Friday, February 20, 2009

New York asks for our help

From the 23 February 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

I recently received an e-mail from a reader in Niagara Falls (whom we’ll call “Pete”) which said the following: “Maybe in one of your next columns, you could list who citizens should contact to voice their concerns instead of putting up with this nonsense. I am not much of a political activist, but I am ready to give someone an earful. We should all be saying, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

Well, Pete is not only a concerned citizen, but it seems he’s a clairvoyant, too. ‘Round about the same time that he e-mailed me, Pete’s wishes came true. Just over a week ago, Malcolm Smith, who leads the State Senate, launched an initiative that’s been called an interactive budget forum. Admitting that the Governor’s budget is not the greatest in the world, he has asked that all New Yorkers assist the Senate in crafting a sound budget. They want our ideas about how to balance the budget, cut costs, trim waste, and, last but not least, increase revenues (the only blemish for this cause).

The Senate requests that you flood them with feedback and engage them in conversation. And, they’ve given us plenty of ways to do that. You can go to the website where you can submit your ideas. Or, you can shoot them an e-mail to And, for those who are old-fashioned and not so web-savvy, you can leave a message on their toll-free hotline. The phone number is 1.800.706.9995.

This is a somewhat unprecedented request by the Senate. For starters, it’s the first time that either house has ever opened the floodgates to public comment by openly asking, if not begging, for mass help. And, secondly, it’s a significant change of pace from normal procedure for, you see, the perspective of regular people is actually a fresh one to a good many elected officials who have made lifelong careers out of their legislative adventures. By making a living in the ivory towers of Albany where they are an audience to lobbyists and never their true constituents, lifers (such as Dale Volker, for example, who has been in the legislature since 1972) have become totally disconnected from the Real World. Kow-towing to the lobbyists who represent everything under the sun, from the environment to Big Business to public employee unions, the politicians have forgotten about the special interests that matter the most: The average, everyday people who live back in their home districts, struggling to feed a family, keep a roof over their heads, find a job, or run a small business.

It’s those individuals – We, the People – who feel the financial and emotional pain of what Albany begets. We’re the ones who pay taxes that are the highest in the nation and see nothing good come of it. We’re the ones whose families, friends, and employers have ventured off to greener pastures because of the sociopolitical malaise. We’re the ones who see the excesses in state government that the political class glosses over…things like public authorities, public employee payrolls and pensions, Medicaid, and over-regulation, all of which are a drain on the private sector and the working class.

It’s up to you and me, every one of us, to make our voices heard. While you have that chance, share your thoughts with Senator Smith and Company. There are no ideas too big or too small for them to ponder. Dollars can add up in a hurry and hundreds can quickly become thousands which can quickly become millions. With budget gaps in the billions, every little thing can help. Remember that no idea can be deemed as too obvious, either. If it is, why haven’t they moved on it?

So, be frank, be analytical, be constructive. Above all, be caring: Treat this task with the utmost respect and your full attention, because this is your home and my home that we’re talking about, and it’s our responsibility to clean it up. The time to be passive is long gone. We’ve been suffering for decades and, as Pete said, we’re not going to take it anymore.

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