Yet more nanny-statism from one (only one?) of our esteemed US Senators

Sheesh.

Over at JammieWearingFool:

Important News: Schumer Takes on Restocking Fees

You would think a prominent United States Senator has better things to do with his time. But we're talking about the obnoxious gadfly Charles Schumer, who cannot possibly let a Sunday go by without nattering about something as insignificant as fees charged by retailers to people who return items....

The rest is here

Surely, the law of unintended consequences would never apply in this instance...would it?

2009-10 Public Payroll Data

The Manhattan Institute's Empire Center for New York State Policy compiled information about the 2009-10 Public Payrolls for county and municipal employees in the state. Check out one-of-nine town payrolls. (These numbers do not include substantial pension and health care contributions.)

Town Employees Average Salary Rank *
Ithaca 77 $47,674 1
Lansing 37 $39,973 3
Dryden 36 $34,150 13
Newfield 18 $25,997 71
Caroline 15 $26,972 59
Groton 15 $35,911 6
Danby 11 $33,539 16
Enfield 11 $25,923 72
Ulysses 12 $31,471 26

* Rank of average salary for 145 towns in the Southern Tier.  Remember that the villages are separate entities with their own employees and budgets.

The Empire Center has a nifty website where you can get individual salary information for public employees, and a whole lot more. Check out www.SeeThroughNY.net and see where your money goes.

(Hat tip to Kelly for the pointer to this data.)

Speaking of sustainability...

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"That's not only insane, but it's also unsustainable,"

said Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino, after a panel discussion in Albany about the pension situation in New York State.  The panel was discussing a report from the Empire Center for New York State Policy which predicts that school districts' contributions to the New York State Teachers Retirement System could more than quadruple over the next five years.

These increases are just not realistic.  What will we do when (not if) the pension plans and school districts are insolvent?  We need to get ahead of this problem and move to realistic defined contribution public pensions (paid out of current income) instead of the current defined benefit plans.  We also need to eliminate unfunded state mandates on our school systems.

Read the article on the Ithaca Journal site, or click over to www.empirecenter.org to  read the whole report.

Seward eases getting down to business

neon open signState Senator Jim Seward posted some tips and useful links for starting your own business in New York State on his blog, including the Empire State Development agency, which facilitates business growth and job creation across the state.  Jim also includes a basic start up list for prospective business owners to consider.

As Jim says, starting your own business can be a daunting mission.  Let's do our part and support our local business owners.

"We can rein in spending"

Reacting to Barack Obama's announcement of a two-year pay freeze for civilian federal employees, Richard Hanna said, in one of his first news releases as congressman-elect,

"Our financial woes won’t cease overnight, but we can rein in spending through a bipartisan effort. I am committed to fiscal accountability and restoring a balanced budget. As we work to restore our nation’s fiscal house, the president’s announcement is encouraging."

See the whole 12/1 post by Bryon Ackerman.  Hanna defeated U.S. Rep. Michael Arcuri in the November election, and will take office in January.

Zoning--the continuing saga

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This Wednesday, December 8th, 7pm, is the Town of Dryden's work session/agenda meeting (these meetings are the second Wednesday, i.e., the week before the regular Town Board meetings) where the new zoning laws are being reworked. This session is slated to deal with the density concepts presented in the "Amended Zoning Law " booklet.  As asked for at the last meeting, there is considerably more information now available online at http://dryden.ny.us/environmental-planning/proposed-zoning-law-resources-page. (h/t Kathy)

UPDATE:

From Kathy:

....The zoning discussion probably starts around 7:45 and may go until 10....I am going to call tomorrow (Monday, 12/6) and ask that the public be given copies of the zoning matters the Board expects to discuss.  They put together a mini-agenda based on questions, emails, and concerns raised by the public, and I think copies should be available to the public.  There were  public copies for October...but none available for the November meeting...I would like to see this posted early on so we the people have an opportunity to study and prepare the subjects to be discussed.

Another kind of sustainability, NYS, and sin

“Most financial crises happen in unpredictable ways, and they hit you when you’re not looking. This one isn’t like that. You can see it coming. It would be sinful not to do something about this while there’s a chance.”

Brace yourselves, people.

....Some of the same people who warned of the looming subprime crisis two years ago are ringing alarm bells again....As the downturn has ground on, some of the worst-hit cities and states have resorted to fiscal sleight of hand to stay afloat, helping them close yawning budget gaps each year, but often at great future cost....Many states, including New York, have delayed payments to vendors and local governments because they had too little cash on hand to make them....So some states are essentially borrowing to pay their operating costs, adding new debts that are not always clearly disclosed....New York balanced its budget this year by shortchanging its pension fund....It is these growing hidden debts that make many analysts nervous. States and municipalities currently have around $2.8 trillion worth of outstanding bonds, but that number is dwarfed by the debts that many are carrying off their books.

But here's the best part:

Richard Ravitch, the lieutenant governor of New York, is among those warning that states are on an unsustainable path, and that their disclosures of pension and health care obligations are often misleading. And he worries how long it can last.

“They didn’t do it with bad motives,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of them didn’t understand what they were doing. They did it because it was easier than taxing people or cutting benefits. We’re getting closer and closer to the point where we can’t do that anymore. I don’t know where that is, but I know we’re close.”

They didn't understand what they were doing? You mean they weren't buying votes to stay in power?  

The whole article is here.

Can We All Agree that Consensus Is Wrong?

Consider this analogy as illustration. Imagine that something you consider morally objectionable, such as cannibalism, is being openly advocated by some people. At first you think they will be ignored. Later however, some politicians say they also support cannibalism. Government and the private sector begin to open experimental facilities for processing human flesh. Nobody objects: all the media are enthusiastic about the projects. They publish advice on cooking human meat. The Government declares cannibalism a policy goal, and the United Nations declares cannibalism is necessary for humanity. You, of course, are horrified by this, yet all your friends think that your objections are strange. Your colleagues at work think so too. They stop talking to you, and you lose your job because you irritate them.

Appeals to empathy are a bad basis for judgement, but at least the analogy demonstrates one problem with sustainability: moral objections are not recognised. It is easy to imagine objections to cannibalism, and to see that the individual in the story is being unfairly treated. Yet many people, and governments, will recognise no "objection of conscience" to sustainability.

Sustainability absolutely requires consensus.  There can’t be an objection of conscience because without it, sustainability crumbles.

 

This reliance on consensus is why so many unassailable items are conflated with sustainabiity.   When you look at the list of items on the Dryden Sustainability Planning Framework, we see a bunch of great things, that we certainly want:  Economic growth, safety, biodiversity and ecological health.  Packaged with these is a radical approach to property rights, growth of government regulation and wealth redistribution couched in pretty words like “social justice.” 

 

Since we like the former, we’re put in the position of swallowing our deep skepticism of the latter out of fear that we might be losing something we value. 

 

It isn’t true.  Economic growth, and -- yes -- safety, education, environmental quality and conservation are in the best interest of individuals working in the free market.  These will be there with or without a “sustainability” regime.  Yes, people sometimes make planning mistakes, but no worse than those made by government, and usually individual mistakes are more easily and quickly corrected.  We will have the things we want even without governmental sustainabilty overlords.

 

The free market built our freedoms.  People with principles do not have consensus as a goal  Rather, it is people who are trying to overcome someone else’s principles who use consensus as a wedge.

Fracking and outdoorsmen--December 8th talk in Cortland

From Dave Henderson's "Outdoors" column in today's Ithaca Journal:

If you are interested in how hydrofracking and gas drilling affects anglers and other outdoorsmen, consider spending Wednesday evening, Dec. 8, in Cortland with Chris Burger.

Big Meme on Campus

Sustainability has been simmering on campuses for a while, and now is boiling over into our local governments.  It can be very confusing (deliberately so, I’d say), because sustainability is such an appealing word, and yet -- we have a nagging feeling that something just isn't right.

Peter Wood (who previously dissected “Diversity” in his book of the same name) gives us some insight in his October 3 Chronicle of Higher Education commentary..

...sustainability sets aside the driving idea of the original environmental movement, that we help ourselves when we clean up the environment. Sustainability shifts the focus to both the imagined future and the supposed needs of the earth itself. Sustainability decenters environmentalism from the health and enjoyment of living people to the world beyond and replaces a focus on the dangers of pollution with the idea that Western society itself is profoundly at odds with the earth.

Well, when sustainability is wrapped up with “prosperity”, “safety” and “environmental health”, who would stand against it?  Isn’t it just common sense?

Sustainability numbers among its advocates some scrupulous scientists and quite a few sober facilities managers who simply want to trim utility bills. But in the main, sustainability is the triumph of hypothesis over evidence. Its scientific grounding is mostly a matter of models and extrapolations and appeals to authority. Evoking imminent and planet-destroying catastrophe, sustainatopians call for radical changes in economic arrangements and social patterns.

Sustainability combines some astonishingly radical ideas with mere wackiness. Many sustainability advocates want to replace free markets (a source, as they see it, of unsustainable growth and exploitation) with some kind of pan-national rule with little scope for private property rights. On the other hand, sustainatopians also busy themselves with eliminating trays from cafeterias and attacking the threat of plastic soda straws. Sustainability thus unites vaunting political ambition and comic burlesque. Both are at odds with patient and open-minded intellectual inquiry.

The wackiness, I assert, is on purpose.  It keeps us off balance. How can we  think of sustainability as harmful if it is ... just silly?

The “environmental”, “economic” and “social” parts of sustainability  we’re already doing.  When it’s efficient for us to insulate our houses, or move closer to work, family or church, or consider a hybrid car, we do it without being prodded because it is in our own interest.  Free markets give us the incentive and the products and services to do so.

Ask yourself, if you subtract these common sense, already-happening things from the sustainability framework, what is left?   What are the unique characteristics of sustainability?

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