Let Us Have Done With You
A thing I ask myself a lot is: "Why the hell do I live in New York State?" State and local taxes here combine to the highest per capita figure in the nation. Health insurance premiums are through the roof, owing to our state legislature having mandated coverage for moxibustion, aroma therapy, astral healing, and something called "Thai relief massage" (don't ask me).
We receive 82 cents in services for every $1 we sends in taxes to the feds, ranking us 42nd in federal spending per tax dollar. The place is crawling with Democrats — both our U.S. senators and 23 out of 29 representatives. The roads are impossible within a fifty mile radius of Manhattan. Our offshore waters are a chemical soup. Al Qaeda has us marked on their cave wall maps with a big red target circle. The climate is lousy — heat rash in summer, bronchitis in winter.
And then there's our state government. Where does one start? Perhaps with Sheldon Silver, Speaker of our state assembly since 1994. When not carrying out his legislative duties, Shelly is "of counsel" to Weitz & Luxenberg, the biggest firm of ambulance-chasers in the state. For these services he gets an annual retainer from the firm, widely believed to be in seven figures. How hospitable has our state legislature been to tort-law reform? See if you can guess.
Still, Shelly feels that his efforts on this front may have been insufficient. In January he was called upon to name a member to a state panel that screens appellate and other judges. Whom did he pick? A chap named Arthur Luxenberg, name partner of Weitz & Luxenberg. Whether Luxenberg is the exact guy who signs Silver's retainer checks, I do not know.
Then there's state senate majority leader Joe Bruno, recent subject of an FBI investigation into his consultancy services to an investment firm serving labor unions — unions with regular business before the legislature. Or how about Alan Hevesi, State Comptoller until he resigned on a deal after pleading guilty to defrauding the government? Oh, it's a fun place, New York State.
We might be willing to tolerate crooked pols if they at least got stuff done. What New York State pols mainly do is transfer resources from the private sector to the public sector. The number of state employees increases steadily while business flees the state. A neighbor from upstate tells me that if tumbleweed was native to the northeast U.S., it would be bowling down the streets of Syracuse, Buffalo, Binghamton. The state budget is looking at a deficit of $4.4 billion. With Wall Street tanking — Wall Street provides ten percent of state tax revenues — this will not be getting better any time soon.
For such a dysfunctional state, a dysfunctional governor like Eliot Spitzer was a pretty good match. Spitzer was an overachieving corporate lawyer and grandstanding populist state attorney general before getting himself elected governor fifteen months ago. It's been a long fifteen months.
Spitzer campaigned as a reformer who would clean up the state government and get the state economy back on a productive track. His slogan was: "Day One, everything changes." This is Day 436. We're still waiting.
How has Spitzer failed as Governor? Let me number the ways.
- The resignation of the aforementioned Alan Hevesi in December 2006 meant that Spitzer's first big decision in office was the appointment of a new Comptroller. He turned the appointment into a power struggle with the legislature. The legislature, in the person of Sheldon Silver (who is the legislature, basically) swatted Spitzer aside contemptuously and appointed their own man.
- Picking himself up, Spitzer then took a stand on the 2007 state budget, vowing to reform the entire budget process. Again, the Albany pros shoved him off the sidewalk, passing a budget clotted with new expenses and handouts to powerful labor unions, and increasing the number of state employees.
- Struggling to his feet again, Spitzer sicced the state police on state senate majority leader Joe Bruno, and had his minions sow rumors about the 78-year-old pol. This ended badly — for Spitzer, of course. He was publicly admonished by the state attorney general.
- Bloodied but unbowed, Spitzer launched a scheme to give state driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. This was too much even for New York — even for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a liberal's liberal.
- By the time this year's budget show came round, Spitzer's political position was similar to Sir Thomas Wyatt's at the court of Henry VIII: "They flee from me that sometime me did seek..." He went ahead anyway with a proposal for five percent more state spending and an increased deficit — just the ticket when the state's biggest single source of tax revenue is in a state of panic.
All the TV talking heads are telling me, with their sternest let-him-who-is-without-sin faces on, that it would be wrong, wrong to poke fun at Spitzer, to kick him when he's down, to press for his resignation. We should reserve judgment, they tell me. We should think about his family, they tell me. It's a victimless crime, after all, they tell me.
Well, I and my family have been living for all fifteen months This guy has been presiding over this state. We've been paying the taxes and premiums, seething in the traffic jams, watching the U-Hauls heading west, dealing with surly, feather-bedded state employees. What I say to the talking heads is: The hell with all that. And what I say to Eliot Spitzer is what Oliver Cromwell said to the Rump Parliament: "Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"**
** Go he did, the very next day. And they say bloggers have no influence!