Thursday, October 22, 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
How to improve our city
The Poverty Problem in Rochester
How to reduce violence in Rochester
Making our neighborhoods safer
Corporate Welfare in Rochester Makes us Poorer
Movie on Corporate Welfare
Posted by Alex White at 8:19 PM
Monday, November 3, 2014
In school we were taught that American Democracy is a two party system. Rather than having one party in control we have two and they compete against each other which brings out the best in our political system. The problem is every election I look at all the races being run in our county and find that this is not true. This year we have 35 non judicial races at all level in all parts of Monroe County from receiver of taxes to governor of the state. In these races only 17, less than half, are contested and of these only 14 have a democrat and republican in the race. While shocking this just a little low for an election in Monroe county where only 56% of all races in the last decade have been contested. Most distressing is that recently this number is has been trending down not up. This is not an isolated trend in politics as Monroe County is more competitive than most. The rural counties around Monroe have far fewer contested races. There are many reasons for this from gerrymandering, to conservation of party resources, but I think that the real reason for our one party system falls on us the voters. Too often our only knowledge of a candidate is their party affiliation. Too often we let national party identifiers define local candidates. So we assume that the democrat is pro-choice and the republican pro-life or that republicans are gun lovers and democrats are for Obama Care. Thus we too often vote for a candidate not on qualifications, programs, or even performance but on party. This makes it almost impossible to defeat even the worst incumbent in a district with a majority for their party. The result is a one party rule almost where ever you are. The problem with this is that we are the losers when politics get stale. Lacking challenges our leaders have little incentive to tackle hard problems. They are not held accountable for their actions, and their is no discussion of alternative solutions to our problems. The solution is simple -- the voters need to start paying attention and become informed -- but this is never going to happen. There are just too many other things to do. Further we are too afraid that the other party will do terrible things if elected like take our guns, or turn our nation into a socialist state. So even though we all feel our current leaders are terrible we return them at rate higher than the Soviet Union did their Politburo! Unfortunately until we start voting against the incumbent there is little hope for real change.
Posted by Alex White at 6:34 AM
Thursday, August 28, 2014
A recent article in the paper about COSTCO has once more brought up the problems with College Town. Perhaps you remember this project on Mt Hope which was to have a bus terminal, grocery store, book store, gym and other retail but now is an office park for the Strong Hospital. The city, state and county have given the developer more than $60 million for an office park for the largest employee and one of the colleges with a more than $1 billion endowment. Well COSTCO is going into a project called Citygate built by Anthony J. Costello & Son Development, less than 3 miles away. Citygate is a $177 million project which was already getting $32 million in tax breaks to build a COSTCO, street of shops, 300 apartments, hotel, and parking garage. As Costello was clearing the site they discovered a few unforeseen problems in the 42 acre of the project. This meant an additional $3.7 million in expenses. The odd part is that COMIDA with the full support of the city and county gave them $11.7 million more. Now this project was already approved and development was moving ahead. The main Anchor store of the project was almost signed. We had already given a very generous package to Costello and they agreed at the time this was enough. They have also been in business long enough to know that every project has unforeseen expenses and to plan that into the costs. They also were not going to stop the project if this money did not come through. Under these circumstances it seems unbelievable that we would give them more. It is interesting that in the story the head of Neighborhood and Business Development Del Smith, claims that without this we would not be fair to Citygate as its package was so much less than College Town. So we get to the crux of the problem. The package of government support was so generous for College Town that Citygate could demand more money. While this may seem fair to Costello what about all the small projects which receive no help, no tax breaks, and no government support for 75% of their debt. These people just have a harder time competing or never start at all. Further any large project now has a precedent for getting huge government assistance even though these projects are done by some of the richest in our area. So we are widening the income gap by using our taxes, making it harder for small businesses to compete, and making it harder to stop the subsidies. Not bad for a days work by our government.
Posted by Alex White at 10:42 AM
There is presently a fight in NY over teacher tenure. While the case has been filed in NYC there is a local Rochester connection as two parents have joined on to this case. One of these, Mona Pradia has a student in the eighth grade who had an excellent co-teacher four years ago. This teacher was suppose to follow her child to the fifth grade but was laid off in one of Rochester's yearly budget crisis. Mona claims the replacement teacher did not work as well for her child. I do not know all the details but what I do know is that tenure is not the villain here, budget shortages are. Our state refuses to fund our schools adequately and our city has refused to increase the schools taxes for a decade. It is interesting that Mona did not sign onto this until a meeting at City Hall. Which is interesting as this is the city government which has refused increase funds for the schools for a decade and is really responsible layoff. Now tenure may not be a perfect system but it was instituted for very good reasons. Teaching is after all a government job and before there was tenure elected officials used teaching as a way to reward campaign workers, friends and family. Teaching is a skill and to make it a patronage job would be a much worse problem. If you think this would not happen consider that in 3 of the last 4 mayoral changes the incoming mayor preformed an almost clean sweep of all positions they could. This has resulted in upheaval which makes the schools yearly lay offs look fine. So perhaps tenure is not such a bad idea.
Posted by Alex White at 9:34 AM
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
With election season in full swing it is time for the governor hand out some money. So in time for the election, but not too soon to yield any data, NY is rolling out Start Up NY. This program was sold to the public as a way to create new jobs by helping start up companies. These companies who partner with a local universities and get a 10 year grace period for taxes for them and their employees. Recently the Start Up board announced some winners in the Rochester Area as three location were approved for the U of R. Two are at the old Kodak Park site and the other is in Henrietta. Even if this program made sense the board fails to understand that neither of these are near the U of R. Of course these applicants for this space are not start up companies either and at least one is just relocating to these tax free zones. While this may seem like a misuse of the program the web site for Start Up NY encourages this sort of behavior. The problems with this program are many, but there is an underlying premise to this program that makes some sense. Start up companies have a lot of disadvantages, it is almost impossible for them to raise capital and they can not afford to hire the workers they need. Thus the state providing incentives would make some sense as it would decrease the failure rate of a start up company. The problem is that this program is not focusing on start up companies nor is it trying to help students at major university turn their ideas into businesses nor does it even see proximity as a requirement. It is being used like every other corporate welfare program the state has ever tried, just a way to give some businesses huge tax breaks. The granting of tax breaks to big business has a long history but has few results. Despite the good intentions of these programs they tend to go companies already in the state who use relocation to lower their costs. All these programs seem to specialize in helping the well connected and frequently use local tax breaks to fund these state projects. In effect they are unfunded mandates. COMIDA is a perfect example this uses local tax breaks to fund this state program thus costing local towns money with little positive return. Supporters claim that the jobs created put millions into the local economy through wages which offsets the lost taxes but this is not how they really work. After all giving tax breaks does not lower the amount of money needed by government it only means the rest of the people have to pay more. With property taxes this means rents go up and property values stagnate so everyone has to pay more for housing. As some of this housing is funded by government money that means taxes need to go up more and a cycle of rising costs is created. The affect is everyone has less money to spend. As our economy is fueled by consumer spending this means less growth everywhere but for the favored few with tax breaks. Which usually means no real job growth. This is held up by the numbers as Ny state job growth during the last decade has mirrored population growth for the state. Finally our economy is based upon competition. When tax breaks are granted to one company that company has a competitive edge allowing them to make a higher profit or lower prices than their competitors. Even when this results in job growth it is often at the expense of other firms without tax breaks. This is particularly evident when tax breaks are granted to commercial businesses. Just because a new restaurant opens that does not mean that more people will pay to go out to eat. Most patrons who attend the new restaurant would have gone to some other place and usually spent roughly the same amount of money. AS a result their is no real growth in our economy. Despite a long history of failure in the job creation market our leaders seem to have no other tool than tax breaks for economic development. Yet investments in education, infrastructure, and health care all have proven track records for economic growth. Our government could also start investing in the future. They could make start up money available, require banks to loan money in local areas, invest in new technologies, or even try new deal style work programs. Despite these options it seems that neither Astorino nor Cuomo have any plan other than tax breaks. Thus barring a Howie Hawkins miracle it looks like 4 more years of austerity for the rest of us.
Posted by Alex White at 7:46 PM