New York Beaver

Castor Canadensis, the beaver.  Since 1975, the beaver is the official state animal of New York.  It is difficult to think of a more appropriate symbol for the state government.

The beaver is famously busy, as is our government.  17,000 pieces of legislation every session, annual budgets the size of two or three phone books, and an endless flow of new regulations is – euphemistically – exceptionally busy.  But that is not the reason the beaver is such an appropriate symbol.

More than any other animal, the beaver represents unintended consequences.  The good-hearted beaver wants to build a lodge for his little beavers (“kits” to be accurate).  In the process he fells many trees, alters waterways, and altogether changes the landscape.  Much of the beaver’s impact is positive; he creates new habitats that encourage new plants and animals and his dams have a purifying effect on the water.  Some of the beaver’s impact is negative; he aids erosion, floods farms, and destroys the home of some other animals.

Our New York State government is much the same.  One idea, one bill, one budget, enacted on an Empire scale (Excelsior!) alters the landscape dramatically.

Examples abound but one Governor Andrew Cuomo used in his 2012 State of the State address seems particularly useful.  Cuomo cited figures that show public employee pension costs increasing a full 100 percent in the four year span of 2009-2013.  Obviously, such growth is unsustainable.

To be clear, no one hates public employees.  No one thinks sanitation workers, or teachers, or police officers, or bus drivers, are out to damage the state.  The contrary is true.  Legislators of both parties are generally well-intentioned and reflective of the common desire to be generous.  So, public employees are rewarded for their hard work, pension benefits are added, salaries increase, and so forth.  The beaver builds a lodge for his kits.

Unfortunately the unintended consequences can not be denied.  Again, some are good.  Public employees hold useful jobs, spend money in their communities, pay taxes, etceteras.  But neither can the negative unintended consequences be denied.  Crippling debt, forced cuts to other public spending, higher taxes that hurts other families and businesses, and the like.

The beaver is a likeable critter.  But we must conduct our political affairs with more foresight, greater maturity, and deeper wisdom than a large rodent.



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