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September 19, 2010 - Ray Hall (Archive)
The upset election of Carl Paladino over establishment candidate Rick Lazio is not a shot across the bow of Albany politics—it is a cannon ball smack in the middle of the ship of state’s bow.

The popular but extreme narrative of the most disenchanted voter portrays Albany politicians swimming in a cesspool of corruption and self-absorption. That might not be an entirely accurate picture of political behavior in Albany but it is close enough to have even the most casual observer recognize that all is not well in the state capitol.

There is little doubt that programs and legislation is skewed in favor of elected officials, career employees and lawyers. The latter are almost always exempted from the provisions of regulatory measures and until recently some lawyers were enrolled in as many state pension plans as the municipalities they represented.

The most lucrative fruit in Albany’s orchard is the state pension program, which is available to all municipal employees from the smallest village and school district to the state capitol. Annual retirement benefits in excess of $100,000, even locally, is not unheard of and it is common practice to deliberately increase salaries of some employees over the last three years of employment to boost individual pensions.

State Assemblymen and Senators are favored with perks ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars to hand out in local districts—like a new roof for a fraternal club to a new band shell in a local park. Personal perks for elected officials and employees not only include participation in the state retirement system but also allows individuals to double dip—retire with full pension benefits and continue to work in the same job receiving appropriate salary.

There was a time in the not too distant past when municipal—civil service—jobs offered little more than job security. Private sector jobs paid more, provided better benefits—except holidays—and provided an upwardly mobile existence. However, economic conditions began to change long before the latest economic recession. Private sector jobs fled the rust belt for the sunshine belt and now have traded the sunshine belt for the Pacific Rim and China.

The result of that economical and social shift was that municipal—civil service—jobs gradually acquired popular status and became the preferred pathway to achieving upward mobility.

That circumstance has left the once gainfully employed private sector worker chronically unemployed or chronically under employed with little hope for improving conditions in the immediate future. Envy, even animosity toward government and government employees is apparent among the masses and will continue until serious change takes place in Albany or when the private sector miraculously recovers.

A note to Andrew Cuomo; don’t do a Lazio and ignore Carl Paladino.


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