Saturday, March 13, 2010

Acid Test for New York State Candidates

A friend will be interviewing Steve Levy, a prospective New York State candidate for governor, as part of a Republican group. Levy is a Democrat who is considering running as a Republican. Although I am skeptical of over-zealous emphasis on partisanship in part because there have been too few differences between the parties for too long, I am also somewhat skeptical of cross-party candidacies, basically for the same reason. If a Democrat is really for reducing government, why on earth is he or she in the party of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Barack H. Obama?

But I am not dogmatically opposed to Levy and may in fact support him if he can prove himself as a small government or at least a reduced government candidate (the GOP's other best bet, Rudy Giuliani, is hardly a small government man--although there were no large increases in New York City government during Giuliani's incumbency there were no large reductions either and it is hard to know because of accounting shenanigans).

At first I suggested that my friend ask a wide range of questions, but I realized that only one are two are necessary if there is too little time. One very good litmus test is Levy's position on the Wicks Law. Senator Arthur Wicks was a Republican from Kingston, the very city in which I am a member of the County Committee. This is what I wrote to my friend:

All you have to ask him is about whether and how he will repeal the Wicks Law. The Wicks Law has been on the books since 1912. The law is named for Senator Wicks who amended it. Wicks, I believe, was from my own Town of Olive in the Village of Olive Bridge which is a few miles from my home in West Shokan. Ultimately Wicks was forced to resign as Senate Majority Leader and acting Lieutenant Governor because "it became known that he had made frequent visits to convicted labor leader Joseph S. Fay while the latter was incarcerated at Sing-Sing prison."

The Wicks law says that the state or any other public entity (New York City, Town of Olive) may not hire a general contractor (GC). Four separate categories of contractors, (a) heating, ventilating and air conditioning (b) plumbing (c) electrical (d) all other, must be hired and supervised directly by the state or other public entity. The lack of a GC opens the door to abuse, crime, coordination problems and law suits. Government officials lack the knowledge and experience required to supervise mammoth construction projects. That is why private sector developers hire GCs. Studies find that the Wicks Law increases public construction costs in the state by 15-30%. No one except construction unions and public contractors supports the Wicks Law. Even the New York Times has editorialized against it. Mario Cuomo had appointed an anti-crime commission that found that the Wicks Law fosters organized crime. When I served on the State Assembly staff in 1991 I attended a meeting at Alan Greenberg's office in Bear Stearns. The meeting was meant to devise cost cutting strategies. Presidents of the leading construction firms in New York City were the majority of the participants. I asked one privately about this and he told me that public construction in New York is so corrupt that he never bids on any public contracts.

Compounding the Wicks Law, if you have time there is a second issue, the diffusion of responsibility for construction in four or five different state agencies. These include the Dormitory Authority (whose existence in itself is an outrage) and the Office of General Services. There are two or three others. What happens is that the actual costs of construction are back charged to the agencies on whose behalf the construction is done. So if the Dormitory Authority does work for SUNY it gets charged to SUNY. This buries the true construction costs around the state. Openly comparing the construction costs in one agency would prove embarrassing to the state because the costs are so high, much higher than other states. The state avoids this.


1 comment:

Allison said...

This is just the sort of thing that got Steve Levy re-elected with 93% of the vote last time he ran. If there is a benefit about a politician believing he is "post-partisan," it's that he doesn't care about party labels when it comes to issues either. He thinks for himself and decides what's right. That's exactly the kind of attitude we need in Albany.