Friday, June 17, 2005

My Regular Friday Night Thing

Maybe I'll see you out there.

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Steve Minarik Versus Everyone

Before I begin my tirade concerning Monroe County/New York State Republican Chairman Steve Minarik, I want to be clear on the nature of my politics and the role they play in this blog. I'm a Democrat. There, I've said it. And now, I hope with some of you, the healing can now begin.

However, this blog will attempt to stay away from partisan talking points that we regularly see in so many blogs that are out and about today. I like to focus on what I see that helps New Yorkers, specifically Rochester. I will comment on things that Democrats do wrong, just as often as I do Republicans. I am watching the current city property tax squabble and as soon as I can make some sense out of it, I'm going to talk about. Right now, I'm not too sure those involved even understand what they're doing. So I want to be fair. I've even appointed an ombudsman, SR-71, who is a staunch independent, to keep watch over me and keep me in line. Maybe I can persuade him to post sometime...

But for now, Steve Minarik has decided to tap-dance into my crossfire. Mr. Minarik has made some comments in the past concerning the Democratic party that haven't been completely true. And you know what? That's fine. The party chairman's job is to raise a ruckus, get the troops fired up, and make the party some money. In so far as this is true, there is very little difference between Minarik and Howard Dean. Which is why I get a kick out of Minarik when he takes on Dean. It's like he's chasing his tail. A little cute, and a little pathetic.

But then he has to go and do it at the expense of New Yorkers. Minarik decided to make political hay when NYS AG Eliot Spitzer lost a case against Theodore Sihpol III, a former Bank of America broker. Minarik says:

"This jury of New Yorkers exposes Spitzer as a politician whose ambition has steamrolled too many hardworking men and women of our state," Gov. George Pataki's hand-picked party leader added. "Looks like the so-called Sheriff of Wall Street had a gun full of blanks."

the article continues,
According to an earlier missive from the GOP leader, Spitzer's "reckless efforts to land himself on the front page" are "making it harder to do business and create jobs in New York."

Which on the whole is such crap. Spitzer has received numerous settlements and guilty pleas since he began his enforcement of laws upon Wall Street. The very thought that enforcing the law hurts business in this state is only true if you are hoping that your state can attract more criminals. In many national magazines that focus on business, Spitzer is lauded for enforcing the rules and keeping people honest. Remember, there are a vast number of business on Wall Street that are honest and are put at a disadvantage when dishonest firms break the rules. That isn't how you run an efficient market. An efficient market has rules, and those rules require enforcement. It is also important to note that in this case, Spitzer might have done some good regardless of not getting a conviction.
Spitzer contended in Sihpol's case that buying or selling after hours, known as late trading, was a crime because it diluted the return of fund members who were not granted the same advantage.

Sihpol's lawyers argued that late trading was legal and that their client never intended to commit a crime.

Regardless of the court cases outcome, I'm fairly certain the participants in that mutual fund weren't too happy with what was going on. Those fees on his transactions end up coming out of the pockets of the fund members as a whole, and the kind of activity Sihpol was going through would normally get you blacklisted from a fund.

Anyway, back to Steve Minarik. I don't care about him trying to get into the headlines to help his party out. That's fine. But lambasting Spitzer for a loss after all the great results he's had, is a lot like bashing Tom Brady for throwing a bad pass in last years Superbowl. My advice to Minarik? Put New York before your party. Spitzer is bound to lose a few cases. By trying to beat Spitzer up, Minarik ends up looking like an hyper-critical idiot for demeaning someone who has achieved something greater than he ever could.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Promoting the Community or Oneself?

I was just editing the links to left with the intention of adding links to both the City of Rochester's Homepage and Monroe County's Homepage. The City's page was busy, but chocked full of links and content promoting the area. The one drawback I saw was that there was no link to the County's page. I had hoped there would be better synergy between the two competing entities. I expected better from the Mayor's people. So I googled the Monroe County site and surfed over.

You have got to be kidding me.

What I found was a site that put County Executive Maggie Brooks squarely in the spotlight. I was shocked. I thought maybe it's a coincidence that the 4 top features concerned Brooks, but then I scrolled down...

Brooks,County Officials Announce GPS Monitoring Program For Sex Offenders
Brooks Receives Influential Women Award
Brooks and Dinolfo Honor Local Mind Team Winners
Brooks Announces Winners Of 2005 Stop DWI Poster Contest
Brooks and Thunderbirds Greet Children At Golisano Children's Hospital
Brooks Joins Bausch & Lomb In Expansion Announcement

Groundbreaking Ceremony on New African Elephant Exhibit
Brooks Announces New Airport Valet Service
Brooks Announces Airport Passenger Traffic For April
Brooks and Johnson Proclaim "Salvation Army Week"
Brooks Welcomes Renaissance Square Design Architect Moshe Safdie
Brooks Announces Technology Improvement Strategy

At least they dropped in the entry about the elephants. That's nice, you know, for the kids...

Honestly, this list of "Monroe County News" is undoctored and placed in order without editing or omission. I couldn't invent something this stupid. What kind of crass self-promotion is this? I think County Executive Brooks has done a standout job since she was elected. And her close working relationship with her former opponent Mayor Johnson is commendable. However, what is up with the County website? How is this different from a campaign website?

I thought the idea was to use the taxpayers' money to promote the county, not ones career.

Needless to say, until the content changes to something dealing more with our area, I will not be linking to it.

Stems Cells: A No-Brainer for Rochester

I understand that many people have a moral problem with using embryonic stem cells to research ways to end disease and suffering. What I don't understand is that they don't also have a problem with these embryos already having been frozen and tucked away indefinitely. How is that okay?

Regardless of all that, The Rump Group has called for New York State to invest $300 million over 2 years into embryonic stem cell research. (If you are unfamiliar with The Rump Group, I encourage you to click the link to their site over on the left.) The urging by the business leader coalition is not only smart for New York and Rochester; it is also making it plainly obvious that the federal policy is wrong-headed, unpopular, and hurtful.

The most important factor here is that many states are aware that this new technology will eventually be developed somewhere, by someone, who will be very well rewarded for their advances in medicine. Just because the federal government closes its doors to technology, does not make the idea go away; it does not prevent others from taking the initiative.

So given the amount of research that goes on here in Rochester, especially at Strong Hospital, it's a great policy to seize upon and encourage. The benefits to the community are potentially great, but the possible rewards for humanity are unimaginable.

If Albany can be persuaded, this could open Rochester up to be the epicenter of a whole new era in medical research and treatment.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Rochester's Influential Women in Business

The Rochester Business Journal recognized 20 business and community leaders as Rochester's Influential Women at a luncheon yesterday. Follow the link for a list of the honorees.

Congratulations to all those awarded.

Only a Drill, Nothing Foreboding Here

Let's hope this doesn't mean they know something we don't.

What could possibly go wrong?

I want to let it be known that I am a booster of the Fast Ferry. As a "young Rochesterian", I think that the Ferry is the kind of premiere project that the region should be investing in. It raises the profile of the region, lavishes us with free promotion (one Simon School professor estimated the total value of free advertising at $9 million. Of course, not all of it good.), and allows new avenues of entrepreneurial venture. Also, attractions like the Ferry help make an easier case for keeping young people here. With cheap Jet Blue flights to New York City, and a high speed ferry to Toronto, I'd say Rochester has unique links to two of the best cities on the eastern part of the continent, if not the world.

Things get muddled in the execution, of course. I'd like to forget about the whole ordeal with CATS, but they won't go away. Their sister company, Maplestar Development Co, doing their best imitation of a case of herpes is in a sweetheart deal to collect rents in the Port of Rochester over the next 40 years. Now I could rage against this and pound my tiny fists against my chest, but I won't.

These deals, as I understand it, are fairly common in private sector/public sector ventures. Sometimes they're smart, sometimes they aren't. This deal? Not smart. That's the way the game is played. Either you shake it off and get back in the game, or you take your ball and go home. It looks like the City of Rochester wants to even the score up now in the second half.

I'm good with it. The City should get all litigious on CATS' collective ass. I'm not a lawyer, and there are reasons why that's the case, but I'm skeptical if they'll actually be able to do anything about the deal. Just the same, I'm glad they're attempting to undo the deal.

As for the current deal with Bay Ferries Ltd., I'm inclined to believe this will work. We'll see if they pick up the option to buy the Ferry from the city in three years. The firm has operated fast ferries before. My wife has ridden on the Yarmouth, Nova Scotia/Bar Harbor, Maine ferry that they operate and she liked it. They know how to run a business without subsidy. And they have business savy outside of our region, illustrated by renaming the ferry The Cat despite our experience with CATS. We may bristle at the name because of the association, but the company has a strong brand name with their other ferries called The Cat. They want folks from outside of the region to know they're running this boat. Which also means, they want folks from outside of the region riding this boat. Which means, for me, there will be folks from outside of this region spending their money here.

Doesn't that just make you feel all warm and good inside?

Monday, June 13, 2005

Medicaid: The Cure for What Ails You (part one)

It's rare in politics where one issue can clearly be recognized as one in need of action. In the case of Medicaid in New York state, the issue demands attention. The program's effects on the tax burden of New Yorkers is oppressive, and the sting is especially sharp here around Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo. Our areas' taxes are extremely high, which, when coupled with the economic doldrums our three areas face, paint an increasingly bleak future. Getting taxes down should be the number one priority, regardless of what end of the political spectrum you hail from. While some may favor reducing services, the first pass at reducing taxes should go to making the systems and programs more efficient. Which turns me back to Medicaid.

Currently, New York has the dubious distinction of having the highest per capita Medicaid costs (that means per person) of any state in the Union, more than doubling the national average. The Empire State also comes in first for overall Medicaid spending, beating out California by close to $10 billion dollars, with a grand total of $40.6 billion. State spending for Medicaid (separate from Federal and local spending) accounted for 25% of the New York State spending in 2003. I live in Monroe County, and we spent $831 million for Medicaid expenditures in 2003. This is more than the total spending of 8 other states!

The problem is compounded by the way the burden of costs are shouldered between the federal, state, and local governments. The Federal portion of Medicaid covers between 50% to 77% of the total bill, depending on the state in question. New York receives the lowest allowable percentage of 50%. The state also passes some of the costs onto the counties, one of 18 states that follows such a process. Again, our New York state leads the pack. Counties pay 18% of Medicaid costs, where in the next highest state, Iowa, counties pay only 11%. This "pass the buck" game also ends up saddling local governments with unfunded mandates over what care needs to be covered and what does not, regardless of the needs of the individual communities.

The problem is titanic, and it doesn't look any better from whichever side you consider it from. The growth of this program in New York state is far ahead of the per capita income growth. The unfunded mandates force us to cover optional services, which makes up 45% of the Medicaid budget.

The biggest problem of all is that this issue has not gotten any kind of attention. No taxpayer revolt. No profile raising event that forces it hard and strong on the radar of our representatives in Albany.

If there is one thing I do with my blogging, it will be to focus on this. There will be more posts to come.

Information for this entry has been gleaned from The Rump Group report Medicaid Inc. and The Democrat and Chronicle most recent Medicaid Reform Editorial Report