Friday, July 09, 2010

Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?

Budget Deadlock -Day 98

Buffalonian Senator

Stachowski Objects

To Paying Sales Tax

On Cheap Clothing

The state budget - or the lack of it - is as unpleasant a subject as the heat wave, and we had hoped that by now both issues would have been resolved.

Unfortunately, the parties in Albany are still far apart. Today we are 98 days behind the legal deadline, which means the new state fiscal year, 2011, is now more than one-quarter over. During the Pataki era (1995-2006) a couple of budgets were not approved until August, but we were promised that when the governorship and both houses of the legislature come under one party (the Democrats) that issues would be settled promptly and amicably.

Though there are many disputes simmering in Albany, the current deadlock is about adopting the budget. Whatever else the executive and legislative branches are supposed to accomplish this year remains in limbo, partly because there is a lame-duck governor, partly because the Democrats have a bare majority of 32 senators, which means every one of them must vote for a bill to pass it, for if any member objects, the bill is lost. A senator may raise objections because of unrelated grievances against the leadership or concerns over other legislation.

In the current standoff, both houses have passed bills specifying appropriations. As might be expected, they differ. However, only the Assembly has passed a revenue bill, which is needed to pay for the expenditures, or at least some of them. The Senate cannot muster 32 votes to pass a tax bill because Senator William Stachowski of Buffalo will not approve any measure which does not provide increased status and authority for the State University at Buffalo. To insist on this expansion of SUNY-Buffalo, Stachowski is withholding support for an agreed upon re-instatement of the state's portion of sales tax on clothing under $110, which the Assembly and Senate are depending upon to balance the budget. The Democrats oppose the expansion of power for SUNY-Buffalo (and Stony Brook) because potentially all 64 state colleges could seek independence and operate autonomously, raising tuition at will and leaving some institutions far stronger than others. We have no idea at this time how or when this issue will be resolved.

Senator Stachowski is also reported to be displeased because, as a leading Democrat on the Finance Committee, he expected to chair the committee when the Democrats regained control of the Senate (after 43 years in the wilderness). However, that plum went to Senator Carl Kruger, who with the 'three amigos', Espada, Monserrate and Diaz, Sr., effectively controlled the organization of the DINO (Democratic in name only) senate.

In fact, it was former Majority Leader Malcolm Smith's refusal of Espada's demand for millions of state dollars to subsidize the Soundview Health Center that he and his three sons operate, that triggered the Espada-Monserrate revolt that led to Smith's unseating as majority leader and Sampson's installation as conference chair, with benefits.

Public confidence in the State Senate was not enhanced by the resulting June 8 coup, in which Senator Pedro Espada and former Senator Hiram Monserrate voted with the 30 Republicans to displace the Democratic leaders and form a new Republican majority. After a month of anarchy, Espada returned to the fold, and was rewarded with the majority leadership, formerly held by Malcolm Smith, who was kicked upstairs to president pro tempore of the senate, making him third in line to become governor, if the worst should happen.

As a by-product of this successful piracy, Richard Ravitch was appointed Lieutenant Governor by Governor Paterson and Judge Jonathan Lippman persuaded three judges on the Court of Appeals to join him in finding the appointment constitutional, although it was historically unprecedented in the 233-year history of the State of New York. Paterson now says he regrets the appointment because he feels Ravitch is too close to Speaker Silver and to establishment figures in New York City.

Much of what remains of authority in Albany is concentrated in the Assembly Speaker, who is clearly master of his own house. However, prospective governor Andrew Cuomo is already making his own judgments on issues in which the speaker may have an interest, professional or personal. The de facto Democratic senate leader, John Sampson of Brooklyn, does not have enough votes to override a governor's veto. (Silver does, but both houses must concur in order to override.)

The result so far is deadlock, which can theoretically continue until the State runs out of money. Since its finances have been so manipulated, no one can predict with certainty when that will be. But as with Bernie Madoff, the day is certain to come.



Senator Sampson was criticized last month for leaking the details of a bid, including two internal Senate documents, on the Aqueduct racino to a lobbyist (former Senator Carl Andrews) for the Aqueduct Entertainment Group (AEG), the firm that won the contract, which has since been cancelled after the State Lottery Division deemed the Aqueduct Entertainment Group to be "unlicensable". Sampson denied any wrongdoing in connection with furnishing the documents to AEG, one of whose investors was former Congressman Floyd Flake, who has since withdrawn from participation in the group.

Yesterday's Post reported, in a story by Brendan Scott, headlined "2 OF 3 AQUEDUCT BIDDERS SCRATCHED" that "Now there's only one horse in the race for the multibillion-dollar casino contract at Aqueduct Racetrack.

"The state Lottery Division yesterday abruptly tossed two of the three bids it received last week to build and run a video slots parlor at the faded Queens track, leaving only Malaysian gaming giant Genting in the running.

"The cash-strapped state is counting on the winner to pay a $300 million licensing fee.

"Lottery officials decided that the two disqualified bidders - Penn National Gaming and the powerful SL Green-Hard Rock partnership - 'did not conform with the requirements of the competition.'"

The Acqueduct situation has been a public embarrassment since Governor Paterson first attempted to award the sole-source contract to the politically wired Aqueduct Entertainment Group on January 29th. This took place close to the time that he was soliciting the support of Reverend (and former Congressman) Floyd Flake's support in his projected gubernatorial race against Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Flake was a minor participant in AEG.

Six months later, no final decision has been made. There has been no independent review of whether the racino is a good idea, or simply a desperate attempt to pump $300 million into a chasmic state budget hole that now exceeds $9 billion.

Why would any rational person seek to govern this state at this time, unless it were the family business?


"The architecture of Central Park, like the United States Constitution, must evolve with the times." StarQuest weighs in on the future of Tavern on the Green in yesterday's New York Times. Read all about it here.

StarQuest reminisces about Parks Department alum, Bradley Tusk (a.k.a. Ivory), in this week's Observer profile of Tusk entitled "Mayor Bloomberg's Secret Weapon". Click here to read the entire article.

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