Thursday, February 28, 2008

The law of diminishing returns

This is to the folks on the Kerekes committee who came out with the list of money saving ideas for the New Haven city budget.
Read the story in today's New Haven Independent here.

First, I think it's a grand idea for citizens to keep an eye on government overspending. Giving money to a politician is like giving candy to a kid. The kid will eat the candy, whether it's good for him or her or not. The politician will spend the money, whether it's good for the municipality or not.

But, I think these folks may have gone out a little far. There is a point where the law of diminishing returns cuts in.

First of all, I'm basically living on a fixed income, plus what little I can get from working here or there, such as covering things for the New Haven Independent. This is known as the disclaimer.

I spent the lion's share of the last two decades in Westchester County, New York, working for The Journal News, the daily newspaper that covers the area from the Bronx to Dutchess County on one side of the Hudson River and from the New Jersey border to Orange County on the other. That's a lot of territory, but one of the issues in common was cell phone towers. Nobody wanted them in their town. Either they ruined the view, or there was fear of radiation or whatever.

I remember a reporter coming back from a meeting at which this woman was ranting and raving about how cell phones and cell towers were ruining civilization as we knew it. She had to stop in mid rant, however, to answer her cell phone.

These Kerekes folks remind me a little of that woman. They want to make sure there's as little overtime as possible for the police, yet I'm sure would be the first to complain if a cop wasn't there to answer their call.

I guess I'm wondering about the kind of city we'd have if we sold the skating rink, didn't spend money on cultural places like the Shubert Theatre, left Tweed-New Haven Airport for general aviation only, much like Meriden Markham Airport or the strip out in Oxford.

Look, I know the city spends too much money. I never thought I would say these things, but I think the mayor is starting to get it. At a meeting I covered earlier this month, he said the city had enough subsidized housing, was spending millions sheltering people, including those who are dropped off on New Haven streets by other towns or dropped off by the state after being in prison or jail.

We can save money by getting the towns to do their fair share. The citizens of suburban towns benefit by being able to attend cultural events for example, at the same rate of payment for tickets and parking as New Haven citizens. They don't pay any more at restaurants or bars than New Haven residents.

If those two examples seem silly to you, dear New Haven resident, try parking your can by the West Haven beach during the summer. Yes, we New Haveners get into Lighthouse Point Park free, while others have to pay, but you can't park by the beach in West Haven, for example, for any price.

We need the towns to start paying their fair share, maybe by kicking in for the Shubert subsidy, for example. If the subsidy is $410,000 for the Shubert, why not let East, North, West Haven, the Branfords, Madison, Milford, Hamden get together and kick in $300,000 of that. Let Yale charge a little more to out of town residents for concerts and events. Sell parking cards to New Haven residents at a bit of a discount. Everybody pays the same parking rate if they pay cash, but New Haveners get a little off the top if they use a card.

If we think creatively, we can save money without selling off the skating rink or the golf courses. We can't make the city a sterile place by unwise funding cuts. Absent the high taxes, New Haven is a great place to live. Let's keep it that way.

Page 2

I've always known by friend Pio is a great guy, a giving guy, and a smart guy. I just didn't know until yesterday (Feb. 27, 2008) that he was an astute political kingmaker.

I was sitting in the barber chair at Pio's shop, Pio of Italy on Whalley Avenue in New Haven. As usual, we were talking politics. Both Pio and I were concerned about the presidential election.

Those who have read these rantings know I'm for Hillary Rodham Clinton because I don't think Barack Obama gets it. He's great at giving speeches and rallying hope, but hope doesn't get it done on the world stage.

Pio was saying his thinking went along the same lines, but he didn't know what to do about it. We started throwing out running-mate combinations. He started with John McCain and Joe Lieberman. I said I didn't think the Republicans were ready for Joe and he's burned his bridges to the Democrats.

We briefly talked about an Obama-Clinton ticket, with Obama doing the talking and Clinton with her hand at the back of his head, like Edgar Bergen to Charlie McCarthy. We dismissed that -- Americans certainly won't go for a strong woman and a scholarly African-American on the same ticket. Too much newness.

So, we tried to figure out a combo with McCain. Then Pio hit it: John McCain and Mike Bloomberg.

I started to laugh. "That could go," I kept saying. "That could go."

Think about it. Bloomberg is relatively young, seriously rich, a proven vote-getter, a man who runs the toughest city in the world and will be out of a job soon because of term limits.

The ticket balances geographically, an Arizona guy with a New Yorker. It balances politically: Bloomberg is pretty liberal and McCain is pretty conservative. The right-wing crazies won't like it, but they'll like Obama less. Bloomberg has more money than Croesus and flies his own plane. We could sell the C-17 that serves as Air Force 2 and could rent Bloomberg's plane for $1 a year and let him buy his own gas.

They are both friends of Israel. Bloomberg is Jewish, at least on paper, and that gets a "first" on the ticket. Joe Lieberman was really the first Jew elected vice-president, but because of Ralph Nadir (spelling on purpose), he couldn't serve. So it could be the first Jew as vice president against the first African-American as president.

Of course, if by some miracle Clinton wins the Democratic primary, then we can bid a Emily Latella-ish "never mind" to the whole thing.

Viva Pio.

Until next time...

1 comment:

New Haven said...

This is Kerekes, of the Kerekes' :-). Give me a call at 203-676-0880 and I would be happy to discuss our recommendations. I believe you will not find it as hysterical as you seemed to conclude. The cuts to the Shubert subsidy would only cost $4 per person who goes to the Theatre. For that small increase in fees, the city could save $410,000. I don't think someone would skip the theatre for $4. Do you? Tweed doesn't need to be closed if it charged $12.58 per FLIGHT. That also sounds quite reasonable. I do not think we all need to agree on the recommendations and I welcome your critique and would love to hear some additional recommendations from people such as the ones made here and the ones the Mayor has announced.

Our group is making these recommendations precisely to avoid the massive shutting down of services due to budget cuts to keep the city afloat. A city in California is facing bankruptcy and they don't have the money to pay police, fire etc... I don't want that to happen here. We have BILLIONS of dollars in debt for a small city of 125,000 and 55,000 households. We feel it is out of balance and needs attention. Thanks for covering this issue and please do give me a call so you can expand this coverage here.