BREAKING NEWS BREAKING NEWS BREAKING NEWS
THE DIVIDING LINE BETWEEN UPSTATE AND DOWNSTATE HAS BEEN IDENTIFIED
Bear Mountain Bridge over the Hudson River connecting the Westchester County on the east and Orange County on the west has been definitively identified as the dividing line between upstate and downstate New York. The source of this positive marker has been traced to the Bear Mountain compact. People may not be familiar with the Bear Mountain compact, so let me repeat the description provided recently in The New York Times in an article entitled “Sex Crime laws Rife with Sexism” (10/22/17):
Landmark legislation around sex crimes was unlikely to have taken shape in the New York State Legislature at the start of the millennium. For years, mostly male lawmakers and those in their orbit clung to a secret agreement known as the Bear Mountain compact, in which affairs and assignations with young staff members and interns occurring north of the Bear Mountain Bridge weren’t talked about in New York City and other home districts.
So there you have it. Sex crimes north of the Bear Mountain Bridge such as in Albany are not to be discussed south of the Bear Mountain Bridge. Legislators from Long Island, New York City, Rockland, and parts of Orange and Westchester counties were given a free pass by the state legislature to act north of the Bear Mountain Bridge in ways that would be illegal south of the Bear Mountain Bridge if anyone found out about it.
So who said the New York State Legislature is dysfunctional? Here the legislature was quite capable of resolving a pressing issue of great importance to the well- being of the state. Please remember that the next time you are driving over the Bear Mountain Bridge. Perhaps a state history marker could be placed there in recognition of this important role in New York State history. Perhaps the Bear Mountain Bridge should become a designated Path through History site.
This example of dysfunction New York at work highlights why the state desperately needs a constitutional convention and why there isn’t even a remote chance that it would do any good and probably would be dysfunctional if one were held. By now people should be aware that every 20 years under the existing state constitution, the voters in the state are asked to vote on whether or not to convene a constitutional convention. Certainly the prophets of apocalyptic doom have vehemently proclaimed the message of catastrophe if the heinous constitutional convention were to be held. And as we know from the recent presidential election scaring people works.
The upcoming vote on the convention is separate from the vote which can occur in any election on amendments to the constitution. So for example, this year in addition to voting on whether or not to convene a convention, we also are voting on an amendment on whether or not crooked state politicians can be stripped of their state pension once convicted. The very fact that such an amendment is needed is proof positive that a desperately-needed convention if convened in dysfunctional New York is doomed to failure.
The New York State constitution is not like the state constitutions of other states or the federal government. At over 50,000 words is resembles more of a book than a typical constitution like the federal one which is available in pocket-size versions. The constitution of dysfunctional New York is said to be twice the average length of the constitutions of other states and seven times the length of the federal constitution. In other words, it is the exact type of bloated document one would expect from a dysfunctional state.
At a meeting I attended months ago about the upcoming vote, one presenter claimed that approximately 16,000 words of the document were obsolete. He was referring to amendments or clauses that were time specific (World War II is over now!) or irrelevant (a popular example not necessarily in the constitution but to illustrate the point would be calling for notifications to be sent by telegram). What is striking about these obsolete sections is that they are non-political. What political party, politician, special interest group, or professional do-gooder is in favor of cluttering up the document with irrelevant obsolete material? Why hasn’t the state legislature taken the lead and simply pruned to the document of the clutter in the upstairs attic or the downstairs basement? Because we are a dysfunctional state, that’s why. If the state government was capable of providing leadership We the People of New York State, the need for a constitutional convention would be reduced.
Another 15,000 words (perhaps there is some overlap with the 16,000 obsolete words) are devoted to the state judicial system. Apparently according to an editorial in the local paper, dysfunctional New York State has 11 different trial-level courts and various appellate courts. How many does California, which is twice our size, have and how many words in its state constitution are devoted to it? Does anyone think that if one was designing a judicial system from scratch that the result would be anything even close to mess that has accumulated over the years through additions to the state constitution? Again, even without a constitutional convention, the state government has the option to take a leadership position in amending the state constitution to create a more streamlined judicial system. Once again, it hasn’t. It simply doesn’t have the ability to do so.
Speaking of dysfunction, some words of wisdom coincidentally appeared in an article entitled “Build Better, Smarter, Faster” by Denise Richardson, Executive Director, General Contractors Association of New York (City & State New York). Her article begins with:
Every primer on effective management cautions against corporate silos.
She then contrasts what has happened in the real world with what hasn’t happened in our state government.
Thanks to technology, managing a construction project has undergone a literal revolution, yet public infrastructure projects seem to remain captive to another era. To begin the demolition of cost-inducing silos requires a reinvention of agency culture which can only be dictated by top-down directives.
In dysfunctional New York, there is zero chance that the state government can get its act together to produce an effective productive organization. It is a monopoly and has no incentive “to build better, smarter, faster.” No one goes to work for the state government because their goal in life is to improve the bureaucratic operations of the state. In private practice, one can boost a career by building better, smarter, faster, not so in government organizations. You might think that a more productive government means better delivery of services to the general public but that is of no priority.
Speaking of cost-wasting silos within the government, how about spending off the books? I wish I was versed in the ways the state government spends taxpayer money off the books outside the normal legislative process, but I am not. Suffice it say, our state government is quite capable of borrowing all the money it wants without having to go through a public referendum. So even though periodically there are revenue proposals on the ballot, that does not mean that all state borrowings are.
Therefore should a constitutional conventional be held?
Jim Snider, whom I first meet when I became aware of the upcoming vote, advocates on behalf of the convention by asking the question: “Do you trust New Yorkers? Then trust the constitutional convention?” He has raised the exact right issue although the correct answer is exactly opposite to what he wants. No, New Yorkers do not trust New Yorkers and therefore do not trust the constitutional convention. It doesn’t matter how dysfunctional New York State is now, a constitutional convention is not an opportunity for We the People of New York State to get our act together; it is a guaranteed certainty that the result will be even worse. True even if a convention is held, We the People would still have the opportunity and obligation to vote on any changes the convention proposed. The convention cannot pass laws, it can only recommend changes which still would have to be ratified by the people. So why go through all this effort on the oft chance that something better will result? And will New Yorkers even control the convention or will outside money buy and sell the convention delegates? How about in-state money? In short, We the People of New York do not trust each other and do not trust the political process. We are not capable of a constitutional convention that will benefit the people of the state, therefore we should not have one. Maybe New Yorkers in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries were capable of holding a state constitutional convention , but we are not today in the 21st century. That’s why we don’t even teach state conventions in the schools. No need to waste time on them.
So while dysfunctional New York continues to wallow in its dysfunctionality, that does not mean other states will continue to stand by idly while we make a mess of things. Consider the current proposed tax cut. One item under debate was the reduction of the property tax deduction. The proposal caused an uproar in expensive states like dysfunctional New York with a high property tax and was modified. A similar debate is occurring over the deductibility of state and local taxes where once again dysfunctional New York leads the way. Sooner or later the likelihood is that either caps will rule the day or there will be outright elimination of certain deductions critical to high-tax states. New Yorkers then may want to address why those taxes are so high in the first place.
Outside actors may have an impact on us, too. If state and local taxes become more expensive because of federal changes in their deductibility, state legislatures might come under pressure to lower taxes. (“Waiting Out the Debate on Taxes,” NYT 11/3/17)
What will that mean for the exorbitantly high education and medical expenses in dysfunctional New York compared to other states including California?
New York doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Somewhere along the line it will have to pay the piper. Our governor won’t provide any leadership. Our legislature won’t provide any leadership. And we the people know we can’t provide any leadership. The end result will be the rest of the country may be the ones to force us to get our act together. Occupy Wall Street got it all wrong. We need Wall Street to make an obscene amount of money so we can remain dysfunctional and to make an even more obscene amount next year. And let’s keep those young people and tourists coming to the Big Apple. After all who cares what happens north of the Bear Mountain Bridge?