Monday :: Jul 3, 2006

Rollin' Empty Boxcars

by pessimist
“We will have tens of thousands of individuals, real people, that are going to be hurt by this,” [New Jersey] Republican Assembly member Francis Blee told ABC News. “There will be bread winners who are not bringing home a pay check.”

When was the last time you heard of a Republican who honestly donated the tiniest morsel of feces about a worker bringing home a pay check? It's been a very long time! I doubt dirt was yet invented the last time this happened!

The Republican assault on the working class began with the consolidation of Republican power after the end of the Civil War, and continued unabated until the Great Depression. It resumed post-WWII, and never yet has it let up.

So why all the crocodile tears from a Republican about workers and their pay checks?

Because the illustrious Mr. Blee represents the NJ Assembly district which contains the Atlantic City casinos, and Governor Jon Corzine is going to shut them down due to a budget battle with the very Assembly of which Mr. Blee is a member!

What hypocrisy!

While Mr. Blee spouts about 45,000 state employees about to be furloughed, and another 36,000 who will continue to work unpaid - allowing underfunded police, prison, and mediacal services to continue, what he really cares about is the amount of money his owners - I mean, his campaign contributors [Harrah's Entertainment Inc. (HET), which owns the Bally's, Caesars, Harrah's and Showboat properties in Atlantic City; Aztar Corp. (AZR) owns the Tropicana; Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. (TRMP) which has three properties in the city; and the partnership of Boyd Gaming Corp. (BYD) and MGM Mirage (MGM) each owning 50% of the Borgata casino hotel] - are going to lose (millions!) if they are closed because the state can't monitor their activities as they are charged under the law with furloughed employees.

That's the only 'pay' check he cares about!

The bite of the potentially lost wagering is big:

Last year during the month of July, the state's casinos took in $16.3 million [a day] - the highest grossing month, said commission spokesman Dan Heneghan. "So far, this year the grosses were running higher than last year."

According to the state Casino Control Commission, these casinos took in almost $433 million as of the end of June.

With an average 8% tax, that state took in about $1.2 million a day in taxes last year - which is nothing to sneeze at when your state is $4.5 billion in debt.

The main difference between the Governor and the Assembly seems to be over what manner the taxes are to be collected. New Jersey Assemblymen want to adopt a property tax assessment plan which sounds very much like that which we have here in California, but they aren't currently planning on going back into session to deal with the budget (unlike New Jersey's state Senate, which remains in session to work out the details of any bill the Assembly might potentially pass).

Corzine wants an increase in the state sales tax from 6% to 7%, a move which would cost the average New Jersey family $275 per year, but would raise the state's income by $1.1 billion.

Already I can hear our wrong-winger friends exploding with "Tax and Spend! Tax and Spend!", as if it is better than "Borrow and Spend" as the Republicans at the national level are wont to do!

That $275 works out to 75 cents a day, or much less than the cost of that coffee you buy from Starbucks on your way to work in the morning. I don't think that amount will break anyone. Paying your debts as you go is always a better way to do business.

But I digress.

Corzine, who was once head of Goldman Sachs and thus knows something of the concerns of wealthy investors, has other proposals in his budget that cut AHEM *** CUT *** the state budget by $2.5 billion - or, to keep it simple - REAL SIMPLE! - for the simpletons, eliminates from the budget more than twice the amount of the proposed increase.

Corzine seems to understand the consequence on the public of his electoral actions:

"It gives me no joy, no satisfaction, no sense of empowerment to do what I'm forced to do," Mr Corzine told a news conference. "There will be people who do not receive the attention that they rightfully deserve from our state government. I don't like it. We will do everything we can to bring this to a short conclusion."

But the prospects for this aren't good, and Corzine knows it:

But with Mr Corzine saying on Sunday that there was "no immediate prospect of a budget", there was little sign of a long-term solution to the stalemate.

This is what Corzine is up against on the spending side:

This is the first time New Jersey's government has even partly shut down because a budget was not enacted by the fiscal year's end on June 30.

The Democratic governor, now negotiating his first budget, used his emergency powers under the Disaster Control Act to send all nonessential state workers home. [T]alks on the $31 billion budget had dragged on for 102 days. Without an agreed budget the state has no authority to spend public money. Many of the affected government agencies were closed for the Independence Day holiday weekend when the announcement was made. The police, prisons, child welfare services and state mental hospitals will be able to continue operating.

Road construction and lottery sales were among the first casualties of the shutdown. Race tracks and casinos, which require state monitoring, will be closed Wednesday if no budget is enacted by then. The commission employs about 190 inspectors who are currently working and will oversee the shutdown if it should happen Wednesday morning, Heneghan said.

State parks, beaches and historic sites will close their gates on Wednesday. If the shutdown drags on, Corzine said, services funded with state aid, such as prescription drug assistance and hospitals, will also be hit.

The reason I present New Jersey's travails today is that every state in the Union is going to undergo such economic hardships before too much longer. Many tough choices are going to have to be made if a state is going to remain solvent. States such as Massachusetts and New York are attempting to deal with the medical insurance crisis, but if their budgets go into the tank as New Jersey's has, what chance is there to make such plans reality?

I wrote in the past about the head of UPS complaining about the poor condition of the nation's transportation infrastructure, a portion of which is covered through state government expendature. If a state's budget goes too far over the line, will those lights up ahead be traffic signals - or an oncoming semi?

One of the legitimate gripes I've heard out of the wrong-wing concerning taxation is the General Fund method of disbursement. There is far too much room for abuse and fraud when taxes intended for road repairs end up going to reimburse well-connected business interests for the cost of opening up yet another Big Box Branch.

A tax is collected from the people for a specific purpose, and isn't just something for elected officials to toy with for the benefit of their corporate campaign contributors. A tax is intended to cover the costs of such services - police, fire, public health - that benefit everyone in the community. Everyone should know why they are paying a tax, and should also know that their taxes really are being used for that purpose.

Both parties have long abused this General Fund concept for the benefit of their select few, and New Jersey is an example of what happens when tax abuse is allowed by the voters to run unchecked for too long.

Imagine what it will be like when the foreign investors completely abandon us to our economic fate! The nation is already broke, and even wealthy states like California are going to suffer heavy budgetary hits in the coming years.

Our Way Of Life - at least as we currently understand it - will be considered a sick joke by those who remember it, and a fantasy by those who won't ever experience it. It has become too expensive to keep intact and isn't considered important enough by too many to rescue.

That is the enemy that should be faced. That is the issue of which Americans should be afraid, and should fight.

But the American people would rather pretend that some rich-kid Saudi with religious fanatics at his beck and call is the enemy, and that he hates Our Way Of Life. We don't - no, won't recognize that Our Way Of Life is what drove him and many others to fanaticism. If we weren't such greedy bastards, we wouldn't have made the lives of so many others so miserable so that ours could be fat, dumb, and happy.

If there really is something to the belief of karma, then we have much to atone for - and we will. And we won't get to vote on it. Is that when America will finally realize they have been playing with loaded dice?


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