Weiner’s Not Resigning

Like I said the other day, if Anthony Weiner ignores the calls to resign and just hunkers down for a few weeks, he’s a safe bet for reelection. It’s good to see that he agrees with this and has confirmed once again that he will not resign. This is certainly much more survivable than David Vitter having diaper sex with prostitutes or John Ensign trying to cover up his affair with his campaign manager’s wife. And if you really want to put it in perspective, check out what Silvio Berlusconi’s been up to. People who think Weiner’s not going to survive this are severely overestimating the attention span of the voters.

The Opposite Political Interests of the Old and the Young

Bernie accuses me of hating old people, but let’s tie up the LVEDC issue before we get to that.

It is clear from every single one of Bernie’s posts on this issue that his core objection is that summer hours are bad because it *looks* like they’re getting a special privilege. Bernie doesn’t get summer hours, so why should the employees of a publicly-funded organization?

I argued that 40 hours = 40 hours, so there’s no issue here, just dumb resentment politics. Bernie has continued to suggest that LVEDC workers are not really working 40 hours, but offers no proof of this. It’s time to put up or shut up: If Bernie has some actual proof that LVEDC employees aren’t working 40 hours, other than his good word, let him post it in the comments here. If not, I suggest he stop running his mouth with claims he can’t back up.

As to the claim that I “hate older people,” clearly this is much too shrill to be accepted at face value. I want to be clear that I have absolutely no problems with older people on a personal level, as a group or individually. I have an unusually large number of older friends for a guy my age, probably because older people are typically more interested in politics and history than people of my generation.

But I do criticize the older generation a lot here on the blog, so what’s the deal?

The primary goal of this blog is to advocate for the interests of the post-Steel, post-Hess’s generation. My generation has no memory of a thriving Bethlehem Steel or a thriving Hess’s. The older generation saw the Lehigh Valley at its peak and then watched it decline. My generation grew up when the region wasn’t doing as well, and now we are seeing real signs of revitalization. There’s a major difference in perspective there. One of my core beliefs is that we are seeing a turnaround in the Valley’s fortunes because good activist public policy prevailed over entrenched pessimism at key moments. I want to see the progress continue, and that necessarily requires a dramatic shift in political power away from the Hess’s generation toward the post-Hess’s generation.

One of the main goals of this blog is to show that the political interests of the older generation and the younger generation are deeply at odds, and that these are frequently the faultlines in our disagreements on the issues, often much more prominent than the normal Democrat-Republican divisions. Sometimes these debates get heated, and I use the same tone of rhetoric toward the older generation that I would use to criticize any other political interests whose priorites I find repugnant. I will humbly admit to crossing the line here on a few occasions, so I’m sorry and I will be more careful about that.

However, this does not in any way diminish my point about our opposite political interests. There is a direct tension between what is good for older people, and what is good for younger people, especially on the economy. Here is a list of issues where the interests of older people and younger people diverge:

The Economy

The older generation are living on fixed incomes – Social Security, pensions and savings – so higher inflation would be bad for them. Social Security benefits are indexed to inflation, so it’s really wealthier retirees that would feel the pinch. But the disinflation we’re currently experiencing is terrible for workers (particularly recent grads), business owners, the unemployed and debtors. A period of above-trend inflation would mean a tighter labor market, rising wages and faster deleveraging, all of which would be great for younger people. All this deficit hysteria and the calls for tight money is really the creditors and savers acting like a rentier class, dooming the economy to years of slow growth that are going to ruin young people’s economic prospects. Seniors are insulated from labor market conditions, so that’s why there’s way too much fear of inflation, and not nearly enough panic about 9.1% unemployment.

Work

Bernie thinks I’m a “bigot” for saying older people have an inflexible 9-5 clock-puncher view of work. I’m merely guilty of overstating the point - I’m sure it’s not true of all older people – but what is true is that only older people would think there’s something wrong with summer hours. This is the future of work. It’s the direction the economy is moving in. Younger people are more comfortable working remotely, working non-traditional hours, being evaluated on output rather than hours, multitasking, etc. This is increasingly what employers require, and that’s an advantage for young people because they have the freshest skills, and grew up using technology. Older workers lose out if the economy keeps moving in this direction and they don’t update their skills. The slowed pace of retirements caused by the recession is interfering with the normal cycle of turnover that normally allows younger people to get jobs right out of college. Older people are delaying retirement, and that’s an umitigated disaster for my generation. So excuse me if I’m cheering on the technological and normative changes to work that are countering this trend.

LGBT Rights

Support for this issue breaks down pretty cleanly along generational lines. Older people see it as normalizing perversion, younger people can’t understand what all the fuss is about. But because young people are irresponsible about voting in midterm elections, politicians are more scared of the older voter backlash, and progress is painfully slow.  Meanwhile, a whole class of people has to wait for their constituional rights for no good reason.

NIMBY

Older people who support more suburban development and oppose density in the core cities are suffering from major false consciousness. What do they think is going to happen when they are no longer able to drive, but they live in places where they can’t walk to a grocery store or the doctor or the other places they need to go? They really ought to be on Team Density, but more often they are playing for Team Sprawl. Again, it’s a mistake to say that all older people have NIMBY views, but it is only older people who have NIMBY views. The NIMBYs want things to stay exactly as they are, and are pessimistic about efforts to make the core cities more city-like, or make the suburbs support more mixed-use development. Younger people like cities and want more stuff to do. Naturally that’s going to mean a little bit of tension with neighbors. More bars and concert venues means more outside noise. Young people have a higher tolerance for that stuff, but NIMBYs run to the politicians to shut it down.

The Hess’s generation has views on Lehigh Valley public policy issues that are often sharply at odds with the post-Hess’s generation, and we shouldn’t be pretending otherwise. Sometimes there are issues where you can figure out a solution that works for everybody, and sometimes one side winning means the other side has to lose. My goal is to boil down the political economy of these issues by naming the interest groups in clear, unambiguous terms. That doesn’t mean I “hate” anyone. You don’t have to hate your political opponents to believe they’re wrong and shouldn’t prevail in the political fights of the day. But you do have to identify your political opponents, and make the us-vs-them dynamic compelling and exciting to your own side if you intend to win.

Why Young People Need to Be Supervoters

Mark Schmitt lays out the generational politics of the Paul Ryan budget, and reminds us why young people need to vote every November, not just in Presidential years, no excuses:

If there was ever going to be a generational war in this country, that high school class of ’74 would be its Mason-Dixon line. It’s the moment when Bill Clinton’s promise—“if you work hard and play by the rules you’ll get ahead”—began to lose its value. Today’s seniors and near-seniors spent much of their working lives in that postwar world, with their incomes rising, investments gaining, their health increasingly secure, and their retirements predictable. Everyone 55 and younger spent his or her entire working life in an economy where all those trends had stalled or reversed. To borrow former White House economist Jared Bernstein’s phrase, it was the “You’re On Your Own” economy. Finally, those 55-year-olds are spending several of what should be their peak earning years, years when they should be salting away money in their 401(k)s and IRAs, in a period of deep recession and very slow recovery.

The Ryan plan, in other words, delivers to the older generation exactly what they’ve had all their lives—secure and predictable benefits—and to the next generation, more of what they’ve known—insecurity and risk. It’s hardly the first generational fight the GOP has started. The previous one was just last fall, when they campaigned for Medicare, and against the $500 billion in cuts (mostly by getting rid of the overgenerous subsidies to private insurers in an experimental program) passed as part of the Affordable Care Act. With an off-year electorate that was overwhelmingly older, they could put all their bets on the older side, knowing that seniors would see little benefit from the Affordable Care Act and were naturally worried about any change to the health system they enjoyed.

Weiner Needs to Stick It Out

I don’t normally comment on these kinds of stories, but I keep hearing people saying Anthony Weiner will have to resign, and that’s just not the case. Weiner represents a very liberal Democratic district. Weiner is hilarious. Democrats love him. The media hype will burn out in about 2 weeks. I’ll be sick of reading about it, you’ll be sick of reading about it. Weiner will get a poor quality primary challenge next year, at which point the issue will seem tired, and Weiner will be reelected easily. And that’s it. What, are the Republicans going to put up a challenger? There’s no way that district would ever elect a Republican, especially when Barack Obama is at the top of the ticket. Weiner just needs to stop talking to the press for a little while, wait until Weiner-fatigue sets in, and he’ll survive.

We Are Live at Keystone Politics…

As I mentioned yesterday, the Jon Geeting Media Empire is expanding to include a presence at the resurgent Keystone Politics. The plan is to aim for 1-2 unique posts at KP every day on state politics,  two Patch columns a week on political economy/metro policy topics, regular blogging here on whatever I damn well please, aggregated at the LVIM hive mind.

I may eventually have this blog redirect to a new Jon Geeting blog since I’ve been super lazy about recruiting contributors to replace Ryan and Hillary. Jeff Pooley has been receptive to the idea of blogging here, so I will hold off on any name change for a little while.

Anyway, here’s my opening salvo at Keystone Politics laying out the political case for Democrats to let Republicans kill the Scarnati local impact fees bill:

Now that taxmaster Grover Norquist has decided to score a local impact fee as a tax increase, probably nothing is going to happen without a significant number of Democratic votes.

So the Democrats can maximize their political advantage by voting ”present” and letting the Republicans own the failure. Democrats don’t have control of any of the branches of government in Harrisburg, so they won’t be blamed when the bill goes down.

Inevitably, there will be more gas well explosions and blockbuster news stories about contaminated water before the 2012 elections. The voters already agree with the Democrats, so Democrats can improve their political position in 2012 by making hay of these bad news stories, and forcing Republicans to pick sides between Tom Corbett and the concerned public.

Primary Endorsements

I have no delusions that any candidates will benefit at the polls from my endorsement – probably the opposite! – but just for fun, here are my picks for Tuesday’s primary. It’s hardly a comprehensive list, just the races I think are most consequential for the issues this blog is concerned with:

Municipal Government

In Lehigh County, I think Norma CusickMike Welsh and Dean Browning are the most sensible Republicans on offer for Lehigh County Commissioner. For your 4th GOP primary pick I’d vote Blank, but if you must, it’s Vic Mazziotti. His priorities may be mistaken, but better to have a budget wonk than some clown like Scott Ott. At least all of these people seem to want to get something done, and aren’t on an ideological crusade.
There’s no competition for Commissioner on the Democratic side, but you can feel really good about voting for Geoff Brace
Surprisingly no one has stepped up to challenge radical left wing Coroner Scott Grim*. Despite widespread outrage over Mr. Grim’s partisan approach to identifying bodies, Wayne Woodman has failed to recruit a right wing alternative.

For Allentown City Council, I’d go with Cynthia Mota, Peter Schweyer and John Ingram.

In Northampton County, Mike Dowd certainly isn’t some rightwinger, but if you are a liberal I think you probably want to see Democrat Robert Werner replace him in November. And for that reason you want to see the weaker candidate, Bill Whitman, beat Dowd in the Republican primary.

On the merits, Dowd clearly deserves to win the primary against Bill Whitman. Whitman is pandering to all sides saying he’s for government-run Gracedale, but insisting that he won’t raise taxes. It’s not possible. Dowd is more conservative than I’d prefer, but he has sensible views on things like the Bi-County Health Department.

School Board

For Bethlehem Area School District, it’s Basilio Bonilla, Sudantha Vidanage, and Michele Cann. They’re the only ones talking about how to protect kids’ education from Tom Corbett’s budget cuts. Kenneth Barreto is only talking about taxes, and Randy Toman is off barking at the moon. Bonilla in particular is going to be an important win for Democrats. He’s a really bright 20-year-old guy, who’s interned for Bob Casey and Lisa Boscola, so getting him in office early will help Democrats start building a badly-needed farm team.

For Allentown School District, CeCe Gerlach, Michelle Jarrouj Weaver, and Julie Ambrose are my top picks. CeCe and Michelle are both in their 20′s and have direct experience working with at-risk kids, so on the substance they have important experience to bring to the job. And again on the politics, this is another great opportunity for Democrats to build up the farm team. Since you need to pick 5, Kenneth Ghorm and Robert Smith both seem to be saying the right things. But whatever you do, do not let anti-tax ideologue Scott Armstrong anywhere near the school budget.

In Easton Area School District Region I, it’s Bob Arnts, Millie Mandarino and William Rider. Bob and Millie have positioned themselves as Art Hawks who will guard the arts and music programs from budget cuts. William Rider is for school district consolidation, which is exactly the right place to find budget savings.
For EASD Region II, it’s an easy call for Frank Pintabone. Republicans Ronnie DelBacco and Bill Timman are only in this race to reduce their own taxes and want to introduce pay-to-play for after school activities. It’s a terrible idea because it would put more at-risk kids on the street after school and increase crime. Mr. DelBacco also appears to believe that the school district should just pretend the racial achievement gap doesn’t exist.
This is an uncharacteristic choice for EASD Region III, but I think I’m for Frank Castrovinci. Kerri Leonard-Ellison has a lot of good volunteer experience in all the right areas in the school district, but I think you really want the Air Products Controller’s perspective. I want to see the people who have the right priorities and values get a majority on school board, but it would be beneficial to have the minority stacked with people who have strong economics and strategic planning skills.
For Nazareth Area School District, you’re going to want to stick it to my awful 6th grade Social Studies teacher Chris Miller and send in 18-year-old Jacob E. Allen. Jacob is going to stand up for the students against budget cuts, teacher layoffs and pay-to-play after school activities. If Mr. Miller is anything like I remember, he’s going to make degrading remarks about women’s abilities to 12-year-old girls. Beata Bujalska told me that at one NorCo Council meeting dude was clutching a Glenn Beck book while quizzing Council members with American history trivia. Nuff said.
I’m not going through all the school board races, but the general rule of thumb should be to choose the people who are talking about doing what’s best for the kids, not complaining about taxes.

Judicial Races


For Superior Court, it’s David Wecht, and for Commonwealth Court, it’s Kathryn Boockvar. These are going to be the strongest Democrats in the general election and most of the organizing energy is behind them. I’m not super enthusiastic about Boockvar. She thinks the recent Commonwealth Court decision opening the floodgates to more ballot initiatives was a good call, which is totally nuts, but it’s not clear there’s anyone on the Republican side who wants to defend representative democracy.


In Lehigh CountyRenee Smith is the only Lehigh Court of Common Pleas candidate who supports doing away with judicial elections, and that’s an important issue, but it’s not clear there’s anything she can do about it in this role. She’s been endorsed by Lehigh DA Jim Martin, who I like. The Democrats are supporting Dan McCarthy. I dunno, you’re on your own for this one.

It’s Mike D’Amore Magisterial District 31-1-05. Reelect Wayne Maura over 21-year-old Republican Justin Serfass for District 31-1-06. I don’t have any strong views on the others. Here’s who the Democrats like.

In Northampton County, in District 03-01-04 you want to elect former Planning Commissioner James Narlesky over Mortgage Banker Samuel Royer – that is, someone who’s going to take a hard line on mortgage servicers and prioritize neighborhood stabilization.

In 03-02-12, I think Richard Yetter is the obvious choice over Shana Restucci and Rhonda Elias. From conversations with friends and looking at yard sign coverage in Easton, people seem to be most excited about Yetter’s campaign.

I don’t have strong views about any of the other judicial races.

Ballot Initiative

You already know I support the sale, mainly because I think it will delay other important long-term progressive goals for the County. The Express Times also has a good take on why you should vote no.

*Just kidding!

UPDATE: For Easton City Council, I’m for Jeff Warren, Elinor Warner and Ken Brown. Reno Pesaresi is taking some below the belt shots at Jeff Warren over his DUI, but that doesn’t tell us anything about the decisions Jeff’s going to make on actual public policy issues. Jeff’s on the right side of the issues and he deserves to be reelected.

What Should Liberals Want From Local Government?

Apologies up front for a really sloppy post, but I wanted to throw some thoughts out there on a topic whose importance has increased recently because of Gracedale and budget shortfalls:

What do liberals want local government to accomplish?

The conservative answer is easy: the bare minimum provision of law enforcement services, paid for through a very low level of regressive taxes.

The liberal answer is more complicated and requires us to prioritize what we care about. It requires us not to confuse our priorities at the federal level and the state level for what we can realistically accomplish at the local level. There are only so many things local governments can do because 1) their power is limited by state government and 2) willingness to pay local taxes is very low.

Here is a short list of what’s in the toolkit:

1) Directly pay for the provision of services (education, law enforcement)
2) Contract for services (garbage, nursing homes)
3) Require other private citizens and businesses to pay for things.
4) Tax or ban harmful activities
5) Make rules that promote social equality (same-sex couple benefits, etc)
6) Targeting spending or planning in a way that attracts private investment (public/private partnerships, high density zoning, etc.)

Feel free to add in other things I forgot.

Here’s a key source of my disagreement with some other liberals: local government should not be thought of as a jobs program. I think the goal should be to provide high-quality high-impact public services as cheaply and efficiently as possible.

Because the willingness to pay taxes is so low, and local budgets must be balanced during recessions, local government shouldn’t get tied up with its own entitlement programs.

This means we need to be thinking harder about the trade-offs of directly providing services vs. contracting for services. Sometimes you need to directly provide services, as in the case of law enforcement, but that means you’ll get stuck paying for pensions and health care. There’s a strain of make-work liberalism that views this as a benefit, but I think it should be seen as a cost.

In order to have more money to accomplish our other goals, I think we should actually want minimal benefits and short terms for civil servants – cash + health insurance and a defined-contribution portable pension. A Geeting Administration would push for short contracts for non-executive public sector jobs: you put in 3 years, we contribute 10% of your salary to your pension every year, you’re vested after 3 years, and then you can take your retirement savings account and go do something else. We don’t want to be giving people incentives to stay in administrative public sector jobs for their entire lives. The “retired in place” phenomenon is a real issue in the public and non-profit sectors, and I think liberals need to take that critique more seriously.

And we want to do this not because we don’t value what public sector workers do (we do! we’re liberals!), but because we want to maximize the amount of money we have to accomplish other goals that have an equally strong claim to limited public dollars.

One thing we should do is look for ways to accomplish our goals without spending money, by privatizing costs. For instance, you could tax residents to set up a government fund to pay for facade improvements, or you could tax people for not paying for their own facade improvements within a certain district. One way costs the taxpayers, the other does not. The same is true of open space preservation. You could tax residents to set up a government fund to buy farmland, or you could use zoning to block suburban/commercial development on land you want to stay farmland. One way costs the taxpayers, the other does not. We should be moving toward the latter strategy in a number of areas.

We also need to reconsider when it’s better to discourage harmful activities by banning them outright, and when it’s better to discourage them through taxes and pecuniary penalties. I think taxes should be substituted for bans wherever possible because it’s a two-fer: you discourage the activity in question by privatizing the cost and you get revenue.

For instance, current law says the DA should shut nuisance bars down as a deterrent strategy. But you might get the same or better results by fining the offending establishments. The same goes for parking. You could paint more parking spaces, you could tax residents to build another parking garage, or you could just charge more for the spaces you already have. You could shoot yourself in the foot on economic development by banning certain kinds of businesses from opening in the downtowns because there’s not enough parking. Or you could raise the price of parking near those places to ensure faster turnover of spaces.

Local taxes are regressive, so it’s better to try to get as much revenue as you can by taxing undesirable things before you tax property, income and sales.

I probably haven’t made it clear enough that the main reason I write about urban issues so much is not just because of aesthetic preferences – it’s about increasing the economic opportunities available to disadvantaged people.  It’s about ensuring that the economic benefits that come with population growth are broadly shared. There are many things that local government can do to reduce economic and racial segregation. How well are the children of economically disadvantaged people served by the education system relative to the children of wealthy people? Not very well, as I understand it.

And the ugly truth is that it’s because there are two education systems: the white property tax dollars are segregated from the brown property tax dollars. Additionally, the low-density development patterns favored by white suburban people pull jobs and revenue out of the cities and into the suburbs, leaving fewer licit job opportunities for economically disadvantaged people in the cities.  To get to the jobs, you have to own a car.

That’s why higher density and public transportation have to be an important part of the opportunity agenda for local government. The closer together people and their jobs are, the more it makes sense to invest in quality public transportation. Sometimes these urban issues sound like yuppie concerns, but when you actually look at who would benefit most from reducing barriers to high-density construction, reducing the need for car trips, reducing tax base segregation, reducing licensing and other barriers to entry in the labor market, it’s the lower income brackets who would be helped the most by all those things.

This is already much too long, so I’ll stop there, but to summarize, we need to be more strategic in our thinking about solving problems, and make sure we’re using all the tools available to us.