James Seward

Seward's Home Rule Folly

Liberty or tryranny redux...from Tom Shepstone and Rachael Colley at EID Marcellus:

Any student of American history will recall Secretary of State William Seward’s deal to purchase Alaska, lampooned at the time as “Seward’s Folly.”  That deal vastly increased our access to natural resources and turned out pretty well in the end, but now another New Yorker of the same name, State Senator James Seward of Oneonta, has embarked on precisely the opposite course.  Ironically, Senator Seward seems bent on redeeming the false accusation hurled at his famous namesake by engaging in what can only be described as the Home Rule Follies.
 
We were present in Oneonta last month when Senator Seward and three of his fellow elected officials appeared before about 150 of his constituents who were there to question them about Seward’s bill.  The Senator, widely admired in most respects, seemed surprised to find his voters not at all happy about his introduction of legislation that would allow individual communities to supersede State law.  That bill would, in the name of “home rule,” selectively override the Department of Environmental Conservation’s regulations so as to prohibit natural gas development in one community and, thereby, potentially making it impossible to do in adjoining communities given that geology knows no borders.
 
Seward took it on the chin from constituents who had actually read the U.S. Constitution and understood the job of the State under a republican form of government -- protecting rights.  Listen and watch this performance as he says “I’m not sure I’m qualified” to interpret the U.S. Constitution (2:20).  This is the same U.S. Constitution he swore an oath to uphold:

This is a great post with more video segments from Oneonta and a map—do read the whole thing.

Bottom line:

Seward is a very dedicated and well-received member of the New York State Senate among both his colleagues and his constituents.   Why is he, then, buying into this campaign?  Because he apparently thinks it won’t amount to much and he can thrown a bone to his Cooperstown friends.  What he is doing, though, is sending a message, a message that New York State is closed for business, when it should be open.  While only small parts of his district may have natural gas, his entire district will benefit from his development of it.  Trying to play ball with both sides only enables the anti-gas special interests to maintain the pretense they are winning a status quo battle against the future.

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

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...

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.

Rifle Bill Passes State Senate

Cortland County sportsmen and women will be allowed to use a rifle while hunting deer or bear under legislation (S.1683) passed by the state senate on February 28.

“This is common sense legislation that mirrors regulations already in effect in neighboring counties allowing the use of rifles while hunting big game,” said Senator Seward.  “More importantly, Cortland County sportsmen and women, who collectively have an impeccable safety record, strongly support the change.”

The bill has been sent to the assembly where Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton is the prime sponsor.

Seward Gets Leadership Post

From the Senator's website:

State Senator James L. Seward (NY-51, including Dryden) has been named assistant majority leader on conference operations, a post that puts him in the top leadership of the state senate.
 
“The new position allows me to work closely with senate leadership in establishing priorities and directing important legislation to the senate floor,” said Senator Seward.  “New York is extremely diverse, and it is vital that upstate has a voice at the table to fight for our unique concerns - I am proud to be that voice.”
 
Senator Seward has also been named to three key budget review subcommittees with the purpose of analyzing the governor’s budget proposal and recommending constructive revisions.
I think our problems are more in the Assembly...

Cap Property Taxes NOW

Cap Property Taxes NOWState Senator Jim Seward has an online petition to try to urge the NYS Assembly to pass the governor's property tax cap proposal.  The bill has already passed the NY Senate.

Property tax increases have made it difficult for seniors to stay in their homes, tougher for young people to afford to purchase their first home and have squeezed the budgets of families and businesses across the state.

Placing a cap on school and local government property taxes would provide the relief that homeowners desperately need.

Check it out here.

That Insurance Stuff

I was at some friends' house a few weeks ago and had asked, "just what does [State Senator James] Seward do in the Senate, anyway?"  I wasn't really sure what he was working on.   I knew he was on the New York Senate Committee on Insurance, but I didn't know what that meant.

I found a short article describing what he's up to there lately... a little esoteric, perhaps, but palatable in small doses.

Medicaid, Too

There has been an increasing amount of heat over the necessary and inevitable cuts to state aid to school districts, but I think more attention should be paid to Medicaid.  It's 40 percent of the unsustainable state budget, and it needs to be cut like everything else.

The case is laid out by Robert Brauchle today in the Utica Observer-Dispatch.

How can we go at Medicaid reform?
“I think everything has to be on the table in these tough economic times,” Sen. James Seward, [(NY-51, including Dryden)], said. “The Medicaid program in New York state is very generous, and the state has opted for many more of the options than most other states.”
There is a "duplication and fraud" group of legislators and lobbyists that insists that every mythical abuse must be expunged from the system before any "constituent services" are touched.
 
Nonsense.  This is just a tactic to keep anything actually meaningful off the cutting table.  If there is still that much duplication and fraud after all the years we've heard this line, then they are part of the fabric of the system in New York and the entire structure must be replaced.  There are decisions to be made...target certain services or start from scratch; go with a statewide approach or allow options which may be made county by county.   Brauchle's piece outlines approaches and pros and cons.
 
But to get to the heart of the matter, consider this.  
In Erie County, 95 percent of property taxes are needed to pay for just one bill. Of the $211 million collected in 2010, approximately $201 million pays the county’s portion of Medicaid. This statistic is not only shocking, but also somewhat unbelievable. While we know the numbers are true and Medicaid costs are crippling, it is difficult to believe a county could survive when 95 percent of its property taxes pay just one bill.
How long do you think this can go on?  Is it any wonder that people are leaving?
 
As with schools and other sacred cows, you can be sure that the day is coming when Medicaid in New York has fewer services and is much smaller than it is now. 

Stop Micromanaging Us

Spending is an easy target, particularly at the local level.  We're told there really isn't any choice because a big part of that spending is due to the (unfunded) mandates of higher levels of government.  
 
It starts like this:  Local pols think they are doing us a great favor by getting grants and "earmarks" for local government and school districts.  But, first, it's actually our money, laundered through another level of government that they are "winning", and second, "our money"  comes with a lot of strings attached: the mandates that cost even more money.
 
From the Ithaca Journal:
[School d]istricts must file reports and track information on an array of topics; comply with a range of state laws and regulations, such as buying defibrillators and using "green" cleaning products; and prepare numerous plans, ranging from a pandemic flu preparedness plan to fire extinguisher testing and monitoring.
Then, there are big-ticket items, including special education requirements, academic intervention services for struggling students and auditing costs.
School officials don't dispute many mandates are well intentioned and hard to argue with. The issue is that federal and state lawmakers have added to the list over the years without providing adequate funding for districts to comply with and administer them..."
There is that "hard to argue with" line... the truth is that left to their own devices, local goverments and schools will find efficient ways to solve the local problems they actually have and will opt not to fund marginal items.
 
There is hope. Mandate relief is recognized to be part of the movement toward a state property tax cap:
“A property tax cap only works if local elected leaders and school administrators have the tools they need to keep their costs in check. With the enactment of the mandate relief law, local officials won’t have to worry about unfunded requirements from Albany driving up their costs,” said [State Senator James] Seward.
 
“Together, a property tax cap and mandate relief forge a powerful combination — providing assistance for cash strapped citizens, businesses and municipalities, while, at the same time, renewing our state’s economy.”
It will be important to keep the pressure on, particulary in the NYS Assembly, where many special interests are lobbying to keep their own lucrative mandates in place.  
 
Remember, it's more than just the money.  It's the principal of self-determination.  Why should multiple levels of government be micromanaging us?

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