Normal Fear-Mongering Misinformers (updated)

I “stole” the title of this post from the Recorder’s Sunday editorial on Highland Gardens. I think it perfectly captures the local debate not only on Highland Gardens but on a myriad of other issues as well.
Before we take a look at that, I just have to share an anecdote. As I was running errands this weekend, I kept running into folks nervously wrapping their Recorders in brown paper bags or quickly hiding them within other magazines or their purses. Silly me, I had no idea there was a color centerfold on Chalmers demolition. Undoubtedly this will be a local demolitionists collector’s item: shrink wrapped and cherished for generations to come.
Let’s move on.
First off, let’s look at the proposal around the tax caps and water fees. From the Mohawk Valley Independent, we learn this:

“to correct the under-billing of certain metered users.” He went on to say that “This situation is detrimental to the vast majority of taxpayers. A study of this situation was ordered by resolution and a report by McDonald Engineering is anticipated shortly.” Mayor Thane echoed DeCusatis’ comments saying, “As far as the water rates, it had come to our attention that metered properties are paying far less relatively than single-family and two-family properties that pay a flat rate. This is unfair and must be corrected.”

That’s interesting as that’s not how its played by the usual fear mongers. To them, the issue automatically is framed as a tax hike. Mayor Thane wants to raise taxes!
If you actually read what is stated, you realize that misinformation is too kind a term for how you’re being played. Or, I hate to spill the secret, how seniors are getting played. Here’s how it works.
To the fear mongers, every issue surroudning budgets and fiscal policy gets cast as an issue exclusively centered on its impact on seniors and specifically, seniors who will lose their homes at any tax increase above zero. Now, if the policies and actions of those so concerned with the fate of these seniors positively impacted at-risk seniors and if we could indeed point to cases of seniors losing homes en masse solely due to tax increases–for which no statistical evidence exists, then I would find no fault. Indeed I would find it noble to help those so unfortunate. But what is being played is hardly noble. Follow me for a bit.
if you really, deeply, truly cared for seniors on the verge of losing their homes you would absolutely have to support the following as these inititives would lower overall taxes on seniors:
1) A sales tax increase to offset property tax increases
2) An elimination of the usage fee cap per above to lower user fees on single family homes
3) The sale of the former Bacon school to the Buddhists as the dollars from the sale must be used to offset higher property taxes
4) A utility tax increase by the GASD to offset property taxes
Maybe I missed it but it appears that the fear mongers stridently oppose 1 through 4. How can that be? If I am so dedicated to the lessening the plight of the group for which I advocate why would I not support the very things to help them?
What is tragic in this policy failure is that indeed some seniors face difficult economic challenges and rather than work on viable policies that actually help these seniors, the fear mongers only serve to help themselves and in no way help those they so famously represent. THink how good a job they’ve done protecting our seniors: they’ve garnered seniors abysmal returns on the asset values of their homes while lowering the quality of services delivered to them.
They could care less of any tradeoffs or informed decisions around fiscal policy. To them, you can hold on to the delusion that no tradeoffs or compromises exist between services and taxes and that the best policies get crafted not from a collective cost/benefit but the cost/benefit that accrues to them.
I have no issue advocating for self-interest– I do it all the time. I have an issue when someone claims the mantle of other’s interests when their actions counter to their claims. In this case, it is more than clear that actions fall short of words.
So when I look at the discussion on tax caps, I’m struck by two things:
1) Inequity — why should I continue to pay more as a single family than I otherwise should? Or put differently: why should I subsidize others who can claim no basis such as need or distress for said subsidy?
2) Incentives — why are there incentives via lower fees for multi-units versus simgle family? Again, if you claim such elasticity on tax rates whereby small tax increases garner huge losses in population, should not the opposite hold true: if you lower single family rates, you will radically drive up demand and similarly on multi-unit, drive down demand?
Again, it’s quite clear that Inequity and Incentives drive the discussion on policy here but the normal fear mongers never want to consider tax policy beyond the tax rate. It’s utterly nonsensical to ignore how taxes get levied and their relative fairness to the residents of the city. But that’s what the fear mongers want and expect and will misinform through every mdeium available: the preferred medium being the local airwaves but evident through comments on the blogosphere as well.
Let’s move on to the GASD budget and school board race.
I’ll agree to a large extent with Charlie Kraebel on the farce of the process and I’ll also grant that fear mongery has many practitioners.
That said, I tend to differ on the widely held notion that once again, the budget and board exclusively serve the tax payer. While I vehemently disagree with the governance of the past and present boards, I will grant them this point: the role of the GASD board is to balance the interests of multiple stakeholders: tax payers, teachers, students, community-at-large. Like most public institiutions this is not an easy tension to resolve but it is patently absurd to claim — as the majority of current candidates for the school board claim — that the tax payer is the top concern.
In no way do I mean to suggest that I prefer higher taxes nor that we are doing the best we can financially. What I am saying is that I want the board to be balanced in how they allocate financial resources and priorities and also that there exist tradeoffs in acacemic outcomes and financials. It’s utterly laughable to have expectaions that we can reduce taxes year-after-year in light of escalating costs and in light of the fact that the teachers unions will not accept a negative trending salary and in light of a downward trend in academic performance. It’s simply nonsensical.
It’s also nonsensical to not assess academic impacts or performance. Apparently some of the school board candidates believe that we can raise graduation rates, deal with children in need and improve academic performance by increasing class sizes and spending less year-after-year. Think about their philosophy: the reason kids are not achieving academically is that we spend too much on resources. We have too many academic programs and electives for our kids– that’s what’s brining scores down. Moreover, we have too many teachers, teaching too much, and our kids heads are so full of knowledge, they are actually too smart for the tests and hence don’t do well. That’s why cutting resources fixes all these problems. And not just cutting today but for all perpetuity as far as I can tell.
WTF. And yet, a large number of folks buy this. Any wonder we are where we are? The local community and its voters own the performance of the district as well — the board gets elected and the relative investment in the schools and its prioritization reflects, in large measure, the will of the people.
Even more troubling is the underlying tone directed at Hispanics and Latinos as solely responbsible for the issues facing the school district. I hate to remind readers but we’ve been down this road before and it did not work out too well for us. But Amsterdam is a city destined to repeat and relive every past failure , thanks in large part, to the usual cast committed to the usual stuff who remembers a halcyon history of the city completely devoid of actual events. I’m quite certain this will not play out well and I sincerely hope I’m wrong.
FInally , I am no longer endorsing school board candidates as whoever I endorse never gets elected. I will say I am only pulling the lever for one candidate who in my view, promises to bring a balanced perspective to governing the board and who I feels grasps the importance that the board is meant to serve multiple stakeholders, not just one.
The local fear mongers have done a masterful job on misinforming, propagandizing and demagoguing against the very thing they bring about — higher taxes, lower quality services and a stagnant local economy.
It’s a hat trick.
Update 1: Per Mohawk valley Independent, the GASD budget passes with 883 yes to 673 no. Last year per the Recorder, the budget vote was 712 yes to 1450 no. So from a budget side, turnout was down 28%. 
Apathy rules the day in the GASD yet again. Unbelievable at such a pathetic turnout. 
And of course, my curse still holds with Kathy Hans defeated. You can expect further erosion of academics and the quality of the district based upon the stated objectives and strategy of the newly elected candidates. But as voters remain wholly indifferent to academic performance, believing in the fear-mongering misinformers instead, it is no surprise that they can push through their agenda given the utter apathy by the larger community. Apparently the correlation between home values, tax rates and quality of the district matters not nor how we continue to treat symptoms versus the problem. It’s disheartening to say the least to see no chance for improvement in the school district and hence its negative impact on home values. 

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7 Responses

  1. diane says:

    What you are not addressing were GD’s comments at the council meeting where he said, “there will not be any adjustment to the 1 and 2 family homes, only to the multi units”. How fair is that? They will increase the multi to bring it up to where it needs to be, but not reduce the 1-2 family so they can get money back that they have been over paying for years?? Where is the fairness in that? There needs to be a full study of what it will cost to meter everyone and come up with a solution that benefits those that pay the highest in taxes the 1-2 family. This is only common sense. The city should reduce the taxes/fees that one and two families have been paying all along instead of wanting to continue to collect those, plus increased fees/taxes in multi units. This is fair and should be looked into.

    • flippinamsterdam says:

      Thanks for illustrating the radio talking point that GD controls the budget. Apparently the budget committee, in which corporation counsel has absolutely no role, is subject to his dictates nonetheless.
      Of course, the fact that a former assessor is credited with the tax cap , which suggests a role utterly outside the provisions of the charter , is awesome and the way budgets and legislation should be enacted. In that case, charter be damned. Please point me to the charter provision granting the assessor that authority.
      Let’s keep those arguments on the airwaves, not here.

  2. wildthane says:

    Diane, The rates will be looked at by the Budget Committee, discussed and decided on by that body – no one else. To continue to vilify Corporation Counsel, who discovered this inequity and brought it to our attention, is an injustice.

  3. robert purtell says:

    being not familiar with the rate discussion, I would suggest that the only equitable way to distribute the cost of the water system would be to meter everyone, pay for play if you will. This consideration was the recommendation of the water board in the late 70’s, I beleive it was also the demise of the water board and their short tenure.

  4. diane says:

    I can remember not paying over 80.00 a qtr for my daughter and myself in CLT. We know that the city has been way over charging the 1-2 families for years and under charging the multi units. The only fair way is to meter everyone. Require the multi units to have meters installed in one year. Then next July 1st, they start having their meters read. Then since the 1-2 families have been paying over and above, the city will set up a 2-3 year meter installation plan at the city’s expense, and as soon as they have a meter they can monitor it for one year and then come up with a rate based on the monitoring. Meters would be read quarterly and residents will all pay a metered amount. This is an idea that can be discussed by the aldermen, but should not be part of this years budget process as there is a lot going on without making this part of this year’s budget. One more year will not make that much difference in the long run.

    • Rob Millan says:

      Your approach (and ‘formula’) may need some correction. While it may be true that single- and two-family homes pay more than multi-unit ones, you assume that making a switch to metered use would yield an automatic savings. This seems false, as the only people that would see a savings would be those that, well, use less water. As it stands now, the flat-rate use for those people obviously doesn’t take usage into consideration, so the question of savings is moot to that extent.
      To add, considering your usual cost-savings approach of doing less with less, I’d say forcing meters upon everyone would be a pretty costly endeavor. It seems that any ‘savings’ (that’s if someone actually used only a little water, by your approach) would be initially washed by the purchase of the meter, no? Or shall the City bear the burden and then need to raise taxes or fees (and in effect defeat the purpose) for purchasing these meters?
      I see the objective here, I just don’t think an all-meter approach is going to yield the savings you think.
      Rather than bash Mr. DeCusatis, please consider he has a math background from one of the best schools in the world. I would trust his judgment or any input he has to offer in a situation like this.

  5. wildthane says:

    “People don’t like the true and simple; they like fairy tales and humbug.” ~ Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, Journal, 2 March 1861

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