2005-03-17 / This Week's Attitude

Brooklyn Shortchanged In Auto Crime Fighting Deal

This Week

This Week’s AttitudeBy Neil S. Friedman

When it comes to divvying the state budget pie, New York City typically — and traditionally — gets a disproportionate slice.

And Brooklyn? Fuhgeddaboudit!

After examining the state’s distribution of education funds, a judge last year ruled that the city wasn’t getting its fair share and ordered the governor to fork over some $5 billion more.

The shortfall for New York City schools is already evident. When Mayor Bloomberg recently unveiled his budget for the coming fiscal year, more than a billion dollars in school funds were delayed for at least a year because the governor’s new budget failed to include the specific amount the mayor projected.

So far, Pataki has flouted the court’s ruling because he probably can’t figure out from where the funding would come without raising taxes. And, though he hasn’t officially thrown his hat into next year’s gubernatorial race, it’s unlikely he wants to leave office with a huge tax increase as part of his legacy.

Perhaps he’s waiting to determine the potential revenue boost from anticipated gambling casinos in the Catskills before he makes a move.

Last week, Pataki proudly announced that more than $5 million in grants has been allocated to combat motor vehicle theft and auto insurance fraud statewide.

Sounds sensible, right? However, when you examine the distribution of the funds, the Kings County district attorney’s office was only allocated $300,000 — a mere 7 percent.

OK, that’s not chicken feed — until you examine how the remainder of the money is being distributed. The city’s five county district attorneys and the Sheriff’s Department are scheduled to receive a combined $2.5 million —almost half of the total. But when it’s broken down further, Brooklyn is getting about 40 percent less than Queens.

Why?

As auto insurance rates soared over the years, the typical excuse from insurance brokers and agents was that Brooklyn’s high auto theft rate warranted the excessive fee.

However, due to diligent crime fighting strategies, Brooklyn’s car theft numbers have dipped significantly in the last decade, while insurance rates have risen more than fallen. Only recently did rates in Kings County slightly decrease, but they remain among the highest in the nation.

Despite the bluster of Pataki’s Director of Criminal Justice that the governor’s “common sense criminal justice policies have led to historic reductions in motor vehicle theft across the state,” major insurance companies justify maintaining the maximum rate because now, they claim, Brooklyn has increased rates of vandalism and insurance fraud.

Any excuse to keep the insurance at lofty rates.

What will insurance groups come up with next — poorly maintained and pot-holed Brooklyn roads cause tires to wear more rapidly leads to an increase in accidents?

Brooklyn drivers are not that stupid, we’re just caught in a bind. They know insurance companies do and say anything to maintain sky-high rates. But insurance companies have us over a barrel since it’s mandatory for anyone who owns a car to have it insured.

It’s time for the governor and state legislators to pressure insurance companies to reasonably reduce auto insurance fees for drivers, particularly in Brooklyn and the rest of the city. However, politicians are reluctant to bite the hands that feed them. Auto insurance companies lobby legislators and candidates who vow to vote in their favor.

Accordingly, if Kings County car insurance remains the highest in the state, why isn’t the allocation to combat the worst problems commiserate with that rate?

The auto insurance rating system is a corporate conspiracy with a powerful lobby unduly exerting its influence in Albany. Except for a handful of companies, the exorbitant rates don’t vary more than a few hundred dollars. Whatever happened to competition? Guess it goes out the window when the sky’s the limit.

That’s almost certainly the chief reason you see plenty of out-of-state license plates — Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina — around the city. Some people refuse — or can’t afford — the New York rates, and since they want to have a car while living in the city, they register it and license somewhere else where the rates are more reasonable. It’s risky, but saves precious dollars when private transportation is a necessity rather than a convenience.

I have a friend in Albany with two sons under 25 and four cars in the family, yet his combined automobile insurance package costs hundreds of dollars less than mine for a single car in Brooklyn.

That’s UNREASONABLE and UNFAIR!

When it comes to automobile insurance rates in Brooklyn, whatever goes up defies the laws of gravity and doesn’t come down. As a matter of fact, it stays up — WAAAAY up!

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