Well here we are after another rush to pass an on-time budget in the state, an effort that seems to dwarf any sort of logic or actual in-depth study of what's in the budget. The date for passing it is the thing, you see. (No, I don't really, but I guess that's just me)
Well, time for some questions I'd say, questions that ought to be directed at our elected leaders from this area.
Here's a decent question, in my opinion; why are we cutting money to private agencies that provide services to the disabled, 6 percent from what I've read, while the state is patting itself on the back for giving Ralph Wilson $54 million to renovate Ralph Wilson Stadium? And why is it $54 million when naming rights to the stadium are said to be worth at least $4 million? We have the money to hand to Ralph, but not to the disabled? While handing out the cash nobody thought to tell Ralph, "By the way, your name is off the sign"? Didn't taxpayers build that stadium? When did Ralph take ownership? I guess I missed that.
Our illustrious governor is saying that those cuts should come from excessive management positions in the private agencies. He thinks they have too many and are paid too much money. The leader of this state making a statement like that may be the worst case of "the pot calling the kettle black" in history! As I've said before, every agency in this state is an upside down pyramid, with the management structure filled with political hacks rewarded for political support with six-figure jobs in agencies they are not qualified to lead, like Howard Milstein, Andrew Cuomo's choice to chair the Thruway Authority, a man with absolutely ZERO experience in anything remotely resembling transportation or engineering, but a large donor to the governor's campaign; this from a governor who ran for office on a platform to change how New York state does business.
I could go on and on for many paragraphs on other appointments made that are just as ridiculous and just as expensive. How does a governor get away with that? I will admit that many people that run private care facilities, even charitable foundations, make obscenely high salaries in far too many cases, but that being said, nobody over hires at the top more than the state of New York. (Well, OK, the federal government I'm sure is neck and neck on that score)
I did say quite clearly in an earlier article that in my opinion the largest perpetrator of Medicaid fraud in the country was New York state. Well, guess what? If you read carefully, you'll find that the main reason cuts are being made to the entire system, private and state run, which cares for the disabled, is that New York state owes the federal government approximately $3 billion for overcharging! If any private group had done the same, warrants would be issued for arrests! This was a deliberate scam the state has gotten away with for decades, until just last year.
The governor's budget has restored some of the cuts to local school districts. That's nice. Wouldn't it be nicer if he removed at least some of the ridiculously expensive unfunded mandates instead? I'd bet schools could lower taxes if that happened. I doubt they would, but they could.
As long as the subject of schools and expenses is on the table, how about one simple change statewide that would save at least $150,000 per school? You might ask what magic trick would do that. Well, it's not magic. Just fold seventh and eighth grade into the high school, call it junior high, put everyone else into the elementary school and eliminate the middle school principal, whatever support staff he has and the office and equipment and letterhead forms and paper. I have no doubt, at least $150,000 off your school bill. If nothing else, it saves a couple of teachers. That system worked just fine for decades, and I'm sure it'll work now.
Back to the care for the disabled, the impact of Gov. Cuomo's new system for investigating abuse has already started to take its toll, with dozens of people suspended, interrogated and the like, all costing thousands of tax dollars with no results. That committee is already costing millions of dollars without doing one thing. That totally unnecessary committee, a result of a New York Times article filled with sensationalist but mostly misleading "facts", will continue to grow, will continue to siphon money from client care to bureaucratic appointments for political hacks loyal to the Governor.
As we speak the local DDSO is hiring more supervisors at a cost of almost $60,000 a piece and the justification is well, I don't know. Each treatment team had one previously, basically an assistant to the team leader. Now, there is a need for 2? Is it more work or incompetence on display? The same could be said at upper levels. Yet New York says that private agencies need to cut at the top. I might add that merging DDSO's did not work out. The savings of the salaries for a couple of Directors was far exceeded by the hiring of dozens of extra managers to oversee the increasingly sprawling collection of homes, day habilitation sites and various non-clinical buildings.
I haven't seen much that would tell me things are changing in this state, other than a lot of commercials telling me they are. Taxes are still high, decisions are still made by "three men in a room" nothing has been done to rein in authorities or the far too numerous Industrial Development Agencies, and certainly nothing has changed in New York state's methods of law enforcement, resulting in thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal costs for prosecution, trials and incarceration. (New York City's "stop and frisk" nonsense comes to mind)
The last I knew, New York is still planning to build transmission lines from Canada to New York City and purchasing power from Canada while questions exist as to the long term need for power plants already here.
I wonder how many businesses could have stayed in New York if that $54 million for improving "The Ralph" had gone for tax breaks instead.
Schools, unfortunately, are a very schizophrenic situation. Everyone wants to save money and lower taxes, but nobody wants to close their school or lose their sports identity or close their buildings! Of course unfunded mandates are the largest reason school taxes are an issue, but another is the lowered tax base from industry leaving or downsizing. Industry in New York has always been a "cash cow" for the state.
So, are you all confident? Are you feeling better about life under Cuomo? I say New York state government is much like a hamster running on a wheel. We just change hamsters every so often, either the color or the breed, but we still depend on a system of "spinning wheels" and basically running in place.
Paul Christopher is a Dunkirk resident.