Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why the Uncertainty in ObamaCare is Bad for our Economy

This week marks the anniversary of the passing of ObamaCare, and next week the Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments about it and might decide to repeal the bill. As a small business owner I can explain how the bill is hurting the economy.

Let's look at the big picture. Profits are up throughout the economy, however employment and the GDP are lagging, to say the least. US corporations are sitting on record amounts of cash, but they're not expanding and they're not hiring. Wondering why? It's because of the uncertainty. Nobody knows what new regulations and mandates are coming in the next years, or even months. Businesses are looking at 2-3 years forecasts before making any significant decision, and uncertainty about Government intervention is incredibly high. If a businesses decides to grow, of course it needs to hire more people, but does anyone know what new workplace regulations are to be expected? What new taxes or mandates are coming?

And the biggest unknown of all is ObamaCare, which will massively affect everyone once it starts being implemented in 2014. Speaker Nancy Pelosi told us we have to pass the bill so we know what's in it. Two years have passed and we still don't know what's in it. The language is so twisted that noone can figure it out. One example in recent weeks is the debate over contraception. The media diverted the attention and made it all about abortion rights, religion and the new meme, "women's health". The issue has nothing to do with any of these. It's not about "access to health care", since there's currently no restriction on buying birth control pills, and you can even get them for free from Planned Parenthood. It's all about the Government mandating businesses and taxpayers to pay for someone's birth control pills. New regulations just found in ObamaCare say that contraception pills should be provided for free. But nothing is actually free. If you have insurance from your employer, the employer pays for it (or more precisely, the employees who don't need it pay, since health insurance costs are built into the total compensation package). If you get insured through some Government program or subsidy, the taxpayers are forced to pay for it. (And by "taxpayers" I mean the 50.5% of the population that, according to IRS, pays federal taxes; I assume that if you really can't afford $20/month for birth control pills, then you fall into the other 49.5%).

So we saw what a scandal this minor problem created. If birth control is considered an essential women's health issue (by the way, when was pregnancy classified as a disease?), then a Government agency deciding that food is very important for your health is not that far fetched. Can anyone be sure that, through ObamaCare, companies won't be mandated to pay for their employees' nutrition? Or to offer an allowance for heating costs, since I'm sure it's easy to conclude that extreme cold and freezing is a serious health issue?

It's easy to see why businesses are reluctant to hire people, even though they have the resources. And for small businesses, which make up an overwhelming percentage of our economy, it's even riskier. Big businesses can afford layoffs, but for a small business, the increase in unemployment insurance costs after new crippling mandates force a few layoffs can be devastating. For most business owners like myself, it's much safer to just hang on and try to survive. And hope for a smart and Constitutional decision from the Supreme Court in the following weeks.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Priorities in New Jersey

NJ voters priorities according to a Feb 7 MU poll:
1. Reducing property taxes
2. Reducing income taxes
3. Increasing minimum wage
4. Reforming teacher tenure
5. Raising millionaires tax
6. Reforming drug sentencing laws
7. Restructuring higher education
8. Expanding charter schools
9. Gay marriage

NJ Democratic Legislature priorities in 2012:
1. Gay marriage

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tony Fiore and Stephanie Murray to Run for Middletown Township Committee

Deputy Mayor Pam Brightbill Not Running for Reelection

After Six Years of Dedicated Service to the Township

MIDDLETOWN—Middletown Township Mayor Tony Fiore and Zoning Board Member/Housing Authority Commissioner Stephanie Murray today filed petitions seeking the Republican nomination for Middletown Township Committee for 2011.

“I know Stephanie Murray will serve the taxpayers of Middletown well based on her record of service on the Zoning Board and as a Commissioner on the Housing Authority,” said Mayor Fiore. “Stephanie is not only a tireless member of our community, but also a dedicated wife and mother to three children whose family has lived in Middletown for 10 years.”

“While my commitment to public service is no less now than it was six years ago, I feel that it is the right time to pass the baton to another active member of our community, which is why I am pleased to support Stephanie Murray for Township Committee,” said Deputy Mayor Pam Brightbill. “I know that Stephanie will make an excellent addition to the Committee and help preserve the quality of life we all enjoy in Middletown.”

“It is an honor to have received a tremendous amount of support to continue my public service to Middletown by seeking to serve as a member of the Township Committee,” said Stephanie Murray. “I am looking forward to the challenges ahead to help maintain the quality of life we all enjoy while keeping taxes low in one of the largest municipalities in New Jersey.”

In addition to serving as a member of the Zoning Board and a Commissioner on the Middletown Housing Authority, Mrs. Murray has also served as a member of the Township’s Parks and Recreation Advisory and Open Space Committees. Stephanie is also the founder of a community group known as “Middletown Mornings” which is an open forum for residents of Middletown to meet with their local public officials. Murray holds a B.A. from Fordham University and runs a small publishing company.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Legislative Races in Monmouth County

By now, we have a pretty clear picture of what are the races for State Senate and Assembly this year in Monmouth County. Here they are:

11th District
Senate: Jennifer Beck (R) vs Ray Santiago (D)
Assembly: Mary Pat Angelini & Caroline Casagrande (R) vs Vin Gopal & Marilyn Schlossbach (D)

12th District
Senate: Sam Thompson (R) vs Bob Brown (D)
Assembly: Rob Clifton & Ronald Dancer (R) vs Catherine TinneyRome & ?? (D)

13th District
Senate: Joe Kyrillos (R) vs Christopher Cullen (D)
Assembly: Declan O'Scanlon & Amy Handlin (R) vs Kevin Lavan & Patrick Short (D)

30th District
Senate: Robert Singer (R) vs Steve Morlino (R)
Assembly: Sean Kean & Dave Rible (R) vs Howard Kleinhelder & Shaun O'Rourke (D)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Redistricting, 101

by Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll

Our two-month-long redistricting saga wound down to a wholly predictable conclusion: a registered Democrat college professor handed the Democrats a victory.

One can only assume that if the Democrats submitted the map that the tiebreaker eventually supported, it will ensure that Democrats remain immune from their failure to secure the electoral support of the majority of voters casting ballots in legislative elections.

Some history. In 1966, confronted with the “one-man-one-vote” mandate from the SCOTUS, New Jersey responded by scrapping its old, county-based system of legislative representation, settling on the 40 district Legislature presently extant. Apparently concerned about partisan gerrymanders of legislative districts – which, of course, DO present a problem, as they enable today’s majority to entrench itself against the desires of future electorates – the Framers settled on the Commission system: each party would appoint five delegates, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court would appoint a tiebreaker.

Alas, this elegant theory has not worked out well in practice. Instead of districts drawn by folks (at least theoretically, if often marginally) answerable to the people, we have created a monster, in which one man, answerable to no one, wielding essentially absolute power, and bound by no popularly enacted standards, can impose his whim upon the electorate.

Various theorists and political scientists have their own individual standards which apply to drawing legislative districts. The problem presented by giving one man essentially unbridled power is that his quirky standards shape the political landscape for (at least) a decade. In 1991, the tiebreaker chose an assertedly Republican map, but only Jim Florio's mistaken confusion of his electoral victory for a mandate for hard left policies – including the most massive tax increase in history – produced hefty Republican majorities. The Dems won seats in every election from 1993 to 1999.

The tie breaker in 2001, perhaps mindful of the consequences of drawing fair districts, corrected that error, creating districts in which one Democratic Assembly Representative routinely secures election with a paltry 20,000 votes, while one of her Republican counterparts receives in excess of 50,000. GOP legislative candidates, collectively, routinely outpoll the Democrats, but the map nonetheless ensures wholly disproportionate Democratic majorities. During Chris Christie’s defeat of Jon Corzine, Republicans picked up precisely one Assembly seat. Not a single Democratic incumbent lost.

Now, although persuasive, none of this demonstrates that the map is wholly unfair. Residents in heavily Democratic districts, often, take their civic responsibility to vote less seriously than do Republicans. Were there a realistic possibility that the local Democratic candidate might actually lose, the local population might actually be motivated to vote. We do not operate under a parliamentary system, and no one can predict what the results of an election held thereunder might be. Alternative histories, or counterfactual hypotheticals, make for interesting discussions, but do not much inform the debate.

Rather, the question is whether a naked partisan gerrymander, such as that imposed on the people of New Jersey in 2001 – the results of which were used as the baseline for this year’s map – smells any better for having been imposed by an allegedly “neutral” third party. Had standard political practices employed in other states applied here, the map would be very different, as the partisan Democratic legislative majorities would have faced the check of a likely gubernatorial veto.

Instead, the Democrats procured essentially what they wanted, because the opinions of the tiebreaker, and not the standards the people themselves might have adopted, produced the map. And there is nothing whatsoever that the people can do about it.

Take just one standard considered by the tiebreaker: “continuity of representation”. For those not familiar with academic speak, that translates as “incumbent protection”. Such was (allegedly) one of the key concerns of the tiebreaker this year. (It actually works out to "Democratic incumbent protection"; many a Republican finds herself in difficulty, as you'd expect with a nakedly partisan map.)

Why? While 120 people care passionately about “incumbent protection”, 9 million folks don’t give a rat’s patoot. Why should the careers of 120 legislators make a tinker’s damn worth of difference? Believe it or not, the state would survive – and, perhaps, prosper – if a significant number of incumbents were obliged to find another line of work.

(Note: the process also demonstrates the foolishness of the federal Voting Rights Act. Thereunder, special attention must be paid to ensure that folks with the right last names or the right skin pigmentation secure a proportionate share of legislative seats. This group-think mentality is profoundly anti-American and profoundly offensive, as it implies (a) the people will vote along group lines, and (b) that only someone who shares the electorate’s ethnicity can provide adequate representation. Both of those concepts are poisonous, and should be forthwith consigned to the ash heap of history.)

Whatever one thinks of the merits of the tiebreaker’s factors, one thing is clear: the people NEVER endorsed those factors. Instead of the people, or their representatives, making the determination, one unelected man, answerable to no one, wields the power to impose his essentially unrestrained whim by diktat. Such is simply not the hallmark of a representative system; in a republic, the people make the rules.

This is not to argue that the standards the GOP committee proposed ought to govern (although they were more responsive to actual votes). Instead, the people ought to set the standards by which districts are drawn, essentially removing all discretion from folks who – however well intentioned (or disinterested) they might believe themselves to be – might be sore tempted to shape the state in accordance with their own political predilections.

The only truly fair way to reapportion is to preclude as many opportunities for political hanky panky as humanly possible. So, create a simple metric: equality of population and compactness. Essentially, start in Montague and keep adding towns until one reaches the magic number, then move on, coming as close to a square as circumstances permit. Only a map in which population numbers are better, and districts more compact, would suffice as a challenge.

Of course, there will still be room for partisanship: do we add this (Republican) Town or this (Democratic) Borough in order to reach parity? But, at least, incumbent protection and “partisan fairness” (whatever that means) would be off the table.

Searching for perfection is a fool’s errand. But having now endured two straight reapportionment cycles in which rank partisanship masquerades as impartiality, it seems appropriate to reconsider the system, and move to one which empowers the people rather than college professors.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bayshore Tea Party Reveals Legislative Map

The Bayshore Tea Party Group just released its legislative district map. It was built by its passionate members based on Constitutional requirements, taking into account recent court decisions. Preserving incumbent seats and creating safe districts was not a criteria, which is why the two parties would probably never consider such a map. The BTPG Redistricting Committee Chairman, Sean Spinello said:

The People’s Map is based solely on Constitutional criteria in the interest of all the people of the State of New Jersey and without regard to partisan politics. Commission members who truly represent the people would support the same map as a member of the public as they will as Commission members. Therefore, we expect the Commission to support a non-gerrymandered and Constitutional map such as ‘The People’s Map’.

Here is what the map looks like:

Monmouth University polling expert Patrick Murray also commented:

Except for what appears to be an inadvertent split of Egg Harbor Township between districts 1 and 2 (which will require some re-tooling), the map's parameters are solid. It also maintains and perhaps enhances minority representation (basically as well as the map proposed by the minority coalition!) and provides for real competition for control of the next legislature. Of course, it is unkind to incumbents, and thus contrary to what Rosenthal has laid out as his priorities. On the whole, a map worth adding to the discussion.

Art Gallagher also made this observation:

The map is unkind to incumbents. In Monmouth County, Senators Joe Kyrillos (Middletown) and Jennifer Beck (Red Bank) are both in a new 13th district comprised of Bayshore and Two River towns. Old Bridge is moved, along with incumbent Assemblyman Sam Thompson, from the current 13th to an all Middlesex County 19th. Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (Little Silver) would join Assemblywoman Amy Handlin as incumbents in the lower house.

The NJ Redistricting Commission is set to release the official map by April 3rd.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mayor Tony Fiore Clarifies the Middletown Library Rumors

The Middletown Township Committee issued a press release on Sunday, presenting some cost-saving measures. These included asking the Library to return some of its surplus in order to meet a township budget shortfall of $4.4 millions. A lot of people thought the Township is closing the Library, killing it, defunding it, demolishing it, when this wasn't the case. Libraries in New Jersey receive a state-mandated budget based on a formula. This is a lot more than many libraries need, and the Middletown Township Library has a $1.2 million surplus. They have so much money that they fly first class to various conventions, and are booking acts from Timbuktu to perform for 40 people.

So today, Mayor Tony Fiore issued this statement:

Dear Township Residents:

I felt it was necessary for me to respond to the recent flurry of comments and emails regarding the Middletown Township Library. It is unfortunate that some have chosen to engage in the spread of completely false information with regard to the Township Committee’s request of the Middletown Library Board. So let me set the record straight.

First let me make it very clear that neither I nor any member of the Township Committee has ever suggested or proposed closing any library facility in the Township. We would simply not do such a thing.

The situation the Township finds itself in is not unlike that being faced by towns throughout New Jersey. With revenues sharply down due to the economic downturn we remain in and with state-mandated costs ever on the rise, we are now faced with an extraordinary fiscal challenge. This includes the potential for the layoff of a number of employees and even possibly police. Be assured that we do all we can to avoid layoffs and we take the matter very seriously.

The Library budget is different from the Township budget in that state law specifies how much must be allocated to the library each year, whether it is needed to operate the library or not. The result of this is that the library now has a surplus of $1.2 million. While some portion of this surplus is needed for ongoing support of library programs and initiatives, the vast majority is not needed for continued operations. I personally met about two weeks ago with the Library Director and the Board Chairman and asked that they bring back to the library board a request to transfer approximately $700,000.00 - $800,000.00 of their surplus to the Township’s budget. This would be used to offset layoffs and to help fund the continuation of many vital Township services and help to offset the impact of over $4 million in tax appeals.

The Township Committee is fully aware that the library board cannot be forced to do this. However we are asking that they work with us in a unified effort to help all of the residents and taxpayers of the Township. I would note that the Township Sewerage Authority dedicated a portion of its surplus to the Township last year and we anticipate them doing the same again this year.

Many people have expressed concern that the Township Committee is seeking to transfer operation of the library to the Monmouth County Library System. Let me be clear that the Township Committee has taken no action to do this. Such a move would be an absolute last resort, but without the transfer of some of the library surplus it may become a fiscal necessity. Not an option, a necessity. Should this action have to occur, the library would not close, it would simply move under the umbrella of the county and the staff would become county employees rather than be Township employees. Again, we do not want to make this move. We would like to see our library continue as the great Township facility it is. Our hope is that we can work with the Library Board as a team with the best interests of the Township as the goal.

Anthony P. Fiore, Mayor