Vote No on New York State Propositions 1 and 3, No on Both Suffolk County Propositions

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All propositions passed or, in the case of NYS 2 and 3, they are poised to pass.

Both Suffolk propositions passed.

The school technology will be long gone by the time we finish paying for it. Double digit school taxes aren’t enough, now Suffolk is passing propositions to give them more.

The Suffolk County proposition eliminating the Comptroller position will give all financial power to the Democrats. Since Steve Levy left, Steve Bellone has run Suffolk into debt. He now has a free hand.

 

h/t Natalie

Update at the end

There are three New York State propositions and two Suffolk County propositions on the ballot this Tuesday. Only one sounds reasonable. Newsday wants people to vote yes on each except for the school technology proposition. We have a different perspective.

 

NEW YORK STATE PROPOSITIONS

STATE PROPOSITON 1 – VOTE NO ON REDISTRICTING

THIS BILL DOESN’T GO FAR ENOUGH AND WE’D BE STUCK WITH IT.

Rather than end partisan gerrymandering and incumbent protection, the constitutional amendment would enshrine it in the constitution.

Voters should reject this constitutional amendment. Then they should demand that their leaders go back to the drawing board before the next census in 2020.

If approved, the vote would change how New York redraws state and congressional political boundaries every 10 years. Since 1978, the Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment has helped state lawmakers redraw the lines. That task force is controlled by the lawmakers, who ultimately approve the new political maps. Generally, the boundaries have been drawn to give incumbent legislators an advantage and help them win elections.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo campaigned four years ago for a more independent system. What state lawmakers agreed to was this: ask voters to approve a new system with a 10-member commission to draw the lines, which lawmakers could, in the end, reject entirely.

One difference between the old task force and this proposed commission is that two members of the 10 must be people not enrolled in the two major political parties. Another difference is that the state Legislature must vote to reject two versions of the commission’s maps before taking the process out of its hands.

Lawmakers could feel more political pressure to accept maps they don’t like rather than take two public stands against the commission’s recommendations. Right now, most of those rejections happen behind closed doors.

 

STATE PROPOSITION 2 – ELECTRONIC VERSIONS OF BILLS IN ALBANY

We should consider voting yes.

This proposal would help modernize the State Legislature.

Lawmakers cannot routinely vote on bills until they’ve been printed and made available in final form for at least three days. The idea is to give legislators time to read them. The constitution’s 1938 requirement that they be printed has been taken literally to mean ink on paper.

Proposal 2 would amend the constitution to allow bills to be distributed in electronic form accessible by computer. Albany votes on more than a thousand bills a year. “Printing” them electronically would be more efficient, and the savings should be considerable. Vote yes on proposal No. 2.

 

PROPOSITION 3 – VOTE NO ON BOND ISSUE FOR SCHOOL TECHNOLOGY!

The technology will be long outdated before the bill is paid.

This Election Day, Nov. 4, New Yorkers will be asked to approve Proposal 3, which will allow the state to borrow another $2 billion in the form of general obligation bonds. The money is supposed to go to school districts to buy electronic tablets, such as iPads, and other computers; expand high-speed and wireless Internet capacity; install “high-tech security features”; and build new classrooms for pre-kindergarten programs.

The language voters will see on their ballot under “Proposal 3, A Proposition” is laced with Madison Avenue marketing spin, starting with the title (“Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014”) and including highly debatable promises that the $2 billion will “equalize opportunities for children to learn” and lead to “high-quality” pre-K.[1] The ballot languagedoesn’t say that the $2 billion will cost New York taxpayers about $500 million more once you figure in the interest. Annual debt service payments will add roughly $135 million to $165 million to the state budget for the next 15 to 20 years.[2]

Here are three reasons to think long and hard before supporting Proposal 3:

  1. New York’s debt burden is already enormous.

When you add up all the loans state and local governments are paying back already, it comes out to more than $17,000 for every woman, man and child in New York. That’s the highest total in the nation.[3]

Besides that, New York State will come closer to hitting its “debt limit” if Proposal 3 passes. Meanwhile, Albany still has to fill the funding gaps in long-term capital plans for basic infrastructure like mass transit, roads and bridges.

  1. Schools didn’t even ask for this money

When it comes to demanding more from taxpayers, New York’s school boards, teachers’ unions and allied lobbying groups aren’t exactly shy. Their requests go into the billions every year. Yet none of these organizations identified technology purchases as a priority before the “Smart Schools” borrowing scheme popped up in Gov. Cuomo’s State of the State speech in January.

The state Board of Regents, which annually sends the Governor a huge wish list, only wanted technology spending boosted this year by just $1 million–a microscopic 0.05 percent of the amount sought by Proposal 3.

  1. The bond issue will force schools to spend more for purposes the new borrowing won’t cover.

If schools tap into the Proposal 3 pot, they’ll need to raise and spend more local tax money every year on computer support services—like new staff or outside vendors to run the systems, answer users’ questions and fix problems. Those nifty new high-tech “smartboards,” tablets, laptops and desktop terminals will be wasted unless districts also invest in tech-based curricula and teacher training.

Schools that choose to build pre-K classrooms will need to raise their annual budgets to hire staff for these programs. “High tech security features” will have to be monitored and maintained by new security personnel.

All this, at a time when many schools are cutting student activities and enrichment programs so they can keep paying for expensive teacher contracts while staying under the property tax cap.

And here are three more reasons why Proposal 3 is a bad idea:

  1. Albany already funds the purposes that would be covered by the bonding.

Over the past five years, the state has given school districts nearly $200 million in aid for computer hardware and technology—enough to purchase hundreds of thousands of iPad tablets or laptop computers. What’s more, the vast majority of school districts, even in the remote North Country, already can hook up to existing high-speed Internet lines. The problem is that some districts can’t afford to pay the monthly bill for premium connections, which Proposal 3 won’t cover. As for classroom space, the state spends $2.7 billion a year—more than the entire bond issue will raise just once—on building aid to underwrite a large share of capital construction costs for most districts. The “SAFE Act” of 2013 provided additional building aid for school security improvements.

In the construction category, Proposal 3 cash could be used only to “accommodate pre-kindergarten programs and provide instructional space to replace transportable classroom units.” But that will be of little use to most schools – which can’t afford to establish pre-K programs and have not had to resort to using portable classrooms. In fact, in most districts, K-12 enrollment is falling.

  1. The classroom technology purchased with Proposal 3 bond funds will be outdated before the debt is paid off.

States and local governments legally cannot issue bonds unless the money will be paid back within the “probable life” (sometimes also called “useful life”) of the assets and purchases they will finance.

Typical useful life estimates for computer hardware purchased by government agencies, colleges and universities range from as little as two years for tablet computers to five years for desktop computers. Likewise, the IRS allows regular taxpayers to write off the cost of “computers and peripherals” over five years. Yet, to help justify long-term bonding for this purpose, Governor Cuomo and the state Legislature wrote Proposal 3 to assume that iPads, laptops and other devices paid for with bond funds will last eight years.

Bottom line: taxpayers will still be paying principle and interest on the loans for years after the computers purchased with the money are obsolete.

  1. Binge-spending on technology has a poor track record.

The Los Angeles Unified School District recently undertook its own initiative to expand the use and availability of personal computer technology in the classroom. Designed to put an iPad in the hands of every student by 2016, the program was abruptly suspended in August. The first phase of the effort saw hardware go missingstudents accessing inappropriate content and allegations of ethical misconduct.

Stolen hardware appears to be a common problem with school technology programs, with taxpayers on the hook for replacing devices that can cost more than $700 each.

[1] The full Proposal 3 language can be downloaded from this useful online state Board of Elections ballot guide.

[2] The amount of debt service and total interest payments depend on average duration of bonds and interest rate, which in turn will reflect a weighted average of the useful life of the projects financed with the bond. The estimates here assume an interest rate of 3.12 percent and an average bond of 15 to 20 years.

[3] Data for total debt outstanding from Census Bureau 2011 State and Local Government Finances. Includes debt of state and local public authorities.Even using a more limited measure of state government debt only, the state comptroller’s office reported in January 2013: “New York’s State-Funded debt to Personal Income ratio, the State-Funded debt per capita ratio, the State-Funded debt service to All Funds revenues ratio and the State-Funded debt as a percentage of GSP are all significantly above peer and national medians.”

 

SUFFOLK COUNTY PROPOSITIONS

SUFFOLK PROPOSITION: VOTE NO TO ELIMINATE TREASURER JOB

Treasurer Angie Carpenter is the only person who stands between Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and our pockets. Eliminating the job would give tax-and-spend wastrel Steve Bellone unfettered access to the treasury via the Democratic Comptroller. The position provides much needed checks and balances, especially with a spendthrift like Bellone in power.

 

SUFFOLK PROPOSITION: VOTE NO ON REPAYMENT TO WATER-SEWER FUND

The LI Pine Barrens Society and Group for the East End want you to vote yes. If they’re for it, I’m against it. They are self-appointed environmental dictators who think no cost is too much to further their agenda.

Newsday said that if approved, it would return, via bonding, $29.4 million diverted from the drinking water protection program fund. The bonds must be issued by 2018 and spent by 2020. In return, County Executive Steve Bellone would be allowed to re-borrow from the fund for three years, with mandatory repayment by 2029, to help balance the county budget.

That really need not be the case. Just don’t do the projects. We can’t afford it. Suffolk is deeply in debt.

Updated: 11/03/14: The following comments were posted in Newsday and were written by Suffolk County legislators.

Everyone loves open space and wants to protect our drinking water, but Proposal 5, which is on ballots in Suffolk County on Election Day, is about cash flow [“Yes on repayment to water fund,” Editorial, Oct. 16]. It’s wrapped in pretty packaging, but this proposition would divert resources from water quality.

The proposition would permit Suffolk County to raid more than $100 million from a sewer reserve fund to pay the county’s bills. It would also authorize the borrowing of nearly $30 million, primarily for open space.

Opinion: What I learned in Chennai, India The county executive’s budget states that 70 percent of the nitrogen pollution in our water comes from unsewered residential homes. Additionally, we spend millions of dollars annually on open space preservation and will continue to do so for years to come regardless of whether this proposition passes. Why then would we allow the depletion of the sewer reserve and borrow more money for more open space? If most of the pollution stems from the absence of sewers, wouldn’t we want to use the sewer fund to address that problem?

This is simply a way to balance the budget this year while pushing off paying our bills to our children and grandchildren!

Proponents of Proposal 5 say that the $30 million would repay money taken from the open space program. That’s a lie. The bottom line is that $30 million was taken out of the sewer fund, not the open space fund. If anything, we should be repaying that fund, not purchasing more open space. Using money in the sewer fund to expand sewers would protect our environment and promote jobs.

Whatever money we use in the sewer fund must be paid back by 2029. Not surprisingly, there is no plan in place to repay the $100 million-plus that will be raided. In 2013, the bonds for the Southwest Sewer District were paid off, but despite the fact that the sewer fund has collected more than $100 million in excess reserves, there has been no reduction in sewer taxes, nor has the reserve fund been used to make necessary repairs to the system. When does the taxpayer get a break?

As if the deceit embedded in this proposal isn’t enough, as a final slap to voters, the legislature has been asked to circumvent Election Day and pre-authorize the $30 million in borrowing.

A fund established to protect taxpayers and our environment should not be turned into an ATM.

Robert Trotta, Tom Cilmi, Kevin McCaffrey, John Kennedy

Hauppauge

Editor’s note: The writers are Suffolk County legislators from, respectively, the 13th, 10th, 14th and 12th districts.

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