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The Civic Scene: New York and California have similar gov’t problems

After returning from a visit to California, I found the state full of budget and governance problems similar to those we have had in New York state. These problems seem to have been solved, but I do not think so.

In both states, there have been problems between branches of the state government and budget problems. Political power and patronage caused these states’ meltdowns.

While New York has had large amounts of rain, California has had a drought. California has a large population and the growing of many crops is due to a vast water storage system and irrigation facilities.

California’s meltdown occurred because its Republican governor promised to not raise taxes, while the Democratic state Legislature wanted to maintain services and also did not want to raise taxes. There was a $26.3 billion deficit for fiscal year 2010. The solution was state offices were closed one day every couple of weeks while state bills were paid with IOUs and the credit rating went down.

The Democrats say the governor wants to ram through changes in government unrelated to the current deficit. The governor says his plans would save the state billions in the future by cutting down on welfare fraud, but he wants to cut education funding. The California State University system has announced it will not be letting students start next spring and may raise fees.

It was discovered that the Los Angeles Police Department omitted 40 percent of the crimes committed in Los Angeles last year from its database. Also, the city’s school superintendent, Ramon Cortines, is in a battle with teachers who do not want to administer benchmark tests throughout the year to their students. While some teachers find the tests useful, others consider them standardized tests. Los Angeles teachers have found that at times the standardized tests are sometimes out of step with the curriculum, which is what New York City teachers found.

This brings us to New York state. The Legislature had a month-long meltdown. The Senate had just been taken over by the Democrats after four decades of Republican rule when two city senators became angry with the majority leader for not giving them committee chairmanships or extra money. They jumped to the Republican Party, giving it a 32-30 majority, then one came back to the Democrats, making the chamber tied at 31.

With the Senate in deadlock, no bills could be passed. County governments could not obtain money. Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered firings and no new police or fire classes. Then the other jumper came back to the Democrats, so they now had a 32-30 majority.

Now bills could be passed and leaders picked even if the Republicans did not want to vote. The jumpers obtained top Senate posts. The jumpers claimed they did what they did to force reforms and make the Senate a better place. Well, there is a lot of pork — $85 million — to be given out in jobs or member items.

One reform was term limits for the post of Senate president and committee chairmanships, which pay extra money. Other reforms are the equal distribution of Senate member items or the money legislators are given to spend for needed projects in their districts and the ability of any Senator to bring a bill to a floor vote. One of the jumpers is being investigated for giving some of his member item money to nonprofits in his district and taking much of the money back for his private use. The city has new rules requiring nonprofits to show where their money goes. The rule saying all members can bring up bills for a vote sounds good, but the rule has all kinds of exemptions in it.

New York state has a balanced budget, but issues still must be worked on, like city school governance and Metropolitan Transportation Authority funding.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: Drug sales, crime related to drugs, drug cartels, loss of productivity due to drugs, bribery and loss of morality due to drugs are problems which must be solved.

The Lost Angeles Times had articles about the drug wars in Mexico between the cartels and the government. Thousands die every month as drug groups try to take control. The Mexican government is using its army and navy to fight cartels.

Everything is slowly crossing our border: killings, teens joining gangs, bribery and crime increasing as people steal to obtain money for drugs. Los Angeles is on the edge of all these problems, but so are we here in the city.

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