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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Queen Has a King...or Pick Your Pork

Last week I coronated the St. Lawrence County Clerk the"Soap Box Queen". Patty Ritchie, in an apparent attempt to make herself a household name, or at least a Facebook name, has taken on the license plate fee and snowmobile registration fund issues, without offering ideas or solutions as to how she would either cut programs or raise fees and taxes to close New York State's Budget deficit.

Enter State Senator Joe Griffo of the 47th Senate District. He has taken to finding fault with everything Governor Paterson has proposed and has picked up the same cudgle as Ms. Ritchie, the proposed one million dollar sweep of snowmobile trail funds to help reduce the state's budget deficit. Along with the snowmobile clubs and Patty Ritchie, Mr. Griffo has been using the argument that "This money belongs to the snowmobilers. It comes from registration fees and belongs to them and shouldn't be used to balance the budget." That's not a direct quote but a close summary of the argument. I don't buy the argument, because snowmobile registration money is no more sacrosanct than my automobile registration money, but for the fun of it let's give Joe Griffo the chance to be consistent.

State representatives have access to funds to be doled out to pet projects in their district called member items. This is pure pork barrel spending and vote buying with taxpayer dollars. Nearly all, if not all state legislators engage in this practice, the attitude being "it's the name of the game". It does appear that some engage in their pork habit with more gusto than others. The Soap Box King appears to truly have enjoyed his pork while he was in the majority.

Now, back to the snowmobile/soapbox issue. Does Senator Griffo wish to be consistent? Is he really concerned about the state's budget mess? Or... is the snowmobile registration fund issue just a chance to jump on the soapbox and sing for a special interest?

Mr.Griffo has provided $50,000.00 of pork barrel, member item money, taxpayer money,to the Lewis County Area Snowmobile Association during a recent budget year according to the website That $50,000.00 was clearly taxpayer money. It can not be argued that the money belongs to the snowmobilers as with the trail fund. Step down from the soapbox Joe and lose your partisan stripes. You can't complain about the Governor's cuts on the one hand by saying the money isn't taxpayer money and then on the other hand give away taxpayer money as a pork barrel member item all the while complaining about the state's financial mess.

New York is in fiscal crisis (like nearly every other state in the union) because of a severe recession brought about by greedy investment bankers. New York was especially hard hit with Wall Street being "ground zero" for the crisis. New York State was hit hard by the loss of revenues generated by Wall Street. As for any structural budgetary problems, both parties have dirty hands. Joe Griffo has contibuted his share of excess spending through pork barrel member items when times looked rosier.

Right now we have a crisis and politicians can stand on principles and behave like statesmen or they can try to turn every issue into a chance to score points and act like Soap Box Royalty.

Don't grandstand against what the Governor's doing or criticise him for the budget deficit while you've handed out taxpayer money to the same group he just proposed to cut.

This is an election year and I fear based on the evidence thus far the Soap Box Queen and King will continue to make partisan, emotion based appeals without offering alternatives, or in the case of Mr. Griffo, offering hypocrisy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Soap Box Queen

Nobody disputes that New York State is facing a fiscal crisis. It's also understandable that not everyone will agree on how to address the crisis we face. Disagreement isn't, by itself, a bad thing. Open debate, frank discussion and a forthright exchange of ideas can create the well informed electorate our forefathers spoke of when fostering our fledgling democracy. Hopefully this exchange of fact based ideas will allow voters, ultimately, to elect leaders that will put forth policies that will prevent or repair the type of problems we face today.
Unfortunately, it has become far too prevalent in today's political atmosphere to pretend that facts are the same as opinions and that we are all welcome to our own-in either case. Also, rather than putting forth reasoned discourse or alternative policies, it has become far too easy for political wannabees to jump on the most accessible soap box and throw mud balls at a plan or policy, even one of relative little consequence, as a means of boosting popularity without offering any alternative plans or ideas.
We have a soap box queen here in the north country, St. Lawrence County's County Clerk, Patricia Ritchie. It has been gabbed about in political circles for some time now that Ms. Ritchie is considering taking on State Senator Darrel Aubertine for his seat this fall.
Her first blast into the soap-box-o-sphere came on the heels of an announced plan by New York State to charge an extra $25.00 per license plate as a means to attempt to close, in part, the state's budget deficit. Now, nobody likes paying higher fees or higher taxes, but realistically, it is going to be a combination of increased revenues and cuts in spending that is going to get us out of this mess. Judging from the brou-haha, I was apparently one of the few people that thought raising revenue from license plate fees was a good idea. My reasoning- a lot of people buy license plates, the cost is widely spread and thus it is a relatively fair way to raise revenue.
Enter Ms. Ritchie who takes the not so courageous position that she is opposed to people paying more for license plates. Wow! The thought! The courage! The alternatives! Alternatives? Strike three!
No alternatives... just the Soap Box Queen. How else would Ms. Ritchie rescue the state from fiscal demise? There has been no comprehensive plan put forth by the County Clerk leaving me to wonder if she has asked the most basic of questions. For example, if the state loses the revenue from raising the price of license plates, what is offset in other areas? How many elderly residents will have their EPIC presription benefits cut or teachers lose their jobs or how high will the most unfair tax of all go, the property tax, to make up for cuts in state aid? There are more questions but you get the picture- on Ms. Ritchie's part that doesn't seem important, at least not as important as the soap box.
Now we have another hot button issue that Pattie Ritchie can jump on and try to ride to the state Senate. Governor Paterson has proposed that the state take one million dollars per year from the state's snowmobile fund to put towards deficit reduction. This is one million out of more than five million in the fund. Ms. Ritchie finds this offensive. Really, she finds this to be another opportunity to get on her soapbox (in this case a snowmobile) without offering alternatives. How much safer can you get? First you appeal to a minority (the snowmobilers) that will rabidly oppose the Governor's plan while the majority is mostly uninformed of the facts of the situation. You become the poster girl to this minority, making an issue of a relatively minor amount of money, while other areas including education, the environment and healthcare suffer cuts amounting to tens of millions of dollars. Again, a question goes unanswered. Who will make up the snowmobiler's share of cuts if Ms. Ritchie has her way?
Again, no matter. Ms. Ritchie has become the soap box queen attempting to elevate her status as a political commodity while denigrating the value of the real hard issues that New York State faces.
Hopefully, the County Clerk from St. Lawrence County has greatly under estimated the ability of north country voters to see through the gimmicks that have made her the Soap Box Queen.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

In His Own Words

So was Lewis County's ATV trail permit system a success this year?
CountyLegislator Rick Lucas was quoted in a March 15, 2009 article by Steve Virkler in the Watertown Daily Times referring to trail permits as saying "This year, if we could get 4000 or 5000, it would be a success."
This year, Lewis County sold only 2016 trail permits, making it a resounding failure according to Mr. Lucas' own standards. According to this morning's Watertown Daily Times (2/4/10) Lewis County is going to consider reducing the permit fee by half to buyers of multiple permits. So what's up? This will reduce revenue greatly, as it would require a major increase in sales to offset the fee reduction. I believe trail officials are concerned that they may not match last years sales, hence the reduction. Already there's grumbling in some quarters about paying for a "trail system" that consists of County Reforestation Land connected by public highways, with by far most of the riding on public highways for which a fee can not be charged. Also, there are a number of people that are surprised that they will be required to buy a permit again this year and there is resistance to that.
There are other more pernicious problems in my opinion with charging for a trail permit.
Part of the trail system includes some off road areas on private land that is included in the permit fee. I have held from the start that the County can not charge a fee to ride on property it does not own. Also, the County had announced that it would give a free trail permit to landowners that allow ATV trails on their property. It is my position that this free trail permit constitutes a form of payment for use of the property and puts the landowner in the position of losing New York State General Obligations Law protection and makes them open to liabilty problems.
Most importantly in my opinion, the permit system has put all Lewis County taxpayers in jeopardy. By charging for the trail system, Lewis County has lost its protection under the General Obligations Law and taxpayers could be left holding the bag in a serious lawsuit.
County Legislators will be asked at the next meeting to consider reducing trail permit fees. The best thing they could do for the county as a whole would be to scrap the trail fee system entirely and remove the risk from the backs of the taxpayers. We all know who this is benefiting and its not the taxpayers.
The current plan was a miserable failure, but don't take my word for it. Ask Rick Lucas, in his own words......