Wednesday, June 1, 2011

No Country For Sane Men - How Wrong Can NY Assemblyman Steve Katz (R-99) Be?

No Country For Sane Men

No Country For Sane Men
One Man's Journey Into The Mind Of America

June 1, 2011

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On Thursday evening, May 19th, 2011, during a discussion regarding consolidation of state, county and town services at a forum on Term Limits laws hosted by the Eastern Putnam County League of Women Voters, NY State Assemblyman Steve Katz (R-99) mentioned that New York was one of only three states that still had county government and that 47 states did not. This came up while he was pushing for the abolition of county government as a method of saving tax dollars but we're not going to go into the veracity of that position in this discussion. We will take on the number of states that do not have county government however, since that is much more fun.

When the audience and panel thought what he had said odd, he replied by restating his position leaving all of us in a rather uncomfortable moment of silence. Actually, our jaws were on the floor and it took some time to pick them up again before we could move forward.

Well, I’ve been doing a little research on that and the answer is what we believed that night: He’s wrong. Really wrong.

The form of county government you and I understand is spread across the nation with calm regularity and there are only a few places where Mr. Katz' statement may come into play. But no location in the United States rid themselves of county government in order to save money, as he asserted. In fact, those states that did away with county government did so to increase local powers, not decrease them.

As of the 2010 census, there were 3,077 counties in the United States and all but a tiny handful have governments.

Thirty-one counties are named after George Washington, twenty-seven for Thomas Jefferson, twenty-four each for Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln and nine of them are named for General Israel Putnam. Texas has 254 counties and Delaware has 3. Washington D.C. has but one, if we want to count. South Dakota has the lowest average county population at 12,000 and California has the largest at 637,000.

But here's the discussion about Mr. Katz' statement:

Louisiana has an odd mix of municipal governments at the Parish level with some having extensive governments and services while others maintain nothing more than a central courthouse to administer southern justice, institute chain gangs, executions and to ignore extra-legal lynchings. But a Parish is equivalent to a county so we can't let him have Louisiana.

Alaska is broken into boroughs that act as counties and parts of the state, those where caribou outnumber people, are "unorganized" but they are still boroughs - just without any government. These unorganized boroughs are due to the cost of providing services over 60,000 square miles to 3 hunters, 5 trappers and an oil executive lost on his way back from Prudhoe Bay. Other than that, Alaska's boroughs work just like county governments. Anyway, there are 18 organized boroughs and 11 unorganized boroughs and a lot of unrepresented but untaxed and very happy caribou. So we give Assemblyman Katz half of Alaska, if the caribou and fellow tea bagger Sarah Palin do not mind.

Vermont maintains counties that, like Louisiana, are mainly in place as judicial districts with county seats called "shire towns". But Vermont’s shires also have small executive powers such as appointing highway commissioners with other powers mostly concentrated at the state level. They are  also used to delineate state representative districts as well so we'll count Vermont as 1/4.

Rhode Island has five counties but they have no jurisdictional oversight. The state is divided into 39 municipalities which cover the state municipally so we'll give Assemblyman Katz the Ocean State.

That leaves us the Nutmeg State which also has no county governments though it does have 8 remnant counties, having abolished their government role in 1960 so the rich people in New Caanan wouldn't have to rub shoulders or share resources with the commoners in Bridgeport. Connecticut has 169 municipalities so we also give Connecticut to the Assemblyman.

That brings us to 2 3/4 states out of 50 that do not have county governments, not the 47 the Assemblyman stated at the forum.

So the firebrand tea bagger from the 99th Assembly district is running around Albany trying to pass legislation on important issues with his core belief systems deeply flawed. I give the guy one term and so for that district, at least, term limits are not going to be necessary.

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