New York's Death by Unfunded Entitlements

Tuesday, 31 Aug 2010 10:37 AM

By Herbert London

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Rhoda Jacobs is a Democratic assistant speaker of the New York State Assembly representing a district in Brooklyn. She, like many of her colleagues, puts a premium on constituent service. In fact, that is her calling card and her campaign mantra.

In most respects she employs her position to help those in her neighborhood and does so with understandable campaign goals in mind. For Ms. Jacobs, governing and campaigns are indistinguishable, a condition she shares with her Assembly brethren.

What Ms. Jacobs does not fully appreciate is that someone has to pay for the services she is eager to promote. Many of her constituents love the services, but most are in the dark when it comes to determining actual cost. I would guess that Ms. Jacobs, despite her elevated Assembly position, cannot determine cost either. In fact, I’m confident about this assertion.

A recent letter Ms. Jacobs sent to one of her constituents crossed my desk. It says implicitly that the assemblywoman doesn’t appreciate the tax burden necessary to sustain the government services she is eager to promote and it says explicitly that she will use her office to extend these services.

Let Ms. Jacobs speak for herself since what follows is from her letter:

My office can provide you and your family with information and assistance on a wide variety of issues including housing, landlord/tenant disputes, unemployment, employment referrals, consumer advocacy, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, utility services, food stamps, and food pantry information, voter registration and much more. We can also help you apply for benefits for which you might be entitled.

As Assemblywoman Jacobs notes, “Especially during this blessed month (Ramadan), I extend to you the services of my office to help you to resolve issues and problems that may be causing you hardship.”

However, there is a problem, almost everyone has issues and problems causing hardship. Are all who fall into this category eligible for Ms. Jacobs assistance? And if so, who is going to pay the bill?

Think about this for a moment and consider the list of services: healthcare, food, lodging, retirement insurance, employment, and “much more.” This is a great country, but it was also once a rich country, a matter very much in doubt because of pols like Ms. Jacobs.

Austerity doesn’t get you elected. It is not surprising that the assemblywoman’s office offers voter registration information. Do you think the person receiving these benefits will vote for Ms. Jacobs' opponent? Will she even have an opponent? And if so, will that person explain the dangers of an expansive government in inexorable combat with the private sector?

The more government expands to accommodate Ms. Jacobs' constituents, the more capital is driven out of the private economy until you have an economy Lady Thatcher once described as “running out of other people’s money.”

Ms. Jacobs may not realize the fact that New York State is insolvent and it is insolvent because legislators continue to spend and offer services the state cannot afford. But if legislators want to act responsibly and engage in retrenchment, their constituents, now addicted to the state welfare system for their very existence, would turn on them.

As a consequence, the state system is self-fulfilling: Give constituents what they want and they, in turn, will keep you in office.

But the jig is up. The state is broke. In New York City, 1 percent of the population pays 55 percent of the taxes and that 1 percent can flee and is fleeing.

Florida without a state tax looks more appealing every day. Of course, Ms. Jacobs doesn’t care, her goals are short term. She votes routinely against any budget cuts. As she would note, “I’m merely looking out for my constituents.”

Alas, that’s true. She is also like George Washington Plunkitt of yesteryear, a believer in “the greatest good for the greatest number. Starting, of course, with No. 1.” Yes, she must get elected before she can engage in her “good deeds.”

A few more years with Ms. Jacobs and her majority colleagues in the Assembly and their job will be to turn out the lights when the last New Yorker gets on I-95 heading south for Florida.

Herbert London is president of the Hudson Institute and the author of the book "Decline and Revival in Higher Education" (Transaction).

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