Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Cuckoo Coupday

$125 Billion Spent,

What Do You Get?

Another Year Older

And Deeper in Debt

Day 69 without a budget - en francais, soixante-neuf.

The Battle of the Budget continues, with both the Senate and the Assembly acting as if time were on their side. Time does seem to be working to help Governor Paterson, who has included budget reductions ("poison pills" to the spenders) along with the weekly extender to keep the state operating without an approved budget for FY 2010-2011, which began on April 1, 2010, almost ten weeks ago.

The political issue at play is who will be blamed if the government, at least the part of it that does not affect public health and safety, shuts down. The last such near-death experience took place with regard to the federal government from November 14 through November 19, 1995 and from December 16, 1995 to January 6, 1996. The cause was a dispute between President Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich over whether the legal limit on the national debt should be increased.

For the government to be able to pay its bills, the debt limit would have to be raised. Gingrich, the fiscal conservative, refused to do that. As a result, federal offices were closed nationwide and many functions involving the public could not be performed. The public blamed Gingrich and the Republicans for the shutdown. In January 1996, the Republicans relented and raised the debt limit to $5.5 trillion. BTW, today the national debt exceeds $13 trillion.

In the current budget war, Governor Paterson is likely to increase the pressure by including additional budget cuts in the weekly extension legislation. Under this strategy, the Senate and Assembly would either have to swallow the cuts or take responsibility for shutting down the State, which would displease, among others, the employee unions upon whose generosity the legislators feast to the tune of millions of dollars each year, and on whose phone banks the solons rely should anyone have the impertinence to oppose their candidacies for re-election.

Today marks the first anniversary of last summer's inglorious Senate putsch, in which Senator Pedro Espada, Jr., President and CEO of Soundview Health Network, and his sidekick, former Senator Hiram Monserrate, joined with 30 Republican senators to take control of the 62-member body. Monserrate redefected to the Democrats a week later, but Espada hung on for a full month, returning only when promised the Majority Leadership that he desired. One year after his successful insurrection, Senator Espada said today that he might not vote for another extender because he wanted the budget agreed to this week. The governor's cuts to the State's health budget also have an adverse effect on the Senator's business, Soundview. If Espada does not provide the 32nd Democratic vote, the state will again be on the brink of a shutdown.

Espada's co-conspirator, Monserrate, gained for his return to the fold the chair of the Committee on Consumer Affairs, to which his colleagues had been reluctant to elect him while he was awaiting trial for slashing his girlfriend. He was subsequently convicted of a lesser charge, expelled from the Senate, and defeated 3-1 for re-election to his old seat. Espada is currently the target of a lawsuit by the State Attorney General and the subject of a Federal investigation, but so far neither proceeding has resulted in a judgment.

The Senate in 2010 is close to anarchy. Since the 30 Republicans will support nothing, even if they had previously promised to, all 32 Democratic votes are needed to pass anything. For example, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which died in the Judiciary Committee. Every Democrat supported it except Senator Rev. Ruben Diaz, Sr., father of the Bronx Borough President, Ruben Diaz, Jr. No Republican supported it, even though two were said to have previously indicated that they would. Rev. Diaz is acting out of his religious convictions; he has always opposed legislation to help gays. Several of the Republicans are acting out of their political convictions, that it is better to show that the Democrats are unable to run the Senate than it is to help bisexual and transgender(ed?) New Yorkers.

It is difficult to determine from the course of events over the past two years whether the Democrats or Republicans are more qualified to lead the State Senate. Since we do not endorse or recommend candidates for public choices, we would not normally make choices between individuals or parties. This year we feel understanding for our readers who will have to make those choices on Primary Day, September 14 in New York State, and Election Day, seven weeks later on November 2. We hope that candidates for state office, incumbents and challengers alike, commit to a program of legislative reform, transparency, strong ethics codes and honest redistricting by an impartial commission. The next weeks will give us an idea of how many will promise to support specific legislation in this area.

Candidate Andrew Cuomo has asked all Democratic candidates to subscribe to this program. We would ask Republican and other party candidates for public office in New York State to make similar commitments. We do not view reform as a partisan issue. Our observation is that partisanship is often an impediment to reform because it requires legislators to be subservient to party leaders, rather than rely on their independent judgment on the issues. Party leaders make decisions on what they believe is best for their party rather than for the State of New York or the general public.

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