A Congressional Town Hall in a Purple District

The political climate is begging for protest. But what we really need are actual conversations.

On August 31st, Congressman John Faso, in his first term in New York’s 19th District, held his first public town hall with constituents at the Esopus Town Hall in northeastern Ulster County, nearly seven months after he first took office. During ordinary political times this would be a non-event, as riveting as cable T.V. coverage of your town board’s meeting. But these are not ordinary political times. NY’s 19th is a rare district; it is actually competitive. Faso won with 54 percent of the vote in 2016. Now, in the wake of Donald Trump’s abysmal performance as president, eight potential challengers have lined up, seeking to take on the freshman congressman in 2018.

Many Republicans in Congress across the country have been heavily criticized for not holding open town hall meetings to discuss the house majority policy agenda, Donald Trump’s offensive language, behavior and views, or the controversial initiatives of the Trump administration in health care, federal budget cuts, immigration, tax policy and other policy areas. In response, Republicans argued that these meetings were not venues for serious civil exchange, but opportunities for abusive confrontation by organized opposition on the left. (more…)

Winning the Battle, Losing the War: How Sales Tax Renewal Thwarts Constitutional Home Rule

This post, written by Dr. Gerald Benjamin, was originally published on the Rockefeller Institute of Government’s blog.  It is reposted here with permission, click here for the full text. On March 27, 2017, the Ulster County legislature unanimously passed Resolution 97 authorizing its chairman “… to request the New York State Legislature to commence the process of extending the Ulster County additional sales tax rate of one percent … Read more…

New Benjamin Center brief considers “quasi-magnet” high school model for Ulster County

This press release was originally published by SUNY New Paltz here. 

The Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz has released a new policy brief, “Sharing Educational Programs: A Quasi-Magnet Model for Ulster County High Schools,” authored by Charles V. Khoury, District Superintendent of Ulster Board of Cooperative Education Services (Ulster BOCES).

This brief is the eighth in a series produced through “A 2020 Vision for Public Education in Ulster County,” a collaborative effort between the Benjamin Center and the Ulster County School Boards Association that seeks to promote countywide, regional thinking in the service of enhancing educational delivery and outcomes.

Khoury’s paper explores a potential model for sharing educational programming among the eight Ulster County districts, and argues that this model would expand educational opportunity for students in the final stages of their secondary education.

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New York Could Well Hit the Jackpot with Sports Betting

This OpEd, written by Gerald Benjamin, was originally published by the Albany Times Union. Full text here.  New Jersey has, against all odds, gotten the U.S. Supreme Court to agree to consider overturning the federal ban on sports betting. If the court does so, some think that allowing sports betting in New York still will require another amendment to the state constitution’s already eviscerated gambling prohibition. Read more…

What’s a Constitutional Convention Cost? We Can’t Afford to Not Hold One

This post, written by Gerald Benjamin, was originally published by the Gotham Gazette. It is reposted here with permission, click here for the full text. When asked what a state constitutional convention might cost if called by voters in 2017, I said at a State Bar Association panel event that I had applied the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI inflator to what I then thought was Read more…

On Local Government. Exploring Municipal Charters and Reform

ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Exploring Municipal Charters and Reform

A public educational forum presented by KingstonCitizens.org
Moderated by Co-Founder Rebecca Martin

This event will be filmed.

Thursday, July 13th, 2017
5:30pm – 7:30pm
Kingston Public Library
55 Franklin Street
Kingston, NY 12401

With very special guests:
DR. GERALD BENJAMIN
Associate Vice President for Regional Engagement
SUNY at New Paltz
JENNIFER SCHWARTZ BERKY
Ulster County Legislature and
Principal/Founder
Hone Street Strategic

A municipal charter is the “basic document that defines the organization, powers, functions and essential procedures of the city government. It is comparable to the Constitution of the United States or a state’s constitution. The charter is, therefore, the most important legal document of any city”

Join KingstonCitizens.org as we explore the function of a Municipal or City Charter’: What are they? Why do communities adopt or revise them? What are the basic forms of government under Charters, and more.

A question and answer period will follow.

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Excerpts of Gerald Benjamin’s 06/08/17 Public Comment on RUPCO’s Landmark Place/Alms House/300 Flatbush Ave Project

The Alms House in Kingston is a handsome building. It is a testimonial to the city’s compassion, its commitment to the poor and to the idea of inclusion and community. It is very special that the proposed repurposing of the building sustains its use in accord with a redefined but still strongly identifiable social mission. Too many such buildings have been demolished or allowed to fall into disarray in our county – e.g. The Ulster County Poorhouse in New Paltz – diminishing our connection to our historic legacy. This wonderful city hall in which we meet today manifest’s Kingston’s understanding of the value of preserving its great architecture as working spaces, experienced and employed. You need to act again in accord with those values.

The social purpose of the proposed use of the Alms House – a building I know well from its time as a home for county offices – is essential and extraordinarily challenging. The need – still largely unmet – for affordable housing in our county and especially in Kingston is well documented in several studies, cited on the RUPCO website and confirmed by work we are doing in our research center at SUNY New Paltz now. The excessive proportion of income renters must spend for housing draws resources from other essential daily family needs – like food and clothing – diminishing their quality of life and opportunities for their children.  (more…)

Down to Four NYS Test Days: Progress, But We Can Do Still Better

Robin Jacobowitz, Director of Education Projects, The Benjamin Center

KT Tobin, Associate Director, The Benjamin Center

Officials at the New York State Education Department (NYSED) just announced that, beginning in the 2017-18 school year, the ELA and math tests for grades 3-8 will be administered over two days for each subject, instead of three. The one third reduction of the traditional six days of testing for ELA and math combined, to four days, is a step in the right direction.

We demonstrated in our 2015 study titled Time on Test that the three-day administration meant that students were sitting for these tests for approximately 9 hours; the total time lost to instruction rose to approximately 19 hours when administration of the tests was factored in. We commend the NYSED and Regents for listening to, and then acting on, a primary concern of parents regarding the testing: that students are sitting too long for tests and that valuable instructional time is lost.

But we believe that there is a way to shorten even further the length of time dedicated to testing and restore the opportunity for instruction that is lost due to it. We have argued previously that the NYS 3-8 assessments are not needed for individual student evaluation. NYS school districts assess children throughout the school year in Common Core-aligned curriculum. This allows students’ strengths and weaknesses to be identified – and acted upon – in a timely fashion during that school year. Parents, teachers, and students receive this information, and respond to it, all year long. The purpose of the NYS 3-8 assessments, then, should be to measure institutional performance, to provide school and district based accountability.

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Trust Democracy to Restore Democracy

There will be a statewide referendum question on the ballot this fall – required every 20 years – asking New Yorkers whether we should call a state constitutional convention. Our Jacksonian forbearers, the 19th century leaders who provided us with this regular opportunity to review the fundamentals of our governance, proceeded with a profound faith in democracy. Theirs was a very American – a very New York – belief in the possibility for progress and improvement.

The decision to provide this opportunity was realized in practice. During the 19th century conventions were routinely called once in a generation – in 1801, 1821, 1846, 1867, and 1894 – to revise, renew, and reform the way New York State was governed. From any single value perspective, the results were not pristine, but each time a convention convened our forbearers were, in some measure, affirmed in their faith in democracy.

In the 20th century we had 3 conventions: in 1915 and 1938 called by the people, and 1967, called by the legislature. All did, or proposed, some good things. But then we stopped. The half century since our last convention is the longest without such a gathering in New York State history.

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New York IS a Referendum State — In Local Government

This post, written by Dr, Gerald Benjamin, was originally published in Rockefeller Institute of Government’s blog. It is reposted here with permission.

After receiving a consultant’s report that the town’s highway garage was unsafe and near collapse, the governing board of the northeastern Onondaga County town of Cicero voted earlier this year to replace it. The estimated cost was $9,894,353. The decision had been avoided in the past, the need was great, leadership was willing, and the time seemed as ripe as it was likely to get. Town finances had been stabilized; Cicero is not among localities identified by the state comptroller as under “fiscal stress.” Interest rates are still low, especially for municipalities.

The plan was to borrow the money for the garage over 30 years. The average price for a house bought in Cicero in 2015 was $175,696. Without figuring in recent effects of changes in values, the annual tax impact of the project after the first year on this average priced house would come to $42 annually (about an initial 4 percent increase in a homeowner’s yearly town taxes). Things seemed all set. (more…)

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