By Michael Kaufman
If you live in the 98th Assembly District you have no doubt recently received a couple of pieces of “Dear Neighbor” mail from our new representative in the State Legislature, Karl (Karlapalooza) Brabenec. In these pieces, professionally produced and printed in non-union shops, he says he wants to make sure our “needs are being represented” and that he believes “having an open dialogue is critical.” Apparently his idea of an “open dialogue” is a survey with questions that are meant to seem important, but are actually meaningless, irrelevant, or loaded, e.g., written in such a way as to elicit a particular response.
We are asked, for example, to reply Yes or No to “Do you believe the DEC should have selected Orange County as lead agency in Kiryas Joel’s annexation proposal?” Karlapalooza knows that the decision made by the state Department of Environmental Conservation is enormously unpopular outside the borders of KJ itself. The DEC designated the Satmar Hasidic village of KJ to lead an environmental review of its own proposal to annex 507 acres from the Town of Monroe. It just doesn’t seem right. So, you may ask, what about Orange County?
Anyone who has followed the activities of the dysfunctional Republican-led county legislature over the past eight years or so can only shudder at the thought. Think of all the money that would be doled out to cronies, oops, I mean consultants, over an extended period before a decision is reached….and immediately challenged by a lawsuit that will cost taxpayers even more to fight. No, Orange County is not the answer either. The DEC made the right call because KJ will give it its best shot and if its case is factually refuted by scientific evidence the annexation will likely not be permitted. But that is not the answer Karlapalooza seeks, or the one he will get from most respondents.
Whew, it’s a good thing there are some easy ones. We can say how we “feel” about the governor’s performance on a scale from 1 (Strongly Approve) to 5 (Strongly Disapprove). We can do likewise for the State Legislature. But is there really anyone who strongly approves of either? What is the point of asking us when you already know the answer?
A multiple choice question asks us to choose among various options for state government “to help create jobs.” The choices are meager: tax credits for small family businesses, eliminating tax credits to generate revenue, across-the-board tax cuts, or “stay the course.” (What, no “all of the above” or “none of the above?”)
Well, we do get a “both of the above” in a question worded specifically to elicit that response: “What is the best way to improve our area’s schools?” The choices include “Restore the governor’s 2010 education aid cut;” Eliminate costly unfunded mandates;” the aforementioned “Both of the above;” and “Increase costly competitive grants that schools must apply for.” Is it just me or do you think Karlapalooza wants us to go with “Both of the above?”
Frankly I’m getting a little tired of the buzzwords “unfunded mandates.” They are used to justify cuts in hard-won benefits negotiated in good faith between public employees and government agencies. They are especially used pejoratively to attack teachers whenever a local school budget that requires an increase in property taxes comes up for a vote. Here is the Oxford dictionary definition of mandate: “An official order or commission to do something.” It doesn’t say how to do it. Maybe all it will take is closing a few loopholes that give tax breaks to large corporations. Funding need not come from individual homeowners already overtaxed. But that wasn’t one of the choices.
By the time we reach the end of the survey, Karl has stopped all pretension of impartiality. “Do you think NYS should pass the DREAM Act,” he asks, adding “a law that allows for illegal immigrants to receive state aid for tuition costs?” At least he didn’t say “illegal aliens.” No one put it better than Elie Wiesel, who knows a thing or two about how it feels to be treated otherwise: “No human being is illegal.”
Also near the end is “Do you support REPEALING the NY SAFE Act?” And just in case we may be inclined to answer in the negative, he adds parenthetically, “One of the most restrictive gun laws in the country.” And I haven’t even gotten to the question about Common Core, which is the one that got my nose out of joint in the first place! The choices are silly and presume a depth of knowledge of the subject that few possess. The “open dialogue” ends with four lines left blank for “other specific suggestions.” I have one: Dear Neighbor: Stop wasting money on self-serving mailings designed to create the illusion that you care what I think.
Michael can be reached at email@example.com.