Archive for September, 2016

Other people’s money

Recently my wife and I took a short vacation trip around Western NY. We stayed one night at a bed and breakfast in Brockport, in Monroe County, and the second at an inn in East Aurora, in Erie County. In both cases the room occupancy tax was 14%. Having traveled quite a bit around the country, I found this reasonable and about average. So why is the hotel/motel occupancy tax here in Broome County only 5%? According to numbers in the 2015 County financial report that means Broome County is leaving nearly $4M a year on the table. That is more than 1% of the total County annual budget, a non-trivial amount.

Why is this? Does our esteemed County Avon Lady think that a low room tax boosts tourism? I rather doubt it. Most people who stay in hotel and motel rooms in the Binghamton area are here for one of two reasons: business or university functions like commencement. Those people have no alternative but to stay in Broome County. And given the ridiculously low room rates here, no one will be deterred by a 14% room tax. Keeping the tax at 5% and shifting the financial burden onto local taxpayers constitutes malfeasance on the part of Li’l Debbie Preston and the Republican-dominated County Legislature. Who are they pandering to? Is this some gift to the gas companies fracking nearby Pennsylvania? It is time for our County Government to look after the needs of its constituents and to stop acting like a bunch of country bumpkins.

Millennials and Public Ethics

The millennial generation, those born since about 1990, generally eschew marriage preferring to bear illegitimate children and cohabitate. That is certainly their choice, however troublesome it may turn out to be for them in the long run. But there is another side to this: its impact on public ethics. If one were a public official, say Director of Public Works for a small Village in Upstate NY, hiring one’s son-in-law would raise ethical, if not legal, issues. But if that official’s daughter were simply cohabiting there is nothing to prevent him from hiring her consort. But what is the difference between the two situations? Nothing. The young man may not legally be his son-in-law, but he certainly benefits from his familial connections. How can we know whether a more qualified person was not passed over in favor of this young man? We cannot, because ethics laws do not apply. Is it not time to update our ethics laws to reflect the reality of today’s lifestyles? Public employment should never be a perquisite extended to family members whether those family ties are legally recognized or simply de facto.