In Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State speech, he complained that New York sends more money to Washington than we get back, resulting in our being shortchanged as a donor state. This is nothing new.
Cuomo continues to play from the old liberal Democratic playbook. Sen. Charles Schumer, Sen Kirsten Gillibrand, NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio, along with most of our Congress members continue to blame Washington for all of our problems. So did their political ancestors, from past decades. All have an insatiable appetite for more and more federal assistance, with no concern about increasing the confiscatory level of taxation to generate the revenues, along with increasing long-term borrowing to pay for this or how the billions of dollars are spent. They believe throwing more taxpayer dollars at problems will solve all of society’s ills.
Moving tax dollars from Washington to New York state redistributes the wealth from the haves to the have-nots. Decades ago, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan decades ago documented how New Yorkers sent more money to Washington than we got. Many of the 50 states could make the same argument. This imbalance also holds true in the distribution of state aid from Albany to the 62 counties of New York state. Within NYC, residents of Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Bronx and Manhattan (or each of the fifty-nine community planning boards) don’t always get back the same amount of money sent to City Hall, Albany and Washington. Within any of our 62 counties, you could take this analysis down to every city, town, village and local census tract in New York state.
Since this imbalance will never change, we would be better off leaving tax levies at the most local level of government. There will be significant savings in administrative costs and a greater percentage of locally generated revenues remaining in our communities. Generating, keeping and spending local funds in your community also allows greater accountability and oversight by public officials and citizens from the neighborhood.
The real question is how New York manages the billions of dollars they are receiving from Washington every year. Does New York submit grant applications on time? Are current federally funded programs being completed on time and within budget? Are all federally funded grant staff positions filled? Employees are needed to manage projects and programs to ensure compliance with federal rules and regulations. Are construction projects being completed according to original specifications with few if any change orders? Is there any waste, fraud or abuse for expenditures of any taxpayers dollars? Has Comptroller Tom DiNapoli conducted audits of each respective state agency and authority to see if they are doing a good job managing current federal aid programs? Have Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan or Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie conducted public hearings to do the same? Has either Flanagan or Heastie ever asked any of their respective legislative committee chairpersons to do this?
The State Departments of Transportation, Education, Health, Housing, Economic Development Corporation, Metropolitan Transportation Authority along with many other state agencies and authorities have to submit Quarterly milestone and Financial progress reports with their respective federal agency counterparts who review and approve funding from Washington. They document the progress being made by the recipient of federal funding. The reports might make interesting reading for those who want to find out how the State Department of Transportation, the MTA, other state agencies and authorities are spending the billions from Washington.
It is difficult to convince Washington for more money when Uncle Sam faces annual short-term deficits of several hundred billion dollars, accompanied by a long-term national debt of $21 trillion dollars.
We should learn from past mistakes and attempt to reduce both borrowing and long-term debt, instead of allowing them to grow yearly. This inheritance could bankrupt future generations.
Government at all levels needs to do a better job with the billions of dollars in taxpayer-generated revenues already available, rather than pick the pockets of taxpayers for even more. It is time for a return to pay-as-you-go budgeting; means testing for all government assistance programs; real balanced budgets without smoke and mirrors; stop hiding spending under so-called independent authorities whose budgets are offline with little or no oversight by both the Comptroller and State Legislature along with actual surpluses and down payments to reduce long-term debt for all levels of government. How ironic that after winning the Cold War against the Evil Empire of Communism, it may be mismanagement of our economy that defeats us in the end. Unless we change our ways, America is on the road to losing our status as the World’s number one superpower. Just like mighty ancient Rome before the collapse, we are going down the path to becoming the world’s super debtor
Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the US Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office.