Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Dead and bloated

With the electorate fired up today for another whirlwind mid-term election, it’s a bit late to be proselytizing about any particular stance toward candidates or, in the case of Saratoga Springs, the charter referendum. But what should be on the top of peoples’ minds as they exit polling places across the city is what an abysmal waste of money this election posed for both state and federal offices, as well as the taxpayers themselves, who apparently funded a last-ditch effort by the charter amendment contingency to seize a handful of votes.

Like many days over the past two months, city residents came home Monday to a mailbox chocked full with Election Day mailers. This time, it was a peculiar piece of literature titled “Voter’s Guide” in bold blue lettering with “to the Proposed Amendment” written beneath in slightly smaller print. The return mailing address is listed as City Hall, giving the reader the impression that this is indeed an independent guide sent by the city.

What is less obvious on the outside is that the 2006 Charter Revision Commission drafted the document and sent out 10,000 copies using what The Saratogian reported Tuesday as $5,000 worth of city funds.

True, in this day in age, five grand isn’t much. In fact, won’t buy much more than a dinner with John Sweeney and a pair of pictures with Laura Bush, with some chump change to call a cab afterward. But for New York’s proletariat, $5,000 is big money. In fact, it’s more than 10 percent of the average household income in the Empire State.

That’s not necessarily money that should be tossed out the window on a late mailer after the city already sponsored hearing after hearing to explain in great detail both sides of an issue that has obviously polarized the electorate. While the literature is informative, it is also quite clearly biased to supporting the referendum, which is definitely a questionable move when using tax dollars, as Charter Commission Chair Amanda Hiller asserts.

But if the Charter Commission really wanted to get the message out, then perhaps they could have personally visited the homes of registered voters to spread the word. Given the number of registered voter homes, each of the commission’s 14 members could have made knocks on roughly 714 doors over the past month to spread the word and save tax dollars. And if this sounds unreasonable, then look no further than Mayor Valerie Keehn’s run last year, when she waged a similar door-knocking grassroots-style campaign to unseat the incumbent.

Of course, those days of lean campaign spending are over. Now getting the message out is all about glossy ads, television plugs, lawn signs, and a host of other tactics that were once left to telemarketers or used car dealerships. So gross is campaign spending this year that just the federal mid-term elections have cost more than $2.6 billion.

Yes, that’s right, $2.6 billion. Say it twice. Let it roll off your tongue; two point six billion dollars, spent on some of the ugliest, nastiest propaganda that would make even Joseph Goebbels cringe with pride. That’s more than half the annual gross domestic product of Haiti, Zimbabwe and Nicuragua; this exceeds the GDP of Rwanda, Mongolia and Belize.

In the United States, given the average cost to educate a student from kindergarten through high school runs roughly $9,000 per year, this money could have paid for 24,074 students to earn their degrees. Or look at it this way: $2.6 billion could have lessened the burden on countless homeowners who are finding it increasingly difficult to pay their taxes, which most of the politicians using this campaign fund pledge to reduce –but never do.

Instead, this cash went to fund garbage can fodder in an attempt to advertise bloated candidates and causes, half of which will likely get shot down by voters this evening. It’s all food for thought tomorrow morning, when the lawn signs and confetti fliers will be nothing more than a grim reminder of what waste this nation has bore witness to this election season.


Anonymous louise j. goldstein said...

Saratoga's current form of government is silly and the same people who were against saving the new york city ballet in the beginning are against the charter change. Namely, the Chamber etc. Saratoga likes to rewrite its own history very often. Just like the Carousel in the Park fight, in a few years this too shall pass.

9:32 AM  

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