Assuming, charitably, that it ever had any, the presence of “Occupy New Haven” on the upper Green has by now long outlived its usefulness.
This blight on New Haven historic “Common and Undivided Group” first appeared, like mushrooms following a rainstorm, last September. It was a copycat insurgence of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement whose inchoate objectives seemed to have something to do with protesting private-sector success.
Initially and superficially sympathetic, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg after two months was pressured by local residents to evict the Occupy folks from lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park in a lightning predawn raid on November 14. Emboldened by the New York example, most other U.S. cities moved quickly in succession to uproot the encampments, which beyond their questionable legal status had become breeding grounds of crime and disease.
As far as we can tell, as of March 1 Occupy New Haven was the last such group in the nation to sidestep eviction (Newark, N.J. had rousted the remnants of its own “occupiers” as of February 15, the last known encampment beyond the City of Elms).
It will come as little surprise to readers that this business journal is not in philosophical agreement with the “Occupy” movement. Our readers are mainly business owners and managers who have earned success through initiative, drive and risk-taking. They believe in free enterprise and free markets. To be a “capitalist” is a badge of honor, not an invective.
We believe in equality of opportunity (which is why for 19 years we have been outspoken advocates for fixing ailing urban public school). We are vigorous opponents of government-mandated equality of outcome.
Having said that, we wonder: Why is ONH still permitted to blight our Green when their compadres elsewhere have been rousted from their encampments? One obvious answer is a sympathetic city administration — the same administration that has gone to court in hopes of preventing the federal Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) efforts to crack down on illegal immigration in New Haven. Don’t forget: Mayor John DeStefano Jr. earned national-TV face time thumbing his nose at federal law enforcement when he announced plans to issue city IDs to illegals, earning the Elm City the moniker “Sanctuary City.”
But here’s the thing: It’s not entirely clear that city law-enforcement agencies even have jurisdiction over the Green. In 1723, an act of the General Assembly awarded jurisdiction over the Green to a self-perpetuating group of “Proprietors of the Common and Undivided Ground.”
The Proprietors are chaired by Drew Days, former U.S. solicitor general in the Clinton administration and a Yale law professor. When BNH asked him to clarify what legal entity would have authority to evict the protesters, Days provided an answer that was more legalistic than definitive.
“The Committee of the Proprietors has exercised its jurisdiction [over the Green] on the grounds that it continues to have title and control — presumably because the Green is not and never has been a public square of the City, as are the other parks,” Days wrote.
However, he added, the Proprietors “rel[y] upon the resources of the Parks Department of the City of New Haven to issue permits for specified uses and events under rules prescribed by the Committee from time to time.”
Our best guess is that the city could evict the protestors if it chose, and would also do the Proprietors’ bidding if asked to do the same.
We wish they would.
Budget wonks will remember 2011 as the year state governments acquiesced to the Great Recession’s fiscal realities.
Three years after the arrival of hard times, governors, legislators and revenucrats ran out of options. They continued to expect a rapid economic turnaround, and as always, hoped for more money from the D.C. cash machine. But assumptions and pipe dreams were all that was left. Reserve funds? Drained. The Obama administration’s “stimulus” largesse had slowed to a trickle. Further bonding for unemployment payments and operating expenses was risky.
So actual cuts, not just stingier-than-desired increases in expenditures, took hold this year. The rollbacks weren’t what they need to be, especially given the huge unfunded liabilities most states face. But a marquee stat suggests that the restraint is real: The National Governors Association and National Association of State Budget Officers report that 29 states “have lower general fund spending” in the current fiscal year (which ends June 30, 2012) than “the pre-recession levels of fiscal 2008.”
Some of the moves toward right-sizing were on the thin side:
• California’s solons gave up their subsidized vehicles, saving $285 per month, per pol. Taxpayers seem cool with yanking the rides. “Not very many people have their employers give them cars,” budget watchdog Robert Stern told the Sacramento Bee, “and these are, after all, our representatives and they really shouldn’t be getting perks that very few people get.”
• In April, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice eliminated weekend lunches for the cons under its care. The prison system also replaced carton milk with powdered milk and ditched hamburger and hot-dog buns for slices of bread. One legislator fails to feel sympathy for complainers. “If they don’t like the menu,” quipped State Sen. John Whitmire, “don’t come there in the first place.”
• Republicans in New York’s Senate downsized their chamber. Jimmy Vielkind, a reporter with the Albany Times Union, enumerated the changes: “The payroll had 1,132 people as of [October], down from a high of 1,503 in July 2010. Regional offices in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Long Island and Albany are all closed, and six departments have been consolidated into three.”
• New Mexico capped the annual value of the tax credits it showers on film and television productions at $50 million. Michigan limited its giveaways to $25 million. Washington let its program expire. (It’s not the end to states such as Connecticut’s sleazy, absurdly generous giveaways to a highly profitable industry, but it’s a start.)
Yet fiscal conservatives probed major cost drivers in 2011, too, and frequently scored wins. Wisconsin soaked up the bulk of the legacy media’s coverage of the compensation disparity between government and private-sector employees, but less visibly, other states stepped forward. Summer saw the passage of higher worker contributions for retirement and health care in New Jersey. As a “public” radio reporter put it, Rhode Island tackled its pension-driven budget dilemma “by hiking the retirement age, freezing cost-of-living adjustments, and moving nearly half of current state workers’ contributions into a 401(k)-style plan.”
There was also good news on welfare. In a November analysis, the far-left Center on Budget & Policy Priorities wailed, “California cut [Temporary Assistance to Needy Families] benefits by eight percent, New Mexico and Washington by 15 percent and South Carolina by 20 percent, in nominal terms. (The cuts in inflation-adjusted dollars were still larger.)” In July, Arizona stopped Medicaid coverage for adults without children. “Michigan can no longer afford to provide lifetime assistance,” a social-welfare bureaucrat told the New York Times, explaining that thousands of her state’s cash-handout recipients had been on the rolls for over a decade.
State colleges and universities have long been sacrosanct — rewarded with endless revenue, and free from oversight and accountability. That may be changing. In October, Florida’s chief executive penned a blunt letter that asked inconvenient questions of the Sunshine State’s university presidents. “Many…graduates are unable to find jobs in their field of study,” wrote Gov. Rick Scott, “and many employers are concerned that…graduates are not equipped with the appropriate writing skills, critical thinking skills and technical expertise needed to succeed.” Earlier in the year, Gov Jay Nixon proposed that subsidies to Missouri’s higher-ed-industrial complex be linked to metrics such as completion rates and graduates’ performance on professional-certification tests.
Fixing state government — getting it to stop doing the things it shouldn’t, and start doing the things it should, affordably — is sure to be a lengthy conflict. Optimists can credibly argue that the battle has finally begun.