Progressive Government


By THOMAS E. DEWEY, Governor of New York

Broadcast over Columbia Broadcasting System, from Albany, N. Y., April 14, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 418, 420-422.

TONIGHT I want to give you my second annual report on the administration of your State Government. When I reported to you last April, we had just made a fair beginning on the task of cleaning out, from the departments and agencies of the State, the accumulated cobwebs of twenty years. In the last twelve months, without interrupting or disturbing for a moment the day-to-day business of the State, that job has made tremendous progress.

We have now in Albany a complete administration, infused with new blood and new energy, filled with a spirit of teamwork between the legislative and executive branches, working in cooperation with each other, with the people of the State, and with the local units of government which are closest to the people.

We are striving, in other words, to establish and maintain a genuinely competent and progressive government—in sharp contrast with that type of personal government which talks fine phrases of liberalism while seeking to impose its will and its whims upon the people through centralized bureaucracies issuing directives from a distance.

Three immediate and fundamental purposes have guided our work to strengthen the State Government: First, to win the war; second, to prepare for a rapid and smooth readjustment to peaceful pursuits, once complete victory is won; third, to preserve and develop that freedom at home for which our young men are righting abroad. In the light of that intent I want now to throw in perspective for you the pattern and interrelated purposes of what we have been doing since last April.

$163,000,000 Surplus

When the year began it was clear we were going to have a large accumulated surplus in the Treasury; actually, at the first of this month, starting the new fiscal year, that surplus amounted to $163,000,000. This money had piled up as a result of abnormal wartime conditions and of good State housekeeping.

There were many suggestions of pleasant and useful ways in which we might spend it. But it seemed to me, and to the Republican leaders of the Legislature, that this money was not really ours to spend. Rather, it was a fund to be held in trust for the million young men and women of our State who are in the armed forces, for the millions of war workers who, when hostilities end, will be changing over to peacetime jobs.

When that time comes a great responsibility will fall upon the State, which it must be ready to meet without delay-to help industry convert itself to peace production and to contribute its own part through immediate launching of needed and deferred public works.

Accordingly, in my opening message to the Legislature—to forestall raids which were later vigorously attempted by pressure groups on this wartime surplus—I proposed to create a post-war reconstruction fund and to lock up in it the entire surplus. This was done as Chapter 1 of the Laws of 1944.

Reconversion Plans Advanced

Our State Post-War Planning Commission has been working hard to prepare for the day of reconversion for peace, Blueprints are now being drawn for new housing projects. Plans are being made for urgently needed additions to our overcrowded State hospitals. Under a law passed this year we are now already at work, preparing to purchase rights of way for a great arterial highway system.

When the day of reconversion comes, New York State will approach it not merely with blueprints and bond issues to create new debts; we will have, ready for instant use, a minimum of $163,000,000 cold cash.

Moreover, the State Department of Commerce is working intensively with business, big and small, all over the State, for the new industries and quick changeovers, which will provide the great bulk of opportunity and employment for our people.

Some of you have now paid the first quarterly installment of the State income tax. You know, therefore, that we were able to salt away our surplus while continuing the 25 per cent reduction in the tax on personal incomes. Many of you did not have to pay any State tax at all, because we had been able to continue the high exemptions—$1,000 for single persons, $2,500 for married folk, and also to continue the deductions for medical expenses, life insurance premiums, and children in school. But the most gratifying thing about tile income tax this year was that we were able to let the taxpayer make his return on a new and simpler one-page form.

When the president of the State Tax Commission first proposed that simplified form I realized once again how fortunate we now are to have a Cabinet officer who is out to make taxation more simple, rather than to drape it in mysterious complexities.

Compensation Evils Stressed

When I spoke to you last April we were just hearing the first of that sordid history of corruption under the Workmen's Compensation Law which was revealed by a Moreland Act Commission. For many years groups of corrupt lawyers, doctors and laymen, licensed by the Department of Labor to represent claimants, had been siphoning off millions of dollars from benefits due to injured workers. There were also shocking delays by the industrial board in determining the case of injured workmen; the board was four months behind in its work.

Eighteen bills designed to correct these long-standing evils were proposed by me to the Legislature this year and are now law. Under this program the industrial board was enlarged from five to ten members so that determination of claims of injured workmen can be cleared within a month. Another bill increases benefit claims from $25 to $28 a week. Still others provide for increased benefits for disability and death resulting from dust—the disease we know as silicosis. Other bills will, I hope, under good administration drive the thieves permanently from the field of workmen's compensation.

The working men and women of our State can now know that they will receive full and prompt compensation for their injuries. They do not have to pay one cent for tribute to anyone.

Trade unionism is an increasingly important factor in the life of our State, but events of the last year have shown us that workers and employers alike have much to learn about. the vast field of industrial relations.

State Labor School

One of the most important things we did this winter was to create, through action of the Legislature, a State school of labor and industry at Cornell University. This school, blazing a great trail, will offer advanced studies in this rapidly expanding field, will prepare young men and women for useful careers of leadership in the solution of labor's perplexing problems. Such a school as this can become not only a training place but also a meeting ground for industrial statesmanship.

One of our most grievous problems in industry has been that of discrimination against some groups because of race or religion, and particularly because of color. I am deeply gratified at the progress we have made through a committee of the war council, and New York State today leads the nation in employment regardless of race, creed or color.

But with the end of the war, the fight against discrimination in employment will need new legal basis. Accordingly, the committee proposed legislation to me and to the Legislature to this end. Unfortunately, the bill came in just two weeks before the close of the session, and I was advised that, despite my interest in it, no action could be taken at this session.

To make progress in the meantime, after consultation with the chairman of the committee, I recommended to the Legislature and it passed a bill creating a temporary State commission for the purpose of drafting good sound legislation. Shortly the members of the commission will be appointed and I have every hope and expectation that they will be able to report to the next session of the Legislature a system and philosophy of law for the permanent elimination of discrimination in industry in peacetime.

Health Changes All Outlined

Now, as in normal times, much of your State's daily work has to do with the Health and social well-being of its people. Let us take a swift glance now at some of the things which have been happening in some of these basic State departments.

I have just signed two important laws to improve our public health service. One of them discontinues the so-called "means test" for care in county tuberculosis hospitals. In other words, a person no longer has to be a pauper to have quick treatment for tuberculosis in a county hospital. The "means test" has long stood as a barrier to the early hospitalization of many tubercular patients, who have stayed at home risking the infection of others in their families, gradually exhausting their resources and becoming impoverished and neglected. Now we have a better chance to put them under treatment right away; they have a better chance for recovery and restoration to a useful place in society.

I have also approved a bill empowering the Commissioner of Health to reorganize his department, rearrange divisions and bureaus; in short, to bring it up to date. Since the Health Department was last reorganized some thirty years : ago its annual budget has increased from $576,000 to $5,346,000, its personnel from 230 to 2,300. In those years our needs and concepts of public health service have changed utterly, but the department just grew, like Topsy, and its divisions remained rigidly in the old mold. Now they can be reshaped for present needs with better service to all.

School Superintendent Law

The same principle of responsible administration was involved in a recent bill to give New York City a real Superintendent of Schools. Down through the years, since the consolidation of the greater city, its schools have been run by a circle of nine associate superintendents, each with a neighbor on his left and another on his right, with whom to share responsibility.

Every city I know, except New York City, has long had a Superintendent of Schools who, under the Board of Education, was the responsible, operating head of the school system. I am profoundly convinced that the school children of New York are entitled, equally, to a system with responsible leadership. We had to fight hard, for two years, to get it, but get it we did this year.

Welfare Work Detailed

The Social Welfare Department has been busy at the job of reexamining and simplifying its procedures. I have just signed a whole series of bills wiping out technicalities which , long had stood as obstacles to assistance for worthy cases among the blind, the aged, and dependent children.

During this past year our social welfare program extended aid, for the first time, to some 7,000 dependent schoolyouths between the ages of 16 and 18 with the aid of the State, free school lunches for New York City's needy children were continued when the termination of WPA threatened to force abandonment of the program.

I am happy to report real progress in our program of providing care for the small children of women engaged in war industry. Through the Committee on Child Care, the State is contributing to forty-seven child care centers in New York City and to 105 centers up-State. Arrangements are now being made to speed the opening of new centers in war manpower shortage areas.

A year ago we had just discovered the deplorable epidemic of amoebic dysentery which had raged unchecked for two years at Creedmoor State Hospital. Since then the Department of Mental Hygiene has had a thorough investigation. Its headquarters staff has had a house-cleaning, and a new cabinet officer is at its head—the finest, I believe, in the United States,

Where we had defeated hospital administrators who had thrown up their hands and surrendered to discouragement we now have able, energetic men who are giving real leadership.

We still have, of course, serious problems in our mental hospitals because we simply cannot hire enough help to give proper care to our overcrowded mental patients. But with the superb loyalty of the employes we are carrying on the work and making great strides in its improvement.

During the last year the Administration, by heroic efforts, has virtually completed a long overdue classification of some 20,000 positions aimed to make these hospital jobs more attractive. The classification and salary boards and the division of the budget are still working long hours to smooth out the kinks in this tremendous undertaking. All told, ins proved pay scales and administrative practices are helping the employes. In addition, we are getting better cooking as a result of increases in pay for cooks, and for the first time provision has been made for dieticians in all the hospitals.

Mental Hospitals

Most important of all, we are in the process of trying, at long last, to change the basic concept of our mental hospitals. We must not regard them as mere institutions of custody. We must and will make them into institutions not merely of care but of cure, not of despair but of hope—hope for restoration of mental health. Our State can have no more important long-range objective—through research and sound administration—than the cure and conquest of mental illness.

Last year we were worried about food; this year we had better not stop worrying. Right now we have gluts in certain foods, which give us an illusion of plenty, and which might lead to a dangerous complacency.

There is, for example, a temporary surplus of potatoes and eggs, which, for the farmer who went all out for maximum production, is a matter of serious and unjust distress, but there is a great overshadowing specter of food production in general which is a matter of real concern.

The people of New York may well be proud of the way the farmers of this State met the crisis last year, with inadequate help, little new machinery, excessive regulation, and at times not even gasoline for plowing or cultivating. Under the distinguished leadership of the Emergency Food Administration many obstacles were overcome. The crops of our State were harvested and processed without loss last fall with the extra aid of a volunteer army of 111,000 workers.

This year, as we enter what may well be the decisive moments in our war against the enemies of mankind, it it doubly important that the crops of our State be produced, harvested and processed. The Emergency Food Commission is on the job to foresee and meet critical problems. This year the State and Federal farm manpower agencies estimate that we will need a volunteer army of 140,000 seasonal farm workers. I am sure people of the State will respond to the call for help to the farmers in even greater numbers than last year.

Assistance for Veterans

I have told you about our post-war fund and how it has been segregated and saved, to be used for the benefit of our returning veterans. Now, in conclusion, I want to explain in some detail our further plans for these young people who must be first in our hearts and plans.

One thing immediately at hand for the benefit of these veterans while they seek employment is unemployment insurance. Nearly half of the members of the armed forces from our State come from our farms and from small businesses, which are not covered by the Unemployment Insurance Law. So today, as a result of action this year, and until the Federal Government takes action, there is unemployment insurance for every returning New York veteran.

We have set up a temporary commission to study the various proposals for assistance to veterans and to help them and their families learn of the many provisions, both State and local, which exist for their assistance. The sum of $100,000 was appropriated for this commission.

Soldier Vote Law

Your State administration also took the lead in proposing a simple, workable formula for soldier voting. Under the new State law, adopted at this last session, every member of the armed services desiring to vote was simply to send in his name and his home and service address. He will then receive in the mail a ballot and self-addressed envelope.

This soldier ballot will not be the blank piece of paper which was sponsored in Washington, nor will it, as the National Government tried to do, deprive the soldier of his constitutional right to vote for every office to be filled. It will give every man and woman in the armed services, by the simple act of signing his name once, a valid vote for every candidate from President down to the local officers in his home town.

Under this New York law voting is simpler for a soldier on foreign service than it is for a citizen here at home and the honest ballots cast by real soldiers will not be cancelled by the frauds which other proposals would have permitted.

The problem of the interrupted or incomplete education of our youth in the armed services is vital to them and to our country. We must not miss part of a generation of skilled men and women or of doctors, clergymen, lawyers, architects and engineers. To this end the Legislature this year created 1,200 scholarships for veterans to continue their studies. Those scholarships are available now for the veterans who are already returning from war this year and 1,200 pe.r year will be available after the war.

We have taken the first step in the direction oi technical training through action looking toward a system of vocational courses throughout the State. In the present State institutes and others to be established our returning veterans who have served in technical ratings will be able to receive further training in their military-taught trades for peacetime use.

End of Nazism, Fascism

These, then, are part of the fruits of the labors of the past year. They are, of course, only the portion of which mention is possible in a summary report. But they show the purpose with which our war tasks are being met and the spirit and purpose of your State government.

Running like a thread through our every thought and act has been the sacred task of bringing this tragic war to a speedy and overwhelmingly successful end. No other consideration can be allowed to enter our minds until Nazism and Fascism are totally wiped off the face of the earth.

But, as we labor with singleness of purpose to this end, we can think and plan for the future. We must look to the day when free men everywhere, regardless of race, color or creed, can live in freedom, can work at occupations of their own choosing, can raise their children in the traditions of their parents, can worship God in the manner of their own choosing. We can and we must keep our own society clean of those within who would lead us into paths of narrow or bigoted selfishness.

Our State will be strong to meet the great problems after the war. It will be clean of the poison of hatred or prejudice. It will be set on its course toward full peacetime production and employment for all the day the war ends, it will do its part in the nation to the end that out of this war may come a happier day for all mankind and the beginning of a just and a lasting peace.