User-agent: * Allow: / Trenton Butcher Block: May 2010

"Our Liberties We Prize, Our Rights We Will Defend."

Commentary on national and local events from the standpoint of a Trenton city resident and state worker.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Some Pictures From The Rally

I went to the big anti-Christie rally downtown yesterday (Saturday, May 23, 2010),  Christie has only been in office for about 5 months now, but has done such a good job of getting everyone ticked off at him that even the major news outlets agree that at least 30,000 people turned out. Lots of people were there, mostly state workers and teachers.  There were others as well, including a contingent from St. Lucy's Shelter protesting Christie's planned elimination of the $140 per month general assistance benefit to adults with no other income that are considered employable.  St. Lucy's said that it is deplorable that Christie would go back on his word and advocate stripping the homeless and others who are "the poorest of the poor" of even that little bit of income. 

Even Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein came over from the Mercer County Democratic Leadership meeting which was held earlier in the morning to address the rally.
Senate President Sweeney indicated in a Star Ledger article that he thought the protest was counterproductive and that the union members present there did not speak for the Democratic Party or for ordinary New Jerseyians.  The tone of the article was in general anti-public employee, as has been the tone of most material that has appeared in the mainstream state newspapers in the last couple years.  And of course, the right wing compared the protesters to a bunch of Communists and wrote us off as irrelevant.

Well I don't think we are irrelevant.  And if we don't speak for at least part of the Democratic Party, why did Linda Greenstein show up to speak.  We certainly are not a bunch of Communist rabble rousers.  True, most of us were public employees, but the people there came from a broad spectrum of the state's population supporting the restoration of funding for a broad spectrum of programs from general assistance welfare to municipal moneys to go toward education and law enforcement to full funding of the state's Unemployment Insurance program so it can continue to pay benefits at the same rate as it does now under the same terms and conditions as now.

I don't think it will have any effect on Christie.  He clearly overplayed his hand and is too arrogant to admit it.  What he needs is to get his face rubbed in the mud real good by members of his own party when the budget comes up for a vote this summer.

The real effect will be on the state legislators, all of which come up for reelection in  November 2011.  They realize that if this many people are willing to spend a Saturday traveling to Trenton by bus, then spending several hours protesting, then many more will be willing to come out and express their anger at the polls.  They want to keep their jobs above all us and should pay attention to us.

Perhaps Mr. Sweeney and the newspapers should take their heads out of the sand and back us up.  Especially since the newspapers claim they got best interests of ordinary people at heart and since Sweeney is the president of the Iron workers union.  How can he represent a union as its leader while at the same time attacking the interests of union members.

In any event, expect a shutdown for a while this summer while the Republican Assembly and Senate members "stand with the governor" at least for a short time by supporting his expected veto of the Democratic alternative budget which includes the millionaire tax.  Then expect these same Republicans to turn on the governor and demand that he negotiate and save face or they will support an override so the state can reopen and get on with its business.

Whatever happens, we'll find out eventually.

Now, sit back and enjoy the pictures.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Rally Against Christie's Planned Budget

Fed up with Chistie's plans for the state.  So you don't want to see unemployment benefits cut and have the rules changed so you won't be eligible to collect after getting fired unless you work several weeks on another job.  You don't want to see teachers laid off and have school programs cut.  You don't want to see low income seniors have to pay more for prescriptions.  You don't want to see less police and fire personnel on the streets.  Certainly you don't want your property taxes raised.

All so that millionaires can get a tax cut this year.

then come join us for what is expected to be the largest demonstration in state history.


12:00 NOON





One Interesting Gun Law

In April, Governor Brewer signed a new law that makes Arizona the third state in the union that allows the carrying of concealed weapons without a permit.  Starting this summer, Arizona will join Alaska and Vermont as the only states in the country where you can carry a concealed weapon without a background check, permit or training.  That's right, just pack heat and go!  You will need nothing else.

Governor Brewer also signed legislation that will allow the purchase of guns made and kept in Arizona without a permit or background check.  That's right fellas, just go to your hardware store and pick out your home-state-piece.  After you pay for it with cash at the counter, you are good to go!.  No pesky showing of ID, no background checks, no paperwork, no nothing.

Almost like the old days in New Jersey, before Governor Hughes signed an executive order in 1963 after the assassination of President Kennedy which restricted the sale of firearms in the state.  Before that time, you could buy a gun here as easily as a pack of gum too.

Pretty soon, we're going to wish we were living in Arizona, because it is expected that over 100 police and firefighters will be laid off here in Trenton if the Governor's proposed budget goes through.  It includes $42 million in aid cuts to the city, and is expected to also result in another property tax increase and massive layoffs of school staff including teachers.

Just what we need after our property taxes went up several hundred dollars per quarter earlier this month.  Another tax increase.  Wow!  And we will also get the opportunity to see how the streets of Trenton turn out with less cops and dumber kids.  Thrilling!

I wonder if the Governor thinks the crime rate will go down too, now that we will be liberated from those pesky union-represented police and firemen.  Maybe he'll authorize the city to hire replacements from the local temp agencies that line South Broad St. and South Clinton Ave.  I can see the ads now.  "Police and Firefighters wanted.  No experience Required.  No English necessary. No green card needed  Criminal records OK.  Pay starting at $7.25 per hour."  Makes me feel safer already.

Kind of wish we were living in Arizona.  At least we would be able to buy guns and defend ourselves when the police and fire personnel disappear from our streets.  Because here in the Garden State, with all the red tape involved to legally purchase a handgun, the state could have just as well outlawed these weapons.  And this when the Bloods and other thugs run around with impunity carrying any kind of firepower they like up to and including Mac10s and AK47s.

So there is some truth to the old NRA slogan:  "If guns are outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Don't Believe Everything You Hear or Read

When I was in the third grade, my teacher, Miss McGurk told us to go through the newspaper at home and bring in some stories and tell the class about them.  Some people in the class brought in articles from the Trenton Times, while others brought in stories from the Trentonian.  A couple jokers brought in material from one of my favorite periodicals, the Weekly World News. (NOTE:  A little fact check after I worte this revealled that it had to be some other tablid that ran the stories of the Loch Ness monster and other weird things, not the Weelky World News they didn't exist yet until much latter.  It doesn't really matter though, because it was something that probably gave the inspiration for the latter supermarket tabloid.)

While most of my classmates came up and discussed stories about fires, President Johnson or the war in Vietnam, our wiseguys told about the Loch Ness monster, Hitler sightings in South America and apparitions from ghosts.

This went on for about three weeks or so.  Finally, the teacher interrupted and asked the class if they really believed in the Loch Ness monster.  A few kids answered with something to the effect that it must be real because it is in the paper and the article even included a picture of the beast.

Of course the Weekly World News stories were what the teacher hoped for when she came up with this project.  It provided her with a "teaching moment". an opportunity to show us that everything that appears in the paper is not always true.  Third graders may not know much about politics or world events, but most have heard the truth about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.  Here was an opportunity to show that parents are not the only ones that can come up with fibs, but that newspapers don't always tell the truth either.

I like to say that everything I need to know I learned at St. Raphael's, that wonderful Catholic school in Hamilton Township.  Despite all the stories you may have heard of nuns with steel rulers and 70 kids packed in a classroom, the teachers there actually did teach you to think critically.

Later on, we had other discussions in class, such as should you always respect the flag.  Basically we we shown was that the flag is only as good as the country it represents, and that America too could turn into a place like the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, where the government tells you lies and the leaders are evil.  If that happens the flag would deserve no more respect than let's say a cigar butt floating in the toilet.

You may wonder what this story has got to do with Trenton and this blog.  The answer of course is plenty.  It seems that many people out there did not get the benefit of the wonderful grade school education I had.  Many people believe everything they read in the newspaper or hear on the news and don't bother to question whether it is really true. 

Most people out there know that the stories in the Weekly World News  are made up and that WWE wrestling is staged..  But when we get beyond this into greyer areas, few people bother to question what they're told.  For instance if a white politician came out and said that white people should vote white and should not consider candidates of other races, that person would be immediately branded a racist and told to resign.  Then why do we unquestionably accept the Trentonian's reasoning that blacks will vote only for black candidates and not consider the others and that "Hispanics", whatever that means, will automatically vote for Manuel Segura.  Notice that nowhere did it say that whites will only vote for Weeden, that would be racist.

We'll leave the blacks and whites alone for the moment and look at the assertion that Segura owns the Hispanic vote.  By the way, what is a Hispanic anyway.  It that means all people whose ancestors hail from Spanish speaking countries, it includes people whose political viewpoints are as diverse as Agosto Pinochet and Fidel Castro.  It also includes blond haired, blue eyed, fair skinned people as well as people of pure African decent.   I should know, because I had a Spanish teacher from Argentina once that was obviously descended from Nordic people, possibly Germans or Scandinavians and I worked with a woman at the Mercer County Board of Social Services.  She was one of our Spanish interpreters and immigrated here from the island of Dominica.  She was also one of the darkest black people I ever met.

The misconception of Spanish people disseminated in the media is that they are a relatively homogeneous group of brown skinned people and that they are of one race and culture.  This is far from the truth.  Hispanics can be of any race, could be from families that moved here in colonial times or be recent immigrants, they may be highly educated professionals or unskilled laborers.   Politically they can range from Communists to fascists. You got the idea.  Now why would they vote for some guy just because he can speak Spanish or moved here from Central America.

Much the same could be said about blacks or whites.  Please tell me what Doug Palmer or Barrack Obama has in common with some homeless crackhead sleeping in the Rescue Mission.  They all may have black skin, but have vastly different opportunities available to them due to wealth, social class and education.  Mr. Palmer and Mr. Obama are both millionaires.  Mr. Palmer married a white woman and has a biracial daughter.  Mr. Obama is a mulatto, to use the old term.  They are also both elected officials.  What do they have in common with some unfortunate sleeping in the mission.  Not much.  Then why should we just assume they would vote for same person just because they all happen to have African blood.

Of course the same thing applies to whites as well.  My ancestors may have come from Europe but I'm sure they didn't include slave holders.  I don't think anybody in my line lived in America at the time of the Civil War.  I got a good job and an advanced degree and would be considered middle class by most people.  I have more in common with the black man living in the half of the semi attached to my home than I do with either some white guy staying at the "Last Chance Recovery House" down on Broad Street or with Frank Weeden, the congressman's son and factory owner. 

Get with it Trentonian.  Why don't you just tell people about the candidates and where they stand rather than basically telling people to go out and vote their race.

Most of us are smarter than that and deserve better if we are going to bu id a better world out our city which is just as messed up as it is racially and economically diverse.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

You Ain't Seen Nuttin' Yet. Taxes Round 2

Like those property tax bills.  What's not to love about getting a $300 to $500 increase over your last quarterly tax bill.  You may console yourself by rationalizing that this is only a one-time deal because future bills will have this charge spread across four quarters rather than given out in a single quarter. 

While technically this is true, because the extra taxes covers $13 million per year that was going to be allocated to the city budget from the sale of the water works, technicalities don't count much in the real world.  Other things often come up that get in the way of them, like the governor's proposed budget.

The Governor plans to cut "aid" to the city by $42 million for the year starting in July.  I put aid in quotes, because to most of us that means assistance or charity.  In other words, we are supposed to think of Trenton as a beggar city that is getting a freebie from the state.

Not so fast!  Much of the $42 million is something called "payment in lieu of taxes" or money that is given to the city instead of property taxes.  Because the state is a higher governmental unit than the city, the city really can't force the state to pay property taxes on its buildings.  In the past, the state always paid the city a portion of what it would have to pay for its buildings if it was a private company.  That money is called "payment in lieu of taxes".

Governor Christie believes this payment is voluntary and he plans not to donate this year.  That means we are going to get whacked with another $42 million shortfall on top of the $13 million we just got hit with.  Get prepared to get whacked with another mammoth tax increase just like the one we got this May.  Only this time, it will occur every quarter instead of just once! 

Christie makes a lot of the virtues of private industry and how government workers sponge off the state instead of working like their private sector counterparts.  I say it is time for the governor to man up and pay up.  He should agree to pay city property taxes on 100% of the assessed value of its property in the city.  That is what you and I have to do.  That is what a private company has to do.  What makes him so special anyway.

Senator Shirley Turner posted a bill to force the state to do just that.  It gives the city the power to seize the state's buildings and parking lots if it doesn't pay up like everybody else.  Write the other state senators and assemblymen to get a similar bill posted in the Assembly and get both bills out of committee so they can go to a full floor vote.

In the meantime, hold onto your seat and prepare for a $1,500 per quarter tax bill this August.

Check Out That Tax Bill, You Ain't Seen Nuttin' Yet

My tax bill arrived in the mail on Monday.  When I opened it, it hit just like a letter bomb.  From what I saw on the Channel 6 news Tuesday night, it produced a similar reaction in households across the city.

My bill for the second quarter was $1,170, or about $400 more than what it was for the previous quarter.  Fortunately, my property taxes are bundled into my mortgage, so it won't immediately hit me.  The increase will become part of next year's mortgage payments which begin in November, so the impact will be spread out over 12 months.

The problem with this whopper of an increase is that most people in Trenton live on fairly low incomes.  They either work at jobs which pay a little more than the minimum wage or collect some type of government check like Social Security, SSI or welfare.  Many of them own their own homes free and clear because the houses have been in the family for years.  For low income people, normally owning your own home is an advantage, but not now.

The city has an accelerated tax sale program, and tax sales are held shortly after the May taxes are due.
In other words, if homeowners don't cough up every penny they owe on taxes by some time in the beginning of June, they will be assessed an additional fee of about $100 or so for a legal notice advertising their house for tax sale.  Also, they will have to pay in cash, certified check or money order.  Personal checks will not be accepted once the advertising fee is imposed.

No one will be kicked out of their home immediately as a result of the tax sale.  The lien is simply sold to an investor who bids on an interest rate.  However after two years, the investor can foreclose on the lien and get the house for the price of the back taxes if the homeowner hasn't paid off the lien in full by that time.

My guess is lots of people won't make the deadline this time.  They won't have the money to pay and will let their homes go into tax sale.  Most probably won't have the money in the future to bail out their homes either.  After all, poor people don't make much money, and the other bills just keep on coming. 

So, what will they do?  Eventually, many will try to sell their homes, but with lots of other families in the same boat there will be more houses on the market than there are buyers so they won't get much.  By the way, is there ever much of a market for beat up houses in the ghetto?

In the end, they will either get peanuts for their properties or the investor will get to take them.  Then they will be out on the street and will have to pay rent, which will most likely be more than what their monthly tax bill was.  I don't know how they will be able to pay rent if they can't pay taxes.

I hope the Rescue Mission is prepared to take in lots of homeless families.