Monday, April 27, 2009

Finally, Rockefeller Drug Law Repeal

After 36 years, New York State has finally repealed the Rockefeller Drug Laws. The end has seemed near ever since the Democratic Party took over the New York State Senate this year for the first time in more than 45 years. It became official late last week when Governor Paterson signed the long-awaited repeal bill.

Laws That Needed to Be Repealed

The Rockefeller Drug Laws were enacted in 1973 and mandated that New Yorkers who were found guilty of possessing illegal drugs be sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in prison. The Rockefeller Drug Laws were designed to equate drug possession (a non-violent crime) with second-degree murder. In fact, there have been a number of New Yorkers who were imprisoned as first time offenders under the Rockefeller Drug Laws and who then saw those convicted of murdering their loved ones enter and leave prison before they left prison themselves as first-time, non-violent offenders.

The Rockefeller Drug Laws were abused by law enforcement and prosecutors to imprison a large number of young people of color for long periods of time despite their lack of a criminal record or any hint of violence. Ninety percent of those imprisoned in New York State under the Rockefeller Drug Laws are Black or latino despite the fact that white New Yorkers represent 73% of drug users in New York State.

That warrants repeating.

NINETY PERCENT of those imprisoned under New York's drug laws are Black or latino, but 73% of drug users are not Black or latino. The Rockefeller Drug Laws have been an excuse to imprison young people of color and have not been used to abuse the white population in the way that they have been used to abuse communities of color in New York State.

Elections Have Consequences

We argued prior to the November 2008 elections that New Yorkers needed to give the Democrats control of the New York State Senate in order to get legislative reform and other improvements in Albany. One of the key benefits of the victory that the Democrats achieved in November in New York State is the repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

It could not have happened without that Democratic victory, and it happened as a direct result of the votes we cast in November.

Fiscal Conservatism Supported Repeal

The repeal of the Rockefeller Drug laws will save hundreds of millions of dollars each year. New York State spends more than one half of a billion dollars each year to imprison non-violent drug offenders, and the reduction in the volume those incarcerations coupled with the reduced prison population that results from the retroactivity of the repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws will dramatically reduce New York State's expenditures on prisons. That reduction in spending will allow New York State to avoid some cuts in services and reduces the amount of increased taxation that New York State must undertake in order to balance its budget.

Praise for Albany - For A Change

New York State's elected officials are rarely praised, and often, the lack of praise is appropriate in light of the performance we see in Albany. The repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws shows that Albany can make the changes we need; Albany can make change quickly, and Albany can succeed despite heavy opposition from well organized groups (such as the District Attorneys in the case of the Rockefeller Drug Laws).

It took more than three decades for New York to correct this mistake, but it's finally happened. And, for a change, we can rejoice in an Albany achievement. - Gabe Pressman, NBC

Monday, April 20, 2009

Same Sex Marriage Would Improve the NYC Economy

Last week, Governor Paterson proposed that the New York State Legislature adopt legislation legalizing same sex marriage. We note that legalizing same sex marriage will improve New York City's economy while living up to our moral obligation to end the discrimination in our state and in our city against homosexual residents and the outcome of that fight will be determined in the New York State Senate. This fight for liberty and equality will be decided in the New York State Senate, and the outcome is completely uncertain.

State Senate at the Crossroads

The legislation proposed by Governor Paterson passed the New York State Assembly by a wide margin in 2007, but it failed to get to the floor of the New York State Senate. Since then, the Democrats have taken over the New York State Senate by a very thin majority, making adoption of the legislation more likely but uncertain.

It is rare in the New York State legislature for a vote to be taken in either chamber on a piece of legislation that the leadership of that chamber is not certain will obtain a majority vote. With this piece of legislation, the vote will be too close to call right up to the moments before the vote.

Economic Growth and Same Sex Marriage

City Comptroller Bill Thompson produced a report in 2007 that attempted to estimate the economic impact of legalizing same sex marriage. His analysis suggested that New York State would benefit from approximately $250 million of economic activity over three years simply from the weddings that would take place in the state after the legalization of same sex marriage. He also estimated that $175 million of the $250 million would be economic activity benefiting New York City.

Many couples living in New York City would take advantage of the new law and begin planning weddings, while both New York City and New York State would benefit from out-of-state couples coming to New York for their weddings. New York's hotels and banquet halls would see increased activity. The sooner New York State acts, the greater the benefit, as the lack of equivalent opportunities in neighboring states will increased the economic activity in New York State in the near term. Longer term, we'd expect neighboring states to follow our lead and provide equal rights to their residents irrespective of sexual orientation

Benefits of Marriage to New Yorkers

There are more than 1,100 federal rights and more than 1,300 New York State rights available to married couples that are not available to couples who are not married. Therefore, the prohibition against marriage for same sex couples in New York State who wish to marry is equivalent to the systematic denial of nearly 2,500 rights to those New Yorkers.

An excellent example of the types of rights that only married couple enjoy is the spousal privilege - a married person cannot be compelled to testify in court about communications with his or her spouse. Without marriage, there is no privilege, and same sex couples who wish to marry are left without this crucial protection.

Beyond the enormous psychological benefits of marriage, we must recognize that there are thousands of important rights that are available only to individuals who are married and that, by preventing some of our fellow New Yorkers from gaining the status of being married, we are participants in a state-sponsored discrimination exercise that attacks our neighbors.

Being a Better New York

Legalizing same sex marriage makes us all better. It continues the march to greater personal equality and freedom that our country has undertaken - from slavery to Jim Crow, women's suffrage, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, to today. It adds hundreds of millions of dollars to our economy and vindicates our self-image as a land of equal opportunity.

We urge the New York State Senate to support Governor Paterson in this historic battle.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tax Day in Manhattan - 2009

Two days from today, it will be Tax Day in Manhattan as well as in all of the other 3,141 counties in the United States. This is an excellent time to look carefully at the level of taxation we face here in what is truly the capital of the world.

Tax Burden Falls Heavy on Manhattan

As taxpayers across our country prepare for the deadline for filing their tax returns, we look at the tax burden of our county, New York County, which is synonymous with the borough of Manhattan and find that Manhattan residents have a greater tax burden than residents of any other county in the United States.

Manhattan's highest-in-the-country tax burden is 20% of income, more than one-half of one percent higher than the next closest county, which is Fairfield County, a Connecticut county in the New York City area and the home of General Electric. Westchester County, the county immediately to the north of New York City's Bronx county, ranks as the fourth most burdened county in terms of taxes with a burden of 18% of income. Elsewhere in the top ten are two New Jersey counties in the New York City area. Those counties are Somerset and Morris counties.

Of the most taxed Congressional districts, three of the top five are in Manhattan, and the most taxed Congressional district in the country is the Manhattan district represented by Carolyn Maloney.

Manhattan's tax burden will likely increase in the near future as income tax increases are a part of the plan for future federal budgets and are already included in the New York State budget for next year. As we have stated previously, increasing taxes in New York State is a necessary evil, while the increase in federal taxes would be a mistake representing a poor understanding of macroeconomics. Because the New York State budget must always be balanced, revenue increases or budget cuts (or both) are necessary during economic downturns. The federal budget should run into deficit spending during economic downturns to spur economic growth. Unfortunately, our national leadership in Washington, DC is now planning to raise taxes despite the economic challenges facing our country, and those tax increases (particularly when coupled with the New York State tax increases already adopted by the New York State legislature) will increase the gap in tax burden between Manhattan and the rest of the counties in the United States.

New York State Also Leading the Country in Tax Burden

For nearly every year of the last 30+ years, New York State has been the most taxed state in the United States. From 2006 to the present, New York has been the second most taxed state in the country (New Jersey replaced New York as the most taxed state in 2006).

Therefore, Manhattan residents live in the most taxed county in the country and are surrounded by other counties with high tax burdens in a state that ranks second only to its neighboring state as the most taxed state in the United States.

Manhattan's Voice Is Needed

As we stated in the aftermath of the election of President Barack Obama, Manhattan led the way in the financing of the successful Obama campaign.

It is important that Manhattan, which has the greatest tax burden and played the greatest role in the election of the current President, have a strong voice in national policy. The leadership of our country has been on the attack against Manhattan for many weeks, and Manhattan must fight back. Our place as the capital of the world should give us the confidence to fight back. Our position as the most tax-burdened county gives us ample moral authority to demand that we be heard.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Manhattan's Educated Professionals Suffer in This Recession

The current recession has hit our city and our borough especially hard. In a manner reminiscent of the previous recession, the greatest pain has thus far been experienced by well-educated New Yorkers.

Previous Recession Saw Long-Term Unemployment Rise Amongst the Educated

In the recession that gripped the United States in the early part of this decade (March 2001 to November 2001), the unemployment rate rose across all categories of workers. The long-term unemployed (those unemployed for more that six months) grew in size dramatically during the period surrounding the 2001 recession, but the growth in long-term unemployment was far more dramatic amongst those with college educations than amongst the broader population. Interestingly, those Americans who had completed their college educations had their long-term unemployment numbers grow by approximately 300% during the period surrounding the recession of 2001, while the overall growth in long-term unemployment was only approximately 200% and the growth in long-term unemployment amongst those with no more than a high school diploma was only approximately 150%.

In the end, real economic pain is more severe for those with fewer resources, and in good times and in bad times, the levels of unemployment amongst educated Americans are far, far below the levels for those who have little education. The recession of 2001 and its aftermath demonstrated that modern recessions have the potential to impose greater pain on well-educated Americans than on those less educated, at least in terms of percentage increases in long-term unemployment.

Troubles Accelerate Amongst the Well Educated

As the New York Times reported yesterday, the current economic downturn has resulted in New York City residents with at least bachelors degrees losing their jobs at more than twice the rate of those who did not finish high school. As the Times noted, highly educated workers often benefit from significant severance packages that mask the true level of their unemployment in the early portion of an economic downturn because those receiving severance payments typically would not apply for unemployment benefits until those severance payments are exhausted. Therefore, the actual growth in unemployment amongst those with college degrees is likely significantly higher than the growth seen in the unemployment statistics, which are based on analyses of those who apply for unemployment benefits.

Manhattan is the borough with the largest percentage of its population possessing at least a bachelor's degree, and the unemployment trends we see in the current economic downturn combine with the intense difficulties facing the financial services sector to create an alarming picture for our borough. Communities with less of their economies linked to the financial services sector and those with less educated populations are likely to face shallower and shorter downturns than Manhattan, unless the New York City and New York State step in to help improve the prospects for Manhattan's workers and would-be workers.

Support Programs

New York State is considering opening an office in Manhattan to support the retraining of well-educated workers and aiding in their job searches, and New York City announced a plan with the same goals (and the additional goal of spurring entrepreneurship) in February. The State program remains under development, and the New York City program uses only $15 million of New York City money and combines it with the $30 million the the federal government is providing to New York City. Unfortunately, $15 million is not nearly a sufficient commitment to the work we must do to combat the rising unemployment in our community.

We hope that our elected leaders, in the midst of their own enormous challenges and undertaking efforts to balance their budgets against a backdrop of declining tax revenues, will make the efforts to reduce unemployment in our city a high priority.