Tag Archives: growth

Chris Lee's Views: Pablum

1 Jul

After much ribbing about the non-existent and/or empty “views” section of his website, Republican candidate for Congress in the 26th district has finally gotten around to having some.

I am running for Congress to bring real change to Washington, D.C., restore accountability, get people to stop the partisan bickering and start solving the problems families are facing. This is what Western New Yorkers are demanding, and it is what they deserve.

By working together we can make these things happen, and we can get Washington working again for Western New York.

If we do that then we can help create jobs at home, lower taxes for hard working families, develop a real energy policy, and ensure access to affordable healthcare for all Western New Yorkers.

Washington working for Western New York. That’s a great idea. Um, what’s his predecessor been doing along those lines for the past 10 years? It’s all platitudes cribbed from some primer on how to run as a Republican but sounding like a Democrat. Republicans don’t give a shit about “affordable healthcare”. They’re far more concerned with taxation of the wealthiest 1%, not “hard working families”.

The most important thing for our families is having jobs not just for us, but for our children. Right now Western New York is facing the challenge of entering a 21st century economy and not having enough jobs for our children. Fortunately, Western New York is well equipped to face these challenges. We have a world-class workforce, excellent educational institutions and a work ethic second to none. What needs to happen is the government, in Washington and Albany, needs to get out of the way and let businesses do what they do best – create jobs. When I am elected, I will fight everyday for policies that increase the incentives for businesses to take risks, be entrepreneurial and ultimately create jobs.

How is Washington in the way, and would he do to get it out of said way? Taxes and spending, evidently – no surprise, coming from a Republican candidate. The problem is that the Republican party has put the Democrats to shame in terms of the growth of government and government spending at the federal level since George W. Bush came to office. Why are we to believe that Lee would not help perpetuate that state of affairs? Bush has grown government, kept taxes low to help the budget deficit balloon, engaged in nation-building adventures in the middle east and then shortchanged them when it got difficult.

Definitely Washington is broken. Definitely Albany is broken. What can Lee as a congressman do to fix Albany? Again – platitudes that sound phenomenal but have no meat to them.

Lee also says we need a “comprehensive energy policy”:

– Lessen our dependence on foreign oil by increasing American made energy through exploration;
– Promote new, clean, reliable sources of energy;
– Encourage conservation, and;
– Increase investment in research funding for alternative energy.

Respectively, how, what, how, and what? The call from McCain and Bush has been for drilling everywhere. Respectfully, that’s like putting a Band-Aid on an amputation site. Nice sentiment, but it would take literally years – if not a decade – before any such drilling would have any effect on the market. Furthermore, conservation is now in full effect, given the cost of fuel. Price is up, demand is way down. So, if all this is run by the market, why does lower demand equal ever-higher prices?

Again – demand for gasoline has been dropping, yet the price continues to rise. The idea that this is just market forces at work doesn’t fly. In 2008, it is high time that we develop and reach a consensus on a fuel for personal conveyances to replace petroleum. We’re using technology that’s over 100 years old.

Lee also believes that health care is an issue. The buzzword is “market-based”. Anything the Republicans recommend will be characterized as “market-based”, while they will criticize the Democrats’ plans as being “socialized medicine”. Meanwhile, all of the plans being suggested are market-based. No one is proposing socialized medicine.

While Mr. Lee complains that WNY is not getting its fair share of federal dollars, he also argues:

I will fight for a more transparent and fair system that will ensure real earmark reform. Any dollar being spent by the federal government should be done so in the light of day not behind closed doors. I want to change the way Washington does business by ensuring that we have an open system that holds our leaders accountable. Just like a CEO would want, Western New Yorkers deserve to know exactly how their money is being spent – that can only happen with a more transparent and accountable Washington.

How? What sort of transparency is he proposing? And which is it? More fair share, or fewer earmarks?

In other news, Chris Lee held a fundraiser last night. It was a swanky affair at the Marriott on Millersport. All of the Republican glitterati were in attendance, and Tom Reynolds introduced Lee to the crowd. Illuzzi was there enjoying the free food, making subtle threats, and writes:

I had the pleasure of attending what was truly an “All-Star” fundraising event last night kicking off NY 26 Congressional Candidate Chris Lee’s fundraising efforts.

Congressman Tom Reynolds declared the event to have set a new record for a first time candidate’s congressional fundraising event. Over 300 people in attendance!!! Early estimates are over $175,000 raised at the event.

That averages out to over $580 per person.

Lee is an unemployed child of wealth who inherited part of the sell-out of his father’s business. He’s pledged to spend $1 million of his own money on the race. Will he, like Chris Collins, forego his federal salary if elected? I recall Jack Davis making that pledge 2 years ago. Why should taxpayers cut a six-figure check with benefits and pension for a millionaire heir?

Suozzi Commission Report on Property Tax Cap

3 Jun

From Politics on the Hudson:

[T]he state Commission on Property Tax Reform, headed by Nassau County executive Thomas Suozzi, is recommending a school property-tax cap of 4 percent annual growth, tying property taxes to incomes (called a circuit breaker) and relieving schools of state and local mandates.

“There are only three options to address the ever increasing cost burden of the New York State education system: 1) decrease expenses (or at least decrease the rate of growth), 2) increase state aid, or 3) increase property taxes,” the report reads.

“These options involve hard choices, but this Commission concludes that, regardless of any other factors, it must be a priority to limit property tax increases above a capped amount.”

The entire – yet preliminary – report is here (.pdf).

It’s 112 pages long, so no I haven’t read the whole thing yet. But this stood out within the first few pages:

High property taxes have the most negative impact on low and moderate income working families, seniors on fixed incomes, and small business owners, who must shoulder this burden regardless of their ability to pay. Whether your concern is decreasing education costs, or increasing education spending, or addressing inequities in school funding, or improving programs, virtually all agree the answer cannot be to continue to increase property taxes at the current rate. The rate of increase in property taxes over recent years is unsustainable, and simply unfair to those who cannot afford to pay.

and

Expenses are high. New York schools outside of New York City spend more per student than any state in the nation – an estimated $18,768 in 2008-20091. New York’s per student spending is more than 50 percent above the national average. New York is a proud state with a progressive history and a social compact devoted to improving the quality of life for all New Yorkers. Generations of New York’s leaders, committed to maintaining its status as a national model of social responsibility, have adopted laws and regulations that require local school districts and local governments to provide certain functions in certain ways. The unintended consequence is government that is very expensive. The thorny challenge is to help school districts and other local
governments reduce these expenses, while remaining faithful to our social compact.

State aid as a percentage of total cost is below the national average. It must be noted that New York State spends a great deal on public education, well above the national average. In fact, the State has dramatically increased spending over the past several years and intends to do even more over the next several years, which the Commission applauds. However, the State’s contribution represents, as a percentage of the total cost, only 43 percent, which is below the national average of 47 percent.

In addition to the property tax cap on the rate of growth and the “STAR Circuit Breaker”, which ties STAR property tax relief to one’s ability to pay, the commission suggests changing state mandates that help drive up the cost of education throughout the state, including salaries, pension, and health care costs.

Take a look at the report and report your thoughts in comments. This might be one of the most significant reform efforts in the state in decades. Is it enough? Is it a good start? Will it help?

Good? That it’s being considered at all, and some solutions are being proposed. Bad? I don’t really know. I’m mostly concerned that it’s a Spongebob Band-Aid being placed over a gaping wound.

Perspectives and Expectations

20 Apr

Upon departure from Fort Lauderdale Saturday at 3:00 p.m.:

Upon arrival in the Buffalo area at 5:30 p.m.:

We spent most of our time down in Southern Florida, but did relent and take the kids to Disney on Wednesday. We stayed overnight at a Radisson in Lake Buena Vista. After checking out, I went to retrieve the rental (Dodge Grand Caravan base model through Thrifty – there were 6 of us – which was ok, but a touch underpowered for a 6-cylinder, and managed only 20 MPG). Parked next to me was a Ford Taurus with three bumper stickers; two enjoining the reader to join the taxpayer revolution, and one for Free NY. That was random.

I watched only some local Florida news and had generally zero internet access while down there, which was fine by me. I’ll note that what passes for a newscast on Miami’s Channel 7 makes any one of Buffalo’s local newscasts seem like the BBC by comparison. I have no idea what’s been going on locally, nor do I really care.

I’d like to wholeheartedly thank Paul Wolf, Chris Smith, and Dr. Kevin Hardwick for babysitting the blog and keeping it fresh all week.

I saw more Bentleys down in South Florida than I’ve ever seen in my life, and I kept thinking to myself that each one costs more than 99% of the homes in Western New York. The traffic is bustling, construction cranes are everywhere, shopping is world-class, and South Beach has managed to do the whole architectural tourism thing without apology or excuse.

South Florida is no shangri-la, and I wouldn’t want to live there unless I was stinking filthy rich, but upon return to Buffalo I realize we have become collectively quite content in our perpetual mediocrity. While I was away, ArtVoice held its “Best of” party. Someone texted me that I did not win this year as “best blogger”. That’s fine. I purposefully did not campaign for anyone to vote for me in that category. I’m past the point where I crave that sort of approval. Buffalo Rising’s Newell Nussbaumer won, and congratulations to him. He writes his pieces there at least daily, and they serve their purpose. The SMS also mentioned that he won “best cheerleader” for Buffalo.

Which got me thinking.

Cheerleader.

We spend a lot of time patting Buffalo on the back for its two steps forward that are inevitably met with that step back. Should every neighborhood have an Elmwood Strip? Maybe. But Elmwood is successful by Buffalo standards.

Glaeser received his greatest applause when he stated “Population growth is not the right measure for success. the right measure is how well a city is delivering basic services and providing a quality of life.”

The quality of life here is great, but let’s face it and admit that part of what makes life here good is its slow pace, bereft of urgency or hustle. You know what? A little hustle never killed anyone. Are basic services being delivered well? Adequately? Considering their cost? Buffalo and her people need to be shaken out of their complacency and bullshit excuses.

Will our population ever grow again? Maybe, maybe not. But why wouldn’t we at least consider taking the steps needed to enable that to happen. Not through our sprawl-without-growth, Titanic deck-chair rearrangement. Through structural changes addressing the size and cost of government, eliminating redundancies, lowering taxes, easing regulations, and otherwise making this place not just a great place to live, work and raise a family, but also an attractive place to move to.

We get mediocrity because we expect mediocrity. And vice-versa. It’s a vicious, nasty spiral. Who’s out there who is willing to not only do some thinking about our problems, but implement solutions to them?

Our rust-belt problems of depopulation aren’t unique to us, and frankly the fact that we continue to talk about it underscores the fact that we’re just stumbling through our decline. Why care when it’s easier to just up and move?

Consider Eastern Germany. On the flight back from Florida, I read this article about the formerly bustling state of Saxony-Anhalt, which is part of what was once East Germany:

City planners, normally keen to promote the building of homes, factories and roads, are responding to a double demographic crisis: the collapse of communist-era industry, which sent workers, especially young women, fleeing westwards; and a sharp decline in the birth rate.

Saxony-Anhalt, cradle of the Reformation and of East Germany’s chemical industry, lost a fifth of its 2.9m people in the 16 years after Germany’s unification in 1990. By 2025 it expects to lose nearly half a million more. In Köthen, where Johann Sebastian Bach composed the Brandenburg Concertos, so many young workers have left that “the population pyramid has become a mushroom”, says Ina Rauer of the town’s building department.

The cities of the east no longer imagine they can avoid demographic decline. Instead they seek to manage its consequences, and a few are inventing ways to shrink gracefully. Saxony-Anhalt, which suffered an acute shortage of apartments in communist times, has now destroyed some 45,000 homes with federal help.

Sounds pretty familiar, hm? If your population is down to 75,000…

“We can’t pay for infrastructure for 100,000 people,” he says.

Urban attrition is frightening those left behind, bringing the threat of blight and crime. Eastern cities are courting industry, but capital is footloose and productive new factories employ hundreds rather than the thousands who once manned East Germany’s behemoths. “It’s not clear what the recipe for success is,” says Hans-Joachim Bürkner of Potsdam University.

In Buffalo, we talk of green jobs and the fact that we have loads of fresh water, we don’t think outside the box at all. Where is the charitable foundation that will put up a million dollar X-prize to someone who comes up with a way to return prosperity, if not population, to WNY? In Germany, meanwhile…

That may account for the spirit of zany experimentalism that prevails in cities such as Dessau and Köthen. Under the motto “city islands”, Dessau is nudging life and commerce towards “core areas”, which means making a verdant city (which is already three-quarters parkland) even greener.

Traces of Dessau’s busier past—a disused tower for smoking sausages or a dairy’s chimney now occupied by storks—are being preserved. Parts of the void are being parcelled into “claims” of 400 square metres, which citizens can use free of charge for projects such as growing biomass for fuel. “Where buildings fall, gardens rise,” a hopeful billboard claims.

…and…

Dessau and Köthen are drawing inspiration from the Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) 2010, a project dreamt up at the Bauhaus Foundation in Dessau, which occupies the building where Walter Gropius and friends helped pioneer the stark geometrical Bauhaus style in the 1920s.

Such “building exhibitions” are a German tradition, held when social and economic change demands new ways of using space. Omar Akbar, the Bauhaus’s director, sees IBA 2010 as a “laboratory” for coping with demographic decline that will one day afflict other cities in the industrialised world. He says the aim is to shape the process of urban contraction, rather than “merely let it happen”.

But IBA 2010 does not just bring cities extra fame and money (around €150m or $235m, largely from the federal and state governments). Its organisers also want to cultivate intangible qualities, like greater public involvement and a sense of distinctive identity for each community.

We need less cheerleadership and more leadership. The US could and should be doing something similar to this initiative to come up with ways to address urban shrinking. If the US won’t, then Buffalo and other Great Lakes cities should.

Those Are Just Trees. Here's the Forest.

8 Apr

Richard Florida could come here and sprinkle fairy dust on Buffalo for an entire week.

We could have the Congress for New Urbanism come and give speeches every day about every elevated highway, every building not built out to the sidewalk, and every other thing that dares accommodate automobiles and delivery trucks in any way.

We could have CitiStats up the ying yang. So far, all I see is an almost-daily opportunity for the Mayor and his top brass to get some air time on public access.

We could work tirelessly – night and day – to attract sixtysomethings to look at our architecture, to try programs to attract “talent”, “innovation”, “connectivity”, and “distinction”.

But in the end, none of that is worth a tinker’s damn without an economy that renders this region attractive in some way. Yes, it’s time that the entirety of upstate New York become one big, massive Empire Zone. We’ll never compete with the Southwest or South in terms of cost of living, but imagine if we paired our standard of living here in WNY with the opportunity for growth and prosperity that isn’t stifled by byzantine regulations, favoritism, and runaway spending and taxation.

I’m not a proponent of upstate secession (New York City subsidizes us. Not vice-versa), but maybe a degree of autonomy wouldn’t be so bad. We could be like Wales is to the UK.

That would sure as hell attract all the talented, innovative, distinct people that we apparently need.

Basics to Grow Buffalo

15 Feb

Paul Wolf’s Buffalo Ideas excerpts a great Q&A that the Pittsburgh Tribune held with urbanist gurus Joel Kotkin and Richard Florida. A couple of quotes to pull:

Florida on economic stimulus:

Maybe Mayor Davey Lawrence and Richard King Mellon were great for their day; they probably were. But the days of the strong mayor and a business leadership group fixing a city are long over. Cities are too complex, they are too organic, they are too multifaceted. So those folks have to go away.

Kotkin on attracting people & business:

I would focus on companies that are growing in the area, people who are moving in; the inherent quality of life that Pittsburgh offers; the cost advantages that Pittsburgh offers. Those are your critical advantages over your competitors. That’s really where you ought to make your case. If you had a thriving economy, and people were coming in from all over the country — if immigrants saw Pittsburgh as a destination — then I think all sorts of nice things would happen: Restaurants would open, neighborhoods would come back. You have immigrants who are now going to places like Fargo, N.D., because they see opportunities there. You have to create a kind of opportunity environment and that would be the biggest thing you could do. Instead of spending money on these absurd projects — stadiums, (light-rail) tunnels and casinos — why don’t you just fix what you have so it works better, maintain what you have so it works better and find out what are the things that businesses actually need? — not five CEOs of the remnants of companies that have been there for a long time and all they care about are skyboxes. You’ve got to think about what you’re going to do that will make it easier for people to do business in Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh area. Find out. Take your 100 fastest growing companies, sit down with them and ask them what would encourage you to grow faster. I doubt it’s going to be a casino that it is they will be looking for.

Kotkin on attracting immigrants:

Another thing we’ve heard a lot about recently is, “How can Pittsburgh attract immigrants?” Well, Pittsburgh has immigrants. They’re sitting in its major universities. They’ve chosen to locate in Pittsburgh. They’ve come to graduate school there. They’re coming there and leaving. If you want to attract immigrants, well, just try to keep the ones who’ve already chosen to come to your place. The same thing is what I’ve always talked about with young college students. You’ve got 50,000 or 60,000 or 70,000 college students in your town. My God, they’ve chosen to live there. Try to encourage them to stick around after graduation and see if they can’t start a business or contribute some energy.

Each one of those quotes applies equally to the Buffalo area.