As the Senate Impasse enters Day 17, conveying a pathetic portrait of New York State unable to govern itself, we turn our attention to the matters piled up and awaiting action by the evenly divided legislature.
They include an extension of mayoral control of New York City schools; a variety of tax increases, including a one-half percent in the sales tax, which will bring the total rate paid on purchases in the City to nine per cent; same-sex marriage, which has ignited the most fervent approval and disapproval; and several hundred bills which are usually adopted by both houses close to the end of the legislative session. Some of the bills have important financial consequences to cities and other localities, and others face a June 30 deadline for legislative action.
A major negative flowing from the 17-day tieup is the justified impression it gives that New York’s government is in disarray. An unstable regime is not one into which investors desire to place capital, because they will have no certainty as to what future legislators will do to their ventures. Money favors predictability, not instability. New York already suffers from high tax rates and high costs of doing business, and an unpredictable government, subject to palace coups, is another good reason not to start or expand a business in New York State.
Considerable damage has already been done to the state’s reputation, even if the dispute is soon resolved. The spectacle of lawmakers acting like unruly children, scrambling for position, has been widely photographed and broadcast. Even though we have known, and reported to you for years, the fact that the legislature is dysfunctional, the general public and out-of-staters were not aware of that as clearly as they are today.
Another disappointment is the absence of achievement by the Senate in the five months preceding the June 8 coup. The fact that the body is so closely divided made it more difficult to pass legislation, but the leadership should have turned to bi-partisanship much earlier, and not fired hundreds of people solely because of their party affiliation, even if that is the reason they were hired in the first place. There is a substantial difference in quality among employees, and by considering only political sponsorship as a basis for employment, the Democrats did a substantial disservice toward decision-making on the merits. Let us make it clear that the Republicans are no better, but since the Democrats were in charge, they had the power at the time to raise standards, which there is no evidence they attempted to do.
Governor Paterson continues to make strong statements and then retreat under pressure. He has spent a quarter-century in the legislature; it has practically been his only job since he graduated from law school. His greatest achievement was displacing Senator Martin Connor as minority leader in December 1992. It was interesting today to see Connor, who is highly regarded for his legal talents, particularly in election law, advising the Democrats on the senate floor.
The drama, now in its third week, will soon play out. Today the parties are back in Judge Thomas McNamara’s courtroom. This time the Republicans have moved to compel the Democrats to physically yield the rostrum to them. On June 16, the same judge threw out Democratic motions on the case, declining to become involved in the internal problems of a co-equal branch of government. We will see whether he sticks to that position, or whether he decides enough time has passed, and that the matter is now ripe for resolution.
Judge McNamara will be unable to decide the rostrum motion without considering many other issues, which will take time to resolve. At any rate, the Democrats’ original case is currently before the Appellate Division, so it would be perfectly reasonable for the judge to refer this case to the same higher court considering the basic issue of which party, if either, commands a Senate majority. It seems that neither faction has the needed 32 votes.
The temptation is great to let the parties “stew in their own juice,” as my late father used to say. It is hard to see why the judiciary, denied a pay rise all these years by the legislature, should choose sides between the two political parties, neither one of which has delivered for them. Meanwhile, isn’t it outrageous that the legislators get a $160 allowance for each day they are called into session, even if they accomplish nothing?
The tragedy in Iran shows how many people value freedom and democracy, even when it costs them their lives.
The farce in Albany shows how many public officials value their own privileges and prerogatives more highly than they do the opportunity to perform the public service for which they were elected.
RUDY GIULIANI OUTLINES REFORM AGENDA
P.S. The current crisis illustrates the need for greater reform than any of the current combatants are likely to provide or support. There is, however, an excellent op-ed piece in today's Times, by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. We don't want to condense it, because we think it is worth your reading the entire article. Link to it here. It will be interesting to see what, if any, reaction there will be to the Giuliani article. We find it a striking and comprehensive call for change in state government. It begins with a Constitutional Convention, which would have to be called by the state legislature. It is highly unlikely that the incumbents will do anything to limit their power or their pensions. The voters would have to elect new state officials in 2010. Ultimately, the rule is power to the people, but it is a long and winding road to bring it there.
#567 06.24.2009 953 wds
(originally published 6/24/09)