Tuesday, November 08, 2005

If Hillary likes it, you probably should oppose it

At the train station this morning, someone handed me a flier and asked if I wanted better transportation for Westchester County. He might as well have asked if I support motherhood and oppose sin. I politely said, "Better transportation means different things to different people," then excused myself to catch the train.

Taking a look at the flier, I saw that whatever this proposal is, it's endorsed by Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Gov. Pataki and Eliot Spitzer. Hillary and Chuck's names alone made me immediately suspicious that this proposal is just more political snake oil. Then on the reverse, the flier quotes a New York Times editorial from July: "the bond issue -- which has the support of Comptroller Alan Hevesi, the state's fiscal watchdog -- represents a prudent, straightforward and transparent strategy." Hevesi a fiscal watchdog? Nothing further embodies the saying "the fox guarding the henhouse."

Then I saw that this is about Proposition 2 -- euphemistically called "The Transportation Act" -- which I already exposed last September as a raw deal for taxpayers across the nation. The New York MTA is pushing hard for this $2.9 billion debt proposal, including using its money (a lot of which are taxpayer dollars) to advertise its support. If Hevesi is such a fiscal watchdog, he should investigate the MTA's advertisements as a conflict of interest.

The flier also claims that the construction will create jobs, which you see is not true if you remember your Bastiat. More jobs? Nothing could be further from the truth. The proposals would spend several billion dollars to create jobs, but only by destroying jobs after taking several billion dollars away from other economic activity.

The MTA is pushing doubly hard because if Proposition 2 passes, New York state will get matching funds from the federal government. Let's stop calling them "bonds," because most voters, frankly, need to be showed the D word: debt.

Pro-motherhood, anti-sin wording might go: "Dear voter, how would you like the government to issue $2.9 billion in bonds so that we can repair, expand and improve our roads, subways and commuter trains? We would also get federal matching funds, so that New York wouldn't have to share the entire burden."

I mentioned a little while ago that my county wants to offer homeowners "free inspections" to determine how energy efficient their homes are. "Free" indeed! Some people do realize "There's no such thing as a free lunch," that there's always a cost, but they hope to pass most of it onto others. That's the whole idea behind the federal matching funds, except that people in New Jersey, Kansas, Oregon, etc., are helping pay for New York's spending, New York taxpayers are helping to pay for spending elsewhere. The problem is that some states receive far more in federal dollars than their residents pay in, which is, of course, a pure incentive for pork.

Meanwhile the other states are encouraged to spend more so they can get whatever federal matching funds they can get. The New York MTA warns that if we voters don't approve Proposition 2, someone else will get the federal matching funds. But how about New Yorkers reject Proposition 2, and no one else gets the federal matching funds, which will help (even just a little) balance the federal budget? Unfortunately, New York voters might just decide today to saddle themselves with more debt to get federal matching funds that will be spent inefficiently and/or unnecessarily. This is akin to cutting off your arm so you can accept the offer of a "free" prosthetic limb -- courtesy of the insurance you pay for anyway.

What if we had a law requiring truth in ballot proposals? "Hey, all you taxpaying suckers, will you go along with our scheme to saddle you with another $2.9 billion in state debt? We want to spend it on what we call 'needed improvements' to roads and trains, but you don't need a lot of them, and the ones that are necessary will be completed in double the time we claim, with minimal efficiency and probable cost overruns. The unions want the jobs, though, they contribute big to politicians, and well, you regular taxpayers are the patsies to pay up. The feds will give matching funds, which means that non-New York taxpayers will help foot the bill. But that also means you foot the bill for their state projects too, especially Robert Byrd's in West Virginia. And did we mention New York already has so much debt that it has a lower credit rating than ideal, so it has to spend millions more on interest payments?"

Which proposal would you vote for? The truth hurts, doesn't it? And that's why so many dangerous ballot proposals never tell you the full story.

As Capital Freedom said a while back, she'd certainly like a new Ferrari, however, at the price an auto dealer would require her to pay, she would decline. Similarly, while it's a nice-sounding idea to give everyone the best possible roads, we must eventually face reality: at what cost?

Naturally I'd love the best transportation possible for my county, the city, and in fact for everywhere in the world. When I took a friend to lunch on Saturday, it turned into a more spontaneous outing than I planned, because she also wanted to go down to Rockaway Beach (in Queens, which is no short drive from her place in Rye/Mamaroneck). By the end of the day, we had driven from Westchester down to Queens and through part of Brooklyn, back to Westchester and up to Putnam County, back to Westchester, across the Tappan Zee Bridge to Rockland County, then back home. That was a lot of driving, and every single road, thoroughfare, parkway and interstate we drove on that could have used some type of improvement: pothole repair, repaving, lane expansion. But again, at what cost?

Surprisingly, the flier came with a sheet of paper stapled to it, which outlines several road project proposals for Westchester, and gives their estimated cost. Rule of thumb for New York road construction: double the cost and use that for your budget.

There's a $1.4 million proposal for the Saw Mill Parkway, which I know very well, in Dobbs Ferry, to "provide operational and safety improvements" to the Saw Mill's intersection with Cyrus Field Road. The Saw Mill can be a difficult, even dangerous drive, so I'd say this work is needed -- but would it really take $1.4 million to do it?

There are several proposals for Greenburgh. Why will it cost $4.8 million to "improve" the intersection of Routes 100A and 100B, and is that really necessary? And $2.8 million to "realign and reconstruct" the intersection of Routes 119 and 100B? I know the locations well, having worked in White Plains for a couple of years. Unless things have deteriorated severely in the last eight months, these proposals are a waste of $7.6 million for taxpayers -- but a boon for the construction worker unions.

Then there's the $11 million proposal for the "rehabilitation" of "2.5 miles of Interstate 287/Cross Westchester Expressway from State Route 120 to Interstate 95...This is one of several projects" for I-287's 20-mile stretch from I-95 (close to the Connecticut border) to the Tappan Zee (at the Hudson River). I-287 always needs some repairs somewhere, but there will be no cessation to perennial and unnecessary work so long as it's backed by, as I put it, the full faith and credit of the taxpayer's wallet.

Like Milton Friedman has taught us, there's no incentive for government to be frugal in how much it spends, or careful on what it spends, when it's not its money. In my original entry on Proposition 2, I detailed the non-necessity of its other proposed spending, like expansion of the Long Island Railroad, and creating a new subway line along Second Avenue.

If any of you in the state haven't voted yet, I urge you to vote a big NO on Proposition 2. And likewise, NO on Proposition 1, which I haven't covered, but it effectively hands almost all budgetary powers to the state legislature.

[Time edited -- I had started it in the morning, saved the draft, then changed the time but forgot to make it PM.]

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