New York has become what America fears. Crushed by costs imposed from Albany, the state suffers from the highest taxes, the largest budget, the greatest debt and the slowest rate of job creation in the country. The polls show America will fight back against Washington in November. But New York state is by now so thoroughly swayed by Gotham a city characterized by Latin American levels of inequality and a Soviet level of political participation that there is little talk of revolt here. Unlike America, New Yorkers have meekly accepted their fate.
This is because the Obama/Pelosi policies of vast, Keynesian public spending is old hat here. New York has been pushing Keynesianism, or what Mario Cuomo called the “New York Idea,” for a half-century of relative decline. For many decades the decline of private industry upstate has been accelerated by the growth of public-sector jobs in health and education, which then have to be paid for with ever higher taxes on manufacturing and agriculture.
You might think that New Yorks tubercular condition stabilized for the moment by the slow morphine drip of the Federal Reserves cut-rate money would be the ideal setting for the sort of political unrest thats stirring in much of the country. After all, New York has had more than its share of scandals. One governor and very nearly two, the state comptroller, the Senate president and literally dozens of members of the Legislature have either been forced to resign or hauled off in cuffs. Yet instead the likes of Charlie “Taxes are for the little guy” Rangel and Pedro “Your man in Mamaroneck” Espada, who represents not so much The Bronx as the employees of his government-funded health-care vote machine, are likely to win their Democratic primaries this Tuesday, and then go on to re-election despite their glaring malfeasances. These are two of our finest shakedown artists no disrespect meant for Rev. Al, who thanks to his friendship with Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama seems to have “earned” an exemption from the tax laws.
But would it really be an improvement if randy, dissipated and bilious Adam Clayton Powell IV replaced Rangel? And with Espada, who famously held the state Senate and hence the entire state government ransom a year ago, the alternative is a representative of the Working Families Party, whose tireless efforts to extract money from the state economy has helped make New York an economic wonderland for public-sector workers.
In a state where the two parties are constituted by billionaires who buy interest groups and public-sector unions that buy politicians, the very idea of the public interest has been vacuumed out of politics.
Both Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have been missing in action as Obama attempts to push the effective combined state and local tax rates for New Yorkers over 50%.
If New York democracy had any life, if the states Republican Party had a pulse, then the unelected and little-loved Sen. Gillibrand, Schumers acolyte, would, with her barely 50% approval rating, have a strong challenger.
In much of the country, the energy of the Tea Partiers has forced both parties to deal with runaway spending. Tea Partiers, notes pollster Scott Rasmussen, are not about governing from the left or the right but about the ideal of self-government. Yet in a state run by and for the big battalions, theres no need for citizens, as evidenced by some of the lowest rates of voter participation in the United States.
In New York, the closest thing we have to Tea Parties is the admirable effort, led by 85-year-old former Mayor Ed Koch and 75-year-old former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern to push members of the Legislature into supporting nonpartisan legislative redistricting so that the state might enjoy competitive elections.
In 2008, a year of intense political activity across America, only four of our 62 incumbent state senators and three of our 150 members of the Assembly were defeated for re-election, while the vast majority were returned with 20-point-plus margins.
There is so little interest in what is essentially an insiders game that over the past decade, of the 2,130 electoral contests for members of the Legislature, only 25 were voted out of office in either a primary or general election.
A few more incumbents than usual may fall come November, and a new governor will arrive to pick off some of the low-hanging fruit. But the underlying dynamics of the states public-sector politics are likely to be little changed. The shake-up will come for New York only when the national revolt against spending ends the stimulus money thats kept New York from bankruptcy in the midst of this global downturn.
When the bill finally comes due, the once great Empire State may awaken from its slumbers and try to catch up with the rest of America.
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