The first week of May was quite eventful: The House of Representatives voted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Governor Andrew Cuomo sends in the Troops (Troopers). Local elections are starting to take shape. The Yankees are winning and the play of their young players is one of baseball’s early season surprises. And, the divide between the two sides of Donald Trump’s mouth keeps growing.
Good news for the city of Albany. The city’s 2016 fiscal year is projected to end with a two-to-three million dollar surplus when the independent year-end audit is finalized. The surplus has led bond rating agencies to keep Albany’s A+ bond rating and to upgrade Albany’s outlook from negative to stable. The bond rating agencies have recognized that the Sheehan administration is working hard to stabilize the city’s financial situation and have rewarded the city with the stable outlook. This will help to keep the interest rate on bonds low, thus easing the affect the city’s 2017 borrowing will have on the city’s overall debt service.
While these bond rating agency reports may seem a bit dry, when I was serving on the Common Council I always liked to read the reports. The bond agencies’ evaluation of the city’s fiscal condition was a good check on the sometimes overly rosy picture presented by the administration. I remember one year when the Jennings administration told the bond agencies that the city was going to implement a pay-as-you-throw system as a way to raise needed revenue. Of course Jennings never did put the system into practice, but the financial necessity for city residents to start paying for trash removal was recognized as far back as 2010.
Social media has been abuzz with reactions, both pro and con, on Governor Cuomo’s announcement to send State Troopers into communities of the state that he says are in need of more resources “to crack down on gangs and prevent gun violence…” Locally, many community activists see the use of troopers as problematic to Albany’s community policing philosophy. They see the Governor’s announcement as bad news for the in-roads the Albany Police Department has made in improving community/police relations. These concerned citizens fear that troopers, who are not trained using a community policing model, will set back the advances the APD has made over the past several years in improving relations between the police and the community.
I am of two-minds on the Governor’s announcement. I welcome the increase in funding for SNUG (what we now call Cure Violence), but I also side with many in the community that feel the increased use of state troopers could have a negative effect on community/police relations. As I have written in previous columns, gun violence in Albany is down as compared to a decade ago. Programs like Cure Violence and officers walking the streets, gaining the respect and confidence of Albany’s residents, do more to curb gang activity and gun violence in the city than a ‘military’ presence will do. I feel that the funds needed to deploy the troopers in the city would be better used for afterschool programs and job readiness training for our older youth. Yes, there may be an immediate result of less gang activity with the use of the troopers, but as we have seen over the years, these results are fleeting. Reducing or eliminating gangs, guns and illegal drug dealing is a long-range effort. One that would be better served with investments in ways to get our children out of poverty and on a path to economic stability. Another sweep of the streets, arresting pseudo-gang members and street-level drug dealers will take a “bite out of crime” as McGruff the Crime Dog says, but that lasts for only a few months, and does nothing to solve the problems of high poverty rates and low job opportunities.
Now for the ugly news, or, in other words, the passage by the House of Representatives of the so-called American Health Care Act (AHCA). I can’t decide which was more reprehensible, the hypocrisy of the House Republicans to pass this gutting of the Affordable Care Act while exempting themselves from the provisions of the AHCA, or the giddiness of the GOP and Trump following the House vote in their ‘gotcha Obama’ made-for-TV photo-op in the Rose Garden. To see this gang of ‘righteousness’ mugging for the cameras, knowing that what they just imposed on the American people was not going to include them or their staff, was nauseating.
To make matters worse was that the passage of these two bills, the AHCA and the exemption for congressional members and their staffs, occurred on the day a wake was being held for my cousin’s wife. She was 39 years old and died from complications related to Cystic Fibrosis (CF). CF is an inherited genetic condition. But, according to Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, if my cousin-in-law led a “good life” she wouldn’t have been so sick and facing death at such an early age. I guess “leading a good life” would have somehow countered, or should I say “Trumped”, her inherited disease, thus eliminating the need for health insurance.
Then, to add a local insult to injury, Congressman John Faso was making the rounds on local conservative radio talk shows, saying that the Senate will fix all of the problems in the bill he just voted in favor of. Instead of showing some backbone, knowing his vote was needed for passage, and fighting for a better bill, he caved liked a house of cards. His reasoning that the Senate will correct the wrongs was one of the lamest excuses I have ever heard an elected official use to try and defend themselves for a vote they made on a piece of legislation.
I wonder how Mr. Faso and the other members of the House slept knowing that their action could keep people like my cousin’s wife from affordable health insurance and access to health care. I know I wouldn’t want that on my conscious, no matter what amendments the Senate finally decides to make to the bill.