partiers,

I am having trouble determining the exact time the House has scheduled the vote on the Continuing Resolution. A few minutes ago, Hinchey's Ithaca office told me it could be as soon as tomorrow, March 15, 2011 and Michele Bachmann's Woodbury, Minnesota office told me it was scheduled for Wednesday, March 16, 2011.  My current understanding is that Friday, March 18, is the date that the federal government will run out of money. I am so sorry for my misunderstanding and any inconvenience it may cause. At the same time, I urge you to contact the relevant House members as soon as possible so that your message will count. Again, thanks for all you do.

Fran Weissman

It's Not Their Money

As reported in the Post-Standard, former congressional representatives, including  Michael Arcuri (ex NY-24), paid their staffers bonuses of thousands of dollars after they lost re-election and before leaving office.  The money came out of their congressional office allowances.

Arcuri was quoted in the article: “My staff had been with me for awhile and they were very, very good. Based on the fact that their salary was relatively low, I thought it was something that was fair.”

Citizens Against Government Waste, a government watchdog group in Washington, D.C., disagrees with the congressmen, and has called for any money left over at the end of the year to be returned [to the Treasury] rather than paid out as bonuses.
 
“This is similar to every other type of federal expenditure,” said Tom Schatz, president of CAGW. “They spend everything at the end of the year because there is no incentive to save it.”
 
“I have nothing against congressional staff,” Schatz said. “But there are thousands of people who would love to have those jobs. Everyone understands it is not a high-paying job. Most people see this as a great chance to get experience and use it as a stepping stone to something that has better pay.”
Why do congress critters need to be reminded that those unspent accounts aren't "their money," it's not "free money," it's our money and should not be doled out as presents to their friends and colleagues?

Japan Relief

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If you are looking for a way to donate to Japan Relief, here is one choice...

Salvation Army Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief

As people in Japan recover from the devastating earthquake and tsunami, The Salvation Army is working tirelessly to assist them every step of the way.

The Salvation Army in Japan immediately dispersed teams following the disaster to the most severely affected areas where they are distributing basic necessities to survivors. These teams will also assess the damage to discern the next steps in their relief efforts.

The Salvation Army has been at work in Japan since 1895, operating more than 80 centers there, including two hospitals and four children's homes. We have nearly 200 officers, 3,000 members and nearly 1,000 employees already at work in the country. We are a part of Japan's communities and dedicated to their recovery.

Discharge NY

Discharge, NYState Senator James Seward is touting the senate approval of the "Recharge NY" program, which allocates low-cost power to "help businesses create and retain jobs."

The original “Power for Jobs” program began in 1997, when Seward was chairman of the senate energy committee, and has been extended on a year-to-year basis the past five years.  It currently provides low cost power to about 500 businesses.  The new program would provide twice the wattage (sic) and businesses participating in the program would receive seven-year commitments for their allocations of low-cost power.  There would be no cost to the state for this program. 
There is, of course, an opportunity cost for this program... allocating resources arbitrarily without market price signals always results in misallocation of resources.
The bill is supported by the Business Council of New York State, the New York Farm Bureau, NFIB, the Manufacturers Association of Central New York and Environmental Advocates.
The program also perpetuates the idea that the way to get your goodies is to lobby state government for it.  It increases the power of politicians and inevitably increases the size and cost of government.
 
It's hard to be disciplined when others seem to be getting benefits for discharging free stuff (and we know who is really paying for it).  But leaders need to forgo these tactics, cut the taxes and the size of government, and let the market work.

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