Tag Archives: Robert Hornak

Politics Aside: The city that doesn’t work

| RHornak@queenscourier.com

No sooner was it announced than we were told it was dead on arrival. Well, announced isn’t really the way to describe it; leaked would be better. Last week it came out that the official Office of the All-Intrusive Nanny State, otherwise known as the Department of Health’s Partnership for a Healthier New York City, had developed a proposal to significantly reduce the number of establishments selling and serving alcoholic beverages in the city.

The goal stated was to reduce excessive and underage drinking. As if longer lines at the local bar would deter teens and alcoholics. The Bloomberg administration immediately announced this proposal was not going to become official policy, causing thousands of small business owners around the city to breathe a sigh of relief that they weren’t about to be targeted by “Big Brother.”

Ultimately, this proves that there are far too many people working in government who have nothing better to do than think up ways to mess with our lives. Whether it’s smoking, trans-fats, salt or anything else, no matter how good the justification may seem is this really what we want government for?

Meanwhile, there are far too many people working in government who just have nothing better to do. Just look at the recent MTA debacle. For the entire week from Christmas to New Year’s, the MTA cut bus service, with the goal of saving money for the cash-mismanaged agency. Unfortunately, thanks to an uncooperative union, the drivers who should have been home with their families, instead were on the job. But with few buses to drive, they spent the week at depots playing cards and watching daytime TV.

If that’s not enough, the NYC economy is not looking good for the coming year. Job growth almost ground to a stop in the second half of 2011, and the city unemployment rate rose to 8.9 percent. The financial services industry lost $3 billion in the third quarter and is expected to fall another 14 percent in 2012.

The bottom line here is that our government doesn’t work. Not well anyway. In good economic times we can find excuses to overlook the overspending and mismanagement. But times aren’t good and look to get worse.  Our taxpayers are strapped. With increases in local taxes, doubling of common civil fines and fees and enforcement on steroids, we are teetering on the brink. There is no more blood to get from this stone.

We can no longer afford an Office of the Nanny State working overtime on how to run our lives or workers on the clock not working at all. It may take some radical ideas to make our government work, but we can’t be afraid of change.

Robert Hornak is a Queens-based political consultant, blogger, and an active member of the Queens Republican Party. 

Let’s set the record straight

| letters@queenscourier.com

Robert Hornak demonstrates, in his “Politics Aside” column of December 29, 2011, his lack of knowledge of both history and of the consequences of “fracking,” all the while making a blatant and undeserved attack on those opposed to the practice of the latter.

While misusing a quote, i.e.: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”, he attributes it, wrongly, to Theodore Roosevelt. The actual statement was, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and it was made by Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first inaugural address.

Hornak should, if he wishes to try to pass himself off as a responsible journalist, do several things. They are, in no particular order:

A) Not use the awful term “Nazis” in connection with anyone except the terrible perpetrators of the Holocaust that caused suffering and cost so many people their lives;

B) Get his Roosevelts straight and not try to quote from history without making at least some small effort to get it right;

C) Learn a bit more about the process of Hydraulic Fracturing and the terrible effects it has, not only on drinking water, but upon the Earth itself.

When he has done those three things, and only then, should he have the temerity to even think about putting his words into print and to consider himself as being worth the ink that is wasted on him.

Stuart Hersh


Politics Aside: The lie of the temporary tax increase

| RHornak@queenscourier.com

When is a temporary measure, even with a set expiration date, not temporary? When it’s initiated by government, of course. How many times have we been confronted with the supposed risk of major calamity due to state and local government budget shortfalls? How many times were these supposed impending disasters staved off by “temporary” tax increases? And how many times were those temporary tax increases rescinded?

We saw this in 2002, when local politicians told us that a temporary 18.5 percent increase in the property tax was required to keep New York City functioning after the September 11 attacks. And most people believed those politicians that this was a desperate time and this might be necessary in the short term. But it didn’t take the city long to rebound, especially in the financial services industry, which has always been the economic engine for the city.

But that temporary tax increase turned into a permanent increase. Our leaders had become too comfortable with the new rates and new revenue.

The same thing just happened in Albany. Even though Governor Andrew Cuomo pledged not to raise taxes and to allow the income tax surcharge to expire (that was enacted to close a supposed disastrous shortfall in state revenue), that temporary tax increase has just been made permanent.

To justify his reversal, Cuomo claimed that if he didn’t increase taxes, he would be forced to implement “reckless” cuts health care, education and infrastructure. Does anyone believe that was really the other option? He also marginally cut the rate for people earning under $300,000. For earners between $40,000 and $150,000 the rate will be 6.45 percent, up to $300,000 it is 6.65 percent. Previously it was 6.85 percent. So a worker earning $50,000 per year will save $200 annually, or less than $4 a week.

Meanwhile, politicians have wrecked one of the most acclaimed features of the N.Y.S. tax system, its relative flatness and simplicity. Instead, we now have multiple rates that will only serve to confuse. In fact, the latest Quinnipiac University poll shows that 40 percent of New Yorkers think they are getting a tax increase, and only 28 percent think they will get a cut. And the 28 percent will be even more confused when the cut turns out to be more like a nick.

Ultimately, this highlights Cuomo’s failure to control the municipal unions that really run New York government and have a stranglehold over its spending. In spite of promises to tame the union beast that keeps New York state on the edge of bankruptcy and taxpayers on the verge of relocation, Cuomo has made no progress at all. In spite of his current popularity, he just may have fashioned the noose that will hang his administration.

Robert Hornak is a Queens-based political consultant, blogger, and an active member of the Queens Republican Party.

Politics Aside: Can New York City’s Titanic pension system be saved?

| RHornak@queenscourier.com

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Comptroller John Liu are claiming to have made a deal of “historic” proportions for taxpayers by striking a deal to merge investment authority of the city’s five pension funds under the control of a single independent central management board, with full-time staff led by a newly-created Chief Investment Officer, who would reportedly be paid at a similar level to private investment managers.

The five funds, the Employees’ Retirement System (NYCERS), the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS), the Police Pension Fund, the Fire Department Pension Fund, and the Board of Education Retirement System (BERS), will retain their current boards for internal management issues, but will defer to the new board for investment management.

This deal is supposed to save the city over $1 billion a year by boosting investment performance by 1 to 2 percent annually. Meanwhile, the cost of the entire pension system has ballooned over the last 10 years from $1.5 billion to over $7 billion, and are projected to devour fully 20 percent of all New York City revenue in 2012.

Liu and all the major labor leaders are hailing the deal as the solution to the problem of rising pension costs. It may marginally improve the situation, but if Liu and all the power players in Big Labor are calling this a solution, you can be sure it’s at best a stop-gap measure that doesn’t come close to addressing the real problems in our retirement system.

For one thing, there are no guarantees that the funds will perform any better under the new managers than it does under the current investment managers. There have been no major complaints about the performance of the fund, and Liu testified back in February that the funds had a combined 16 percent return for the six month period that ended on December 31, 2010. That was up from 14 percent for the first half of 2010, and during a time of lackluster overall market performance.

Meanwhile, to his credit, Bloomberg has repeatedly proposed real reforms to the pension system, such as raising the retirement age, requiring increased contributions from new municipal employees, and eliminating the $12,000 pension bonus paid out to all uniformed workers upon retirement. Not to undervalue the contribution of these vital employees, but an additional $12,000 bonus hardly seems warranted when it costs the city $1 billion every year.

The fact is that the current system has exposed city taxpayers to a dangerous and unsustainable level of risk, and real, systemic reforms with tangible benefits, such as creating a 401k style system for new workers. Otherwise, we have only consolidated the deck chairs from five Titanics onto one massive sinking ship.

Robert Hornak is a Queens-based political consultant, blogger, and an active member of the Queens Republican Party.

Politics Aside: Wheel of Redistricting Fortune

| RHornak@queenscourier.com

Every 10 years the federal government orders a new census to be taken, and based on the shifts in population, new lines are drawn for legislative districts all across the country for federal, state and local offices. It’s one of the most basic and most important aspects of politics, and perhaps the most misunderstood and certainly the most unnoticed. Few people ever realize the process has taken place.

It’s like the wheel of fortune. Politicians spin the wheel and what district you end up in may be a matter of random chance. But elected officials are also known to push for district lines that favor their reelection, regardless of how ridiculous their district may look. You could give a standard Rorschach test using many of the districts drawn in New York.

This has led many people to call for a more non-partisan redistricting process, where legislative lines are drawn by people without a political agenda, and instead of looking at the electorates political leanings, they judge the voting base on criteria like common community, ethnicity and other demographic measures to bunch people into homogenous districts with shared values.

But isn’t that just a political agenda by another name? And how are the people to be chosen who will eventually be charged with drawing those fairer lines? Is there truly a way to divorce this process from politics?

Ed Koch has made this a marquee issue for 2011, and has many legislators lined up with him calling for reform. Even Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing for a new, non-partisan system, and has pledged to veto any lines drawn this year that are not done in a non-partisan manor.

Unfortunately, the only proposal so far is to have a group appointed by the top elected officials in the state, the exact same people we are supposedly trying to take this power away from. In other words, it would be a sham system, but one where the governor would now have players at the table, possibly tilting the balance away from evenly split to which ever party holds the statehouse at that time.

Proponents are also saying that now is the time, or we will have to wait ten years before this opportunity comes around again. However, patience is a virtue in matters like this, where we need to make sure we get it right the first go-round. Changing the system for change sake isn’t just careless, but in this case it could be reckless and could destroy the checks and balances that come from the two-party system we have now. To those who say the system can’t be any worse than what we currently have, I say think again.

Robert Hornak is a Queens-based political consultant, blogger, and an active member of the Queens Republican Party.

Queens GOP leadership in question

| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

With the Queens political world already rattled, a storm has begun brewing on the horizon of the borough’s Republican Party.

Two organizational meetings were held on September 28, during which two different men claim to have been elected Queens County Republican GOP leader.

According to Robert Hornak, spokesperson for the Queens Republican Party, current chair Phil Ragusa was re-elected, receiving the support of every voter who attended his meeting – amounting to 62 percent of the total voting strength.
Former Councilmember Thomas Ognibene also claims he was elected at a meeting called by Bart Haggerty, who works for Councilmember Eric Ulrich, which was held on the same date and time as Ragusa’s gathering.

Hornak says that GOP Chair Ed Cox called to congratulate Ragusa on September 29, although Ognibene claims he received a similar phone call from Cox.

“Obviously this is an internal political dispute,” said Ognibene. “I believe I am the one that has been elected, and we submitted our certification of the election to the Board of Elections.”

The GOP leader is chosen by county committee members – elected officials in local parties – who frequently have state committee members hold proxy votes for them. In the September 13 Primary, the two party factions battled for a number of state committee member positions.

There were recent published reports that Ognibene would oppose Ragusa for GOP leader, although Hornak does not believe the challenge to be a legitimate one.

“We knew we were going to win, so they held another meeting to pretend they wouldn’t lose,” said Hornak. “They held a competing meeting without authorization. Bart Haggerty sent out a fraudulent notice saying he was the chair and called a meeting. Only the official chairman can call a meeting. This is all just nonsense to confuse people because they have lost.”

Ragusa’s campaign filed a restraining order that demanded the cancellation of the opposing meeting – a demand Haggerty and Ognibene ignored.

“They tried to take us to court today and tried to stop our meeting last night and couldn’t,” Ognibene said. “I guess we will just have to proceed and I’m sure there may be legal challenges. We were in court on September 29 and we will have to go to court on October 4.”

Ognibene says he is proceeding as if he was elected and will perform all the requirements of the GOP leader until a resolution is reached. He believes that Ragusa has been ineffective and has not done enough to advance the success of the borough’s Republican Party.

“Dealing with Mr. Ragusa is impossible,” said Ognibene. “They haven’t done anything and they haven’t supported any candidates. They are into self-aggrandizement instead of helping the Republican Party. He has done nothing to move the Republican Party forward. We have done it ourselves in southwest Queens.”

Ragusa says his opponent’s accusations are unjustified and unsupported, and that Ognibene’s interest in the position is for his own personal gain.

“We’ve run Bob Turner, Jane Deacy and even Ognibene himself,” said Ragusa. “Everyone that ran with the Republican designation ran because of us. In my four-and-a-half years we’ve run more candidates than they did in the last 10 years. We have done everything a party is supposed to do. I think these are blind accusations. I haven’t seen Mr. Ognibene at a county event since I’ve been chairman. He doesn’t do anything to support the county. I think he spends most of his time on a golf course.”

If the current hearing does not settle the dispute between the party’s two factions, Ragusa says his campaign will file a separate action to invalidate Ognebene’s filing with the Board of Elections.