A Political Columnist in Search Of A New Subject
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
Follow me on Twitter @QueensTribune
I wish there was another subject that would inspire my keyboard.
It’s just every way I turn, the dysfunction – to put it nicely – of the New York State Legislature just seems to dominate.
I’m tired of complaining, whining, preaching about it and them, but it just doesn’t get any better.
Take the selection of operators to build and run the video terminal gambling casino at Aqueduct in Queens. A decision promised months ago, which was by then almost a year late, after the first go round awarded the deal to a group that didn’t have the financial resources needed, was finally made by whichever three men were in the room, instilling no confidence. The process lacked transparency, was delayed time and again, disregarded community input and typifies what we have gotten for years. During the delays, the State lost many millions. This time it was all from Dems – David Paterson, the accidental Governor, John Sampson, the new leader of the Senate, and Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver, the mature man in the room.
We have zero confidence that the decision was made for any of the right reasons. Welcome to New York. Furthermore, we’re not even sure this decision will stick and shortly, we could be back to the backroom drawing board.
Last week, the NY Post reported: "Capping a flawed selection process, Gov. Paterson yesterday picked a business consortium tied to friend and former Democratic Rep. Floyd Flake to build a slot-machine casino at the Aqueduct Racecourse in Queens."
"But Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he had attached four ‘conditions’ to the decision to give the contract to Aqueduct Entertainment Group, or AEG."
According to the Post report, one of those conditions may present a problem for the the group.
If so, it could be back to the drawing board for the never-ending tale of the Aqueduct video casino.
With the entire process done by three men behind closed doors doesn’t it make you feel warm and fuzzy ‘bout State government?
As I left the office on Friday, I was informed of a Monday interview of the two candidates for an Assembly Special election.
“Tell the staff to prepare questions, I’ll just focus on ethics in Albany.” I said.
I’m aware the process of governing has given way to politics, special interest and the self interest of the folks up there. Sadly, I just don’t see it changing.
I’m trying to avoid preaching “throw the bums out,” but that seems to be the only route to bring about the sudden and radical change required if the people of New York State are to get a fair shot at good government or even mediocre government.
What we have now does not resemble any form of representative democracy. I don’t have an answer to this ongoing problem, but do know we must try.
The serious problem of ethics in government will only be solved by a diligent citizenry and hopefully supported with the work of an indepentent press.
The Voters Too?
I received a Facebook message from a young man in Queens which said in part: “I recently attended a meeting of the South Queens Democratic club, where I confronted long time friend and new Senator Joe Addabbo. It was primarily about the marriage equality vote. I told him that the press release that stated a majority of the 400 calls were against it, was unacceptable. He went on to tell me that there were serious issues we were facing and we had to move on. I believe this was a serious issue, and so do many others. I have supported him since 1997 when I couldn’t even vote and now I am left dazed and confused at the severity of his claims. I seriously have always been hoping to get him to mentor me, but I don’t believe there is much of that in politics. The number of voters in my Ozone Park-Howard Beach area haven’t increased and all Democrats are on the line. What have these people (elected’s and party leaders) been doing all these years?
Any advice on how to fight apathy that my generation and generations to come are inheriting from these people?”
My response: “I too was disappointed in Joe’s marriage equality vote, but for me the problem goes deeper than that issue. The State Legislature — the entire State government — is dysfunctional and seriously ethically challenged. The legislative process is controlled by special intersets and self interests of legislators. Change will not come easily. Activist citizens — like yourself — must not give into the ugly process. Keep yelling, attending meetings, fighting and spreading the word. Use the normal community civic outlets and Facebook and Twitter to expand the traditional reach. An election is coming and you and the young voters can make a difference. Participation is the first step. – Mike.”
My wife just asked me what I was writing about and I said, “the dysfunctional State government.” She rolled her eyes and said, “Not again.”
I feel the same way.
Michael Schenkler can be reached via this contact form.
Mayor’s Cuts Caused by Less Revenue, State Aid Uncertainty
By HENRY STERN
Having observed the municipal budget process for more years than the Jews spent in the wilderness, I offer a few comments on the kickoff of the annual ritual, the mayor’s publication and presentation of a preliminary budget.
First, it is not possible to propose a definitive city budget without knowing what the state budget will be, since the city receives billions of dollars each year in state aid or matching funds (a sum which varies from year to year). This funding, which all municipalities receive, is not an act of generosity by the state, because the money comes from state taxes paid by city residents and businesses. The issue each year is how much the state will divert for other purposes before returning our remittances.
This year, like last year and the year before that, the state is facing a worse financial crisis than the city. One reason for this is the fact that the city has a strong mayor, who is able to hold the line on expenditures, and a relatively pliant city council.
On the other hand, the state has a weak governor and a powerful although dysfunctional legislature. Pressure is exerted directly on legislators by both unions and their spending partners in education and health, the two agencies which are budget busters. This is an area where the interests of labor and management coincide; they both want more money from the state’s taxpayers. The legislators, who run for re-election every two years, can be influenced by television commercials paid for by unions and trade associations.
By law, the state budget must be adopted by the legislature and approved by the governor by March 31. For almost 20 years this statutory deadline was not met, although recently it has been followed. Because of the city’s dependency on state aid, serious consideration of the city budget cannot come before April. The City Council then holds hearings on the budget, while a parade of witnesses argue for money for the cause or employees they represent. The final budget is negotiated between a team of councilmembers headed by the Speaker and the mayor’s office.
Traditionally, the mayor’s budget as prepared leaves space for councilmembers to add hundreds of millions of dollars, for which they can and do claim credit. The Council has in the past added millions in members’ items, or pork, to satisfy their supporters and in some cases their contributors. How much pork will be in the FY 2011 budget has not yet been determined. It is too early in the season for that.
Nonetheless, the mayor’s budget presentation was both important and impressive, reasonable in both tone and substance.
Clyde Haberman had a perceptive column in the Times, noting a major difference between the city’s current fiscal crisis and the big one in the mid 70s, noting “the spirit of ’76,” as Haberman calls it, is gone: “Mr. Bloomberg told teachers to accept a pay raise of 2 percent, which is less than they’d like but is at least an increase, or watch 2,500 of their colleagues apply for unemployment. Something’s got to give, this line of reasoning goes, and it is better that everyone in the lifeboat go on shorter rations than to have lots of people tossed into the sea.
Haberman also points out that Bloomberg has placed many of his campaign staff on the city payroll he intends to shrink. To be fair, many of these people had previously worked for the city and left their jobs to work in the campaign, which is a much better (and more legal) practice than having them work on the campaign while on the city payroll, or using up compensatory time which had been accumulated. Haberman continues:
“Speaking of salaries, the word derives from “sal,” Latin for salt. As you know, the mayor wants to reduce salt consumption in the city. The same cannot be said about that salt derivative, salaries — certainly not the salaries of those who helped get him re-elected. He has put a bunch of them in high-paying city jobs, including his campaign communications director, Howard Wolfson, who will earn $200,000 a year.
“Mr. Wolfson’s purpose in life would seem to be to keep Mr. Bloomberg front and center in national politics. The mayor insisted the other day that he had “no plans” to run for president. Then again, he used to say that he had no plans to seek a third term at City Hall.”
Actually, the mayor could be a good President, compared with what we have been through. If elected in 2012, he would be the oldest man ever to assume the office, surpassing Ronald Reagan, the existing record holder at 69 years and 349 days, by almost exactly one year. He would have to resign as mayor by Inauguration Day, January 20, 2013, at which time Public Advocate Bill de Blasio would assume the mayoralty. Under the City Charter, a special election would be required to be held within 60 days after the vacancy occurred. The election would be non-partisan, an honorable cause which Mayor Bloomberg has championed. We wonder if anybody else has already figured out the schedule.