Reclaim New York Executive Director Brandon Muir sat in his cramped Manhattan corner office and mulled over his organization’s mission to call as he says “balls and strikes” in government spending and transparency as he sees them.
And while large Republican donor and member of President Trump’s transition team, Rebekah Mercer, is the Reclaim New York Chairman of the Board, Muir insists the nonprofit government watchdog organization is independent, wholly nonpartisan and more concerned with accountability.
“The mission of Reclaim New York is to build a statewide grassroots network and engage people with a nonpartisan brand. I’ll give you an example. We just passed a budget that both Republicans and Democrats supported, which is nearly twice the size of the state of Florida’s budget. Our states have the same amount of people so we just have this massive amount of bloat. It’s not fair to say Democrats or Republicans are to blame. Both parties were complicit,” said Muir.
Actually, Florida recently overtook New York as the nation’s third most populated state and continues to increase as New York continues to shrink. According to 2016 census figures, Florida has about 20.6 million people while New York has about 19.7 million people.
The recently passed Florida FY 2017-18 state budget was $82.2 billion, about $70.9 billion less than New York’s recently passed $153.1 billion state budget, and $3 billion less that New York City’s $85.2 billion FY ‘2017-18 budget.
It is dollars and sense facts that Muir is concerned with and with a background of working for Deloitte Consulting on mission-to-workflow alignment, process-efficiency modeling, and change-implementation efforts at both the FBI and the U.S. State Department, he does have the chops to understand the management of government.
“Our goal so to speak is to peel back the onion on what’s going on in Albany, what’s going on in New York City and what’s going on in politics. Ultimately, we empower people to get involved in Government. It’s a really basic idea, civic engagement, but we saw there were really significant barriers. People really don’t understand issues so how do we make it easier for people to understand it and give them opportunities to engage,” said Muir.
Muir maintains that Reclaim New York’s two main focuses, affordability and transparency, are interrelated because when you look at the economic development model of where tax dollars are going without following it, then corruption often follows when politicians feel that no one is really tending the store.
“When we don’t vote, when we don’t attend town hall meetings and we don’t attend school board meetings that is when elected officials think they can do whatever they want with our tax dollars. What we would like to see is people actually be more aware of how much money they are spending on government. To do that we built a calculator on our website, where you punch in your income and in 20 questions it gives your income tax, property tax, excise tax, sales tax, your basic expenses and what’s left,” he said.
While the organization is nonpartisan, it does have solid conservative values when it comes to public education and its relationship to charter schools.
“With schools we’re paying almost twice the national average per pupil. We’re well over $21,000 now and part of our message about education is at what point do you stop saying that more money will solve the problem. At what point do we start assessing what we’re doing in so far as quality without adding on dollar after dollar. So we’re supporting school choice across the board whether it’s home schooling, charter schools or religious schools,” said Muir.
Muir also blasted the state’s consideration of implementing a single payer healthcare system as “crazy talk” that will drive up costs while decreasing quality, and voiced skepticism on the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which would start a multi-phase process for illegal immigrants in the United States that would first grant conditional residency and upon meeting further qualifications, permanent residency.
“We haven’t gotten involved in the Dream Act at all, but to me the conversation really has to start with affordability and the state right now doesn’t have enough money to educate students acorss the board at any level. This has nothing to do with immigration status or the nationality of someone. At what point does an adult get in the room and say that’s enough. We can’t afford all this,” he said.
Muir said while the organization has been primarily focussing on statewide issues, it is starting to ramp up its focus and outreach on citywide issues.
“We’ve done a fair amount of policy analysis in the recent [city] budget, and again we now have a budget that’s larger than the State of Florida, but we have half the population than the state of florida. You talk about bloat. You’ve got to wonder where all the money is going so we will get much more active [citywide] moving forward,” he said.