Sunday, November 27, 2011

For Thanksgiving, Here Are Some Offerings from My Horn-of-Plenty (November 25, 2011)

In keeping with Thanksgiving tradition, this week I offer my two cents worth on a cornucopia of issues that have been rattling around my mind of late.
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Talk about a glaring exploitation of a superlative. More often than not, the term “super” is exaggerated when used to describe a performer or an athlete. But, in the case of the Congressional supercommittee (formally known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction) that this week, after three months of negotiations, failed to find common ground to trim the nation’s multibillion dollar debt, the term became the epitome of superfluous. Maybe if it was the superdupercommittee things may have been accomplished.
But, noooooo, those ninnies probably couldn’t agree on whether it was day or night at high noon.
Monday’s admission of failure is the latest proof of the dysfunctionality of America's political system. The main task of the 12-member panel - six Democrats and six Republicans - was to find a measly savings of $1.2 trillion of savings over the next decade, which is an insignificant fraction of our total GDP (the indicator of our standard of living) for that period. Nonetheless, most economists deem it vital to start the nation’s finances in the right direction.
Congressional leaders pointed fingers at each other as they tried to deflect blame for their inability to figure out a way to lower the federal deficit without having to rely on automated cuts.
You know, right from the start, that Republicans did not want to give in to anything President Obama had hoped for. After all, why change now since they’ve been opposing him at every opportunity since he took office.
Though Democrats aren’t totally blameless yet appeared to be more willing for some give and take the Republicans had a negative approach before it even got underway when House Speaker John Boehner warned they would not budge on opposing new taxes to reduce the federal deficit, yet the GOP insisted on massive cuts to entitlement programs, such as Social Security.
It’s common knowledge that the nation faces a humongous long-term debt — the worst this country has ever had — and, in addition to making some barebones cuts, responsible tax revenues are necessary to even think about any decrease in that shortfall.
It ain’t higher math guys and gals, but by implementing a balance of new taxes, particularly on the wealthiest 1% of Americans, and sensible spending cuts — especially Department of Defense waste — it would have at least been a step in the right direction.
But, instead of Americans being thankful for their elected representatives this week, they all, particularly the supercommittee, deserve the bird — and I’m not referring to the stuffed one with all the trimmings.
But, then again, as know very well from past legislation, no compromise is better than a bad one. 
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On a couple of matters closer to home, the City Council is taking a cue from other cities around the country, by asking the state legislature to authorize parking permits for residents living near the new Barclays Center arena. When the NBA’s Nets debut in downtown Brooklyn about a year from now, advocates maintain it would limit local parking congestion when outsiders inundate the area during events. Opponents claim the permits are only a band-aid for the much larger traffic problem that is expected to gridlock the neighborhood. 
Area residents are already griping about the dearth of parking near the Atlantic Yards complex and it is only going to worsen when the mall and sports arena finally open. If the bill, which has been stalled for two years, eventually gets approved by the State Legislature and City Council, it would allow up to 80 percent of parking spaces in the area be set aside for local residents. The fee for the permits is reported to start anywhere between $20 and $100 and would exempt commercial strips. Revenues generated from the sale of parking permits would be specifically used to benefit New York City’s subway and bus system.
You can bet the fee won’t be frozen and likely to increase every so often when the city and state are looking for easy money; comparable to Mayor Bloomberg’s parking fine increases and subsequent random ticket blitzes around the city.
If it takes effect, parking permits would also be used in the vicinity of Yankee Stadium, where local parking is at a premium when the Yankees are home 81 games a year. It could also trigger other neighborhoods to request permits for parking. But, that, presumably, would be determined only by government approval on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis.
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The City Council’s been busy recently, but this other matter should be welcome by most New Yorkers since it should not directly affect them.
The Council hopes to fast-track legislation to raise the New York City hotel tax, which expires next week. The hotel occupancy tax increase would only add $2.62 for a $300-a-night room. It’s only .875 percent, but it could add $80 million to the city’s treasury.
The bill was introduced by Brooklyn Councilman Lew Fidler, who noted that the addition “is insignificant…especially when you consider that the money raised would pay for 1,000 new police officers,” and supports other services, such as fire and transportation, that are essential to the tourist industry.
With the city in dire financial straits, and city residents already paying higher costs for everything under the sun, it was a reasonable idea, as Council Speaker Christine Quinn put, “for visitors, who take advantage of city services, like police and public transportation, to pitch in to help.”
At first, the mayor opposed feel the additional cost claiming “it will kill the tourist trade.”
Fidler pointed out that since the occupancy tax became effective two years ago, the city went from third to first in American tourism.
A few days after the mayor made that remark, Bloomberg, who has promised not to raise taxes to resolve the city’s fiscal dilemma, changed his mind because this, he defended, was not a tax increase, but a “temporary extension” that would expire in two years.
What a guy!
The mayor has had no problem increasing fees for anything he can for citizens, so asking occasional visitors to pay a little more should never have been an issue in the first place.
  Hey, Mr. Mayor, we elected you — three times — not tourists!
As Fidler noted, it would be “a mistake to let that money slip through our fingers” when every penny in collected taxes is oh so precious these days.