Archive from May, 2013
16 May
2013
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Bungalow Bill’s Bungle

I’ve written on mayoral candidate “Bungalow” Bill de Blasio’s inanity before (Bungalow Bill) and on Thursday afternoon his latest suggestion hit our email inbox. De Blasio, who is currently using his public office’s mailing list as little more than an information dissemination vehicle for his mayoral campaign, provided an email outlining an effort to make New York City “A Safe, Open City for Immigrants.”De Blasio has a five part plan, the most troublesome aspect of which is part three, where he promises to “End City Collaboration with the Abusive Federal Detention and Deportation Process.”

De Blasio’s proposes ending the City’s co-operation with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) division of the Department of Homeland Security. To quote de Blasio “Federal officials regularly submit ‘detainer requests’ (also known as ‘ICE holds’ or ‘immigration holds’) to local law enforcement and Department of Corrections officials. These requests ask local officials to detain an arrested immigrant for up to 48 beyond when he or she would otherwise be entitled to be released, based solely on immigration status…This policy forcibly deputizes local officials and devotes scarce local police resources to enforcing federal immigration law.”

De Blasio’s hortatory on ICE co-operation, which becomes more tedious and less grammatical the further one reads, finishes with a suggestion that New York City enact legislation to “End cooperation with all federal detainers, except those pertaining to arrestees who have been convicted of violent and serious felonies, including drug and human trafficking. Detainers for those with previous misdemeanor convictions will not be honored. Under this proposal, the City will continue to honor ICE detainers for individuals suspected of terrorism and gang activity.”

Although De Blasio’s entire proposal presents all sorts of problems, I’ll confine myself to two. First, you may remember the Arizona immigration case that recently came before the Supreme Court. In the case, Arizona passed a law that, among other things, required police officers to determine immigration status when making a lawful stop. De Blasio called the law “un-American” and claimed it did “nothing to address the pressing problems of our broken immigration system,” and favored the Supreme Court striking down the immigration law. Much as de Blasio hoped, the Court ruled that Federal authority over immigration law was pre-eminent, that Congress “has specified which aliens may be removed from the United States and the procedures for doing so.”

Long story short, the Federal Government gets to exercise authority over immigration, alien status, and removal, and it gets to tell local governments what to do. That includes 8 U.S.C.  §1373“Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal, State, or local law, a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”

So while de Blasio can criticize the Arizona immigration law all he wants, the decision striking down that law, which he’s supported, requires him to obey Federal law. He’s suggested that New York City flout federal law instead.

On to my second point; de Blasio blithely ignores a federal program known as the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (“SCAAP”). To help local police departments, the federal government enacted SCAAP to provide grants to aid in ICE immigration detention. These funds can be used by local law enforcement for all sorts of things, ranging from hiring guards at the jail, to overtime costs, to developing disaster preparedness plans, medical treatment for those suspected of immigration violations, construction of correctional facilities, vehicle rentals and purchases, officer training, and a whole host of other activities. To receive SCAAP funds, local governments are expected to co-operate with ICE detention requests.

Since 2008, New York City has received $65 million in SCAAP funds. That’s a lot of SCAAP funds. Chicago only received $15 million. Of course, this $65 million not only triggers a moral obligation to assist ICE (since that’s what they’re paying you for), but more importantly that $65 million represents people’s salaries, medical care for immigrants, and officer training, and it hinges on co-operation with ICE.

Why does Mr. de Blasio believe he can break federal law, and why does he favor a plan which puts grant money flowing to New York City at risk?

14 May
2013
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Scandalmania!

Yesterday, on the radio program “The Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this:

“What I’m trying mightily to do is not allow the Scandalmania–’cuz you know how the press is with scandals and that becomes all-consuming–I don’t want that to eclipse the session and I don’t want it to derail the session because we have a lot of good work to do out there for New Yorkers who just want their government to function,”

This quote is pretty interesting. First, Cuomo has the audacity to complain that the press is covering Democratic legislators’ arrests. That’s what the press is supposed to do. The press isn’t making these Democrats break the law. And Second, Cuomo’s logic doesn’t make much sense. He wants the press to stop talking about the scandals because “New Yorkers just want their government to function,” but it is because of the scandals that the government is not functioning.

Here are some more about Scandalmania!

The ‘Complicated, but All Bad’ Scandal in New York’s State Legislature

FBI had eye on nine Democrats

New York corruption probe: Names released of 7 elected officials recorded by disgraced state Sen. Shirley Huntley
For Officials on Tape, Legislator’s Invitation Was Ruse

Officials Named in Huntley’s Wire List Proclaim Innocence at Varying Speeds

13 May
2013
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IRS Targets Conservative Groups

The revelation that the IRS “decided to target” conservative groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their name is truly disturbing.  One of the most troubling aspects to this breach of trust is that no one seems to know who is responsible.

The American colonists protested “taxation without representation”. Today we have taxation without accountability. Those involved with targeting specific groups may be fired, but the underlining issues won’t be fixed. Under the constitution, Congress has the power to levy taxes—yet the responsibility of enforcing those taxes have fallen to nameless bureaucratsthat cannot be held accountable by voters.  Thus, the IRS department that oversees tax-exempt groups and has the ability to decide which of those groups are tax-exempt or not targeted for extra scrutiny and perhaps even harassment groups with tea-party or patriot in their name. Tomorrow it could be another group or criteria. The issue isn’t that they targeted conservative groups, but that the IRS is able to target political groups’ period. And this is yet another reminder that our tax code needs reform.

Reuters reports ““Exactly who at the IRS made the decisions to start applying extra scrutiny was not clear….” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) told NBC, “Somebody made the decision.” And on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) said, “There has to be accountability for the people who did it.”

How can we have “accountability” for that nameless, vague “somebody” who made and encouraged “the decision” to “target” specific political groups?

10 May
2013
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A Republican Plan

Peter Wehner has an interesting article today titled “The Republican Party’s Road Back to Victory” on RealClearPolitics. His ideal road is to be “the party of reform and modernization” and he gives five areas for Republicans to concentrate.

They are:

Entitlement reform

Tax code reform

Immigration

Education

Energy

I would add one other point. The Republican Party should focus their efforts on being the party of “reform and modernization” in the cities. New York City is a good place to start.

9 May
2013
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Dems Corruption Continues

2013 for New York Democrats is turning into a nightmare of their own making. Six more New York City Democrats are under federal criminal investigations. Those named in the investigation are John Sampson, Eric Adams and Velmanette Montgomery of Brooklyn; Malcolm Smith (again, see below) and Jose Peralta of Queens; and Ruth Hassell-Thompson of The Bronx. Ex-senator Shirley Huntley (Dem.) wore a wire exposing the others to help herself win some leniency in her own criminal investigation.  Senate Democratic spokesman Michael Murphy commented, “This is an extremely trying time in Albany.” I agree for Democrats. For Republicans this can be a time to showcase an alternative to corrupt Democrat NYC politics.

3 May
2013
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Alfred E. Neuman and Obama Aren’t Worried…Should you be?

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On April 19, 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services announced an $8 million contract with public relations firm Weber Shadwick to educate the public about various aspects of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA,” aka Obamcare). The contract follows a previous public relations contract with Weber Shadwick for $3.1 million, and another with PR firm Porter Novelli in May of 2012 for $20 million.

To date, it doesn’t seem that the public education campaigns have had much effect. According to the Kaiser Foundation, 57% of Americans have nary a clue about how the ACA will impact them, including 67% of those who are uninsured. More than half of Americans think that the ACA created a public option (it didn’t), 7% think the Supreme Court struck down the ACA, and 78%  indicate that they haven’t heard enough about the law to know how it will affect them.

Of course, surveys indicate that 73% of Americans don’t know why we fought the Cold War, and 29% don’t know the name of the Vice President (ignorance is bliss, after all) so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised at America’s lack of understanding about the ACA.

But we’d at least expect President Obama to be in the know about how the ACA is working out. At a rare press question and answer session on Tuesday, President Obama informed us all that “a huge chunk of its [the ACA] already been implemented…for the 85 to 90 percent of Americans who already have health insurance, this thing’s already happened, and the impact is that their insurance is stronger, better, more secure than it was before. Full stop. That’s it. Now they don’t have to worry about anything else… On those high risk pools, those who can’t afford it, we’re going to provide them with some subsidies. That’s it. I mean, that’s what’s left to implement because the other stuff’s been implemented and it’s working fine.”

Whew. Big sigh of relief. Most of Obamacare has already been implemented, 85% to 90% of Americans don’t have to worry about anything else, and the high risk pools are going just swimmingly, thank you very much.

Except that the President’s wrong. All that’s been implemented so far are a Medicare drug benefit change, and increasing the mandate for insurers to cover children up to age 26. Still left are the mandates to buy coverage, the increase in taxes and fees that are coming down the pike, massive regulations that tower over 7 feet when printed out, and, let’s not forget, the state run exchanges that are so far behind schedule that even Max Baucus, one of the bill’s primary proponents, called them a “train wreck.” Enrollment in the exchanges begins on October 31, 2013, with coverage starting January 1, 2014.

85% to 90% of us have nothing to worry about? Surely the President isn’t counting the 7 million workers whom the Congressional Budget Office expects will lose their job based coverage due to Obamamcare, or the millions of senior citizens that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said will lose their private Medicare Advantage Plans once the law’s sharp payment cuts go into effect. What about the insurance rate increases that Blue Cross and other health insurers have announced because they have to comply with Obamacare’s many market regulations? Maryland’s largest insurer announced a 15% rate hike, and in Missouri rates are expected to go up 89%. Not a thing to worry about.

Thank heaven at least the implementation of the high risk pools are going great. Well, except for the fact that they’ve only attracted a third of the expected amount of applicants, and even at that rate they’re already over budget.

Maybe the good folks at Weber Shadwick and Porter Novelli can spend some of their PR money educating the President about the bill. If he doesn’t understand it, how can we?

1 May
2013
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The Continuing Story of Bill’s Bungalow

On Monday, subscribers to Bill de Blasio’s New York City Public Advocate email list received what looked to be a thought provoking email from the Democratic primary candidate; a query asking “Where has all the affordable housing gone?” Unfortunately, Mr. de Blasio’s email proved little more than a screed setting forth tired Democratic tropes about raising taxes, mandating construction, and subsidizing housing. Since Mr. de Blasio didn’t answer his own question, we’ll take the opportunity to steer him in the right direction. Indeed, Mr. de Blasio needs look no further than his own backyard…because he has one, literally.

There are many reasons New York City lacks affordable housing (rent stabilization, burdensome regulation, lack of available land), but one of the most pernicious is the way in which property taxes are allocated. Reading about taxes is about as soul crushing as attending a Nickelback concert, so please bear with me.

New York City is blessed with a property tax system that is simultaneously arcane and archaic, but it breaks down roughly into four different property classifications. Class One properties are individual houses, residential properties of up to three units, and most condos under four stories. Class Two properties are taller condo buildings, most co-ops, and larger rental buildings.  We’re only going to discuss Class One and Class Two, the classes pertaining to housing, so Class Three (Utilities) and Class Four (Commercial/Industrial), won’t to concern us here.

Class One properties, and those Class Two properties which are condos and co-ops are typically taxed at a far lower effective rate than the remainder of Class Two properties, which are larger rental buildings. Therefore, if you live in a large rental building, you’re typically paying a far higher effective tax rate than folks living in a house. As a tenant of a large rental building, this tax is invisible, because it is incorporated into your rent; essentially, your landlord passes the tax on to you.

So just how bad is the disparity between property taxes paid by residents of houses, condos, and co-ops on the one hand and residents of large rental buildings on the other? Property taxes on large rental buildings are about 5 times as high as those on houses, condos and co-ops. While Class One properties make up about 49% of the City’s total real estate value, their share of the City’s property tax revenue is only 15%. Out of the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, New York City has one of the lowest tax rates on individual housing, coming in at number 44. Meanwhile, taxes on large rental housing are the second highest in the country.

Judging from his campaign photos and his statements, Mr. de Blasio is a homeowner in Park Slope, which puts him squarely in the Class One category. Those larger rental buildings which pay 5 times as much as Mr. de Blasio are typically found in New York’s less affluent areas, such as Inwood and the Bronx, where residents are often young, poor, or minorities, and usually a combination thereof. Simply stated, Mr. de Blasio’s lower tax rate is subsidized in effect, by the higher taxes paid by residents of larger apartment buildings, who can less afford it.

To answer to Mr. de Blasio’s question, “Where has all the affordable housing gone?” is pretty simple: to benefit Mr. de Blasio and his ilk.

If Mr. de Blasio is truly earnest about increasing the availability of affordable housing, one of the first proposals he can champion is to make New York’s property tax system equitable for all its residents by flattening the rates. Raising taxes on those Class One properties and Class Two properties which are condos and co-ops, and lowering taxes on the large rental housing predominantly occupied by the City’s poor and lower middle class families, would be one positive -step towards making housing affordable for all our City’s residents.