NY Uprising: Fighting State Government Failure
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
I just joined (liked) New York Uprising on Facebook.
For close to a decade, this writer has called the New York State Legislature the 50th most effective in the nation – read worst. Then the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law declared that New York was the most dysfunctional legislature in the nation.
It was never a well-kept secret that the N. Y. State government was failing its people. And now, there is a growing recognition on the part of the people in the state that we face not only a crisis of confidence but a crisis of honesty, integrity, an ability to pay our bills and for the State government to serve the people.
Now there is the start of an organized effort to seek change.
The information below is directly from the New York Uprising Facebook page which can be accessed at: www.facebook.com/NewYorkUprising.
New York Uprising’s Facebook Page logo.
“Over the past few years there has been a growing public understanding that New York State government’s effectiveness and honesty has been in a downward spiral and elected officials have not been doing the jobs that people have elected them to do. According to a recent Marist poll, nearly eight out of ten voters feel that New York State is headed in the wrong direction. New York Uprising has been created by NYC Mayor Edward I. Koch and a group of influential New Yorkers to come up with fundamental reforms to improve the way Albany does business and restore the public’s trust in their legislators. In the coming weeks New York Uprising will be releasing proposals for non partisan redistricting, budget reform and ending ‘pay to play’ politics in Albany. New York Uprising will focus strictly on good government reforms that go the heart of fairness, transparency and the effectiveness of government.
“New York Uprising believes that the majority of our elected officials are honorable public servants, trapped in a system that rewards bad behavior and punishes our brightest. This group will seek to change that system, finally allowing our representatives to carry out the jobs they were elected to do. Along the way, New York Uprising will prepare to actively work against the dishonorable incumbents and candidates standing in the way of reform.
What can you do?
Pay attention; “Like” the New York Uprising page; follow this column and be a diligent citizen.
Reformers Frustrated By Legislature, Keep Trying
By HENRY STERN
By HENRY STERN
The recurring theme in many of these columns in recent months has been the weakness of state government, particularly in the legislature. Without revisiting the muck of corruption, favoritism and self-dealing (and the mire of fiscal irresponsibility), we turn our attention to what can be done about the situation.
The decent and honorable organizations devoted to good government—Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens Union, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the New York Public Interest Research Group and the Women’s City Club — have been struggling for years to reform state government. In recent years, they have traveled to Albany each spring to meet with legislators. On several occasions, New York Civic has taken the bus trip. Other reformers came from different parts of the state. We would hear speakers, hold a small rally on the lawn, and split up to go to appointments with legislators who would see us.
At the end of the day, we returned to our buses and rode back to the city. The legislature was safe for another year.
At some point early in the annual ritual, it became clear to me that the legislature had no serious prospect of doing anything much that we recommended. Although there were good people there who did support our relatively innocuous proposals, there was little likelihood of any reforms reaching the floor, much less being adopted. There was simply no incentive for the legislature to change its ways, because its old ways served the interests of the leadership.
The Senate and the Assembly proved themselves to be quite responsive, however, to other petitioners. Lobbyists, union leaders, business corporations, and campaign contributors were able to communicate directly with elected officials, rather than being fobbed off on aides, as we were. The Albany universe was guided by a simple rule: The first line of the rule is “Money Talks.”
There is an old saying, “Fool me once, it’s your fault; fool me twice, it’s my fault.” The saying loosely applies to conventional attempts at reform. The public officials we see are generally sympathetic; those openly hostile do not meet with us, nor do we seek them out. They usually say they will do what they can, and many of them in fact do what they can. Unfortunately, what they can do is generally not much, unless they have the consent of the legislative leaders. The leaders do not approve any measures which might have an adverse impact on their privileges or on their leverage over others, which is understandable from the point of view of maintaining the levers of political power and influence.
Essentially, reformers ask politicians to yield some of their authority for what we perceive as the greater public good, the freer dissemination of ideas, and the right to make decisions based on one’s own judgment of the merits, rather than others. Those in power often see their own interests as synonymous with the public welfare, or in the alternative believe that their own leadership is essential to the maintenance of order in government. They are not generally willing to yield anything to anyone without being compelled to do so. The very qualities that earned them a position of leadership are dedicated to maintaining that position against any rivals or any proposal which would circumscribe their authority over others.
What this leads to is that external pressure is the most effective way to secure change. In order to support nonpartisan redistricting, legislators must believe that it is in their own political interest, and that whatever damage might be done by a district more fairly drawn is less than the damage that might be done to their prospects of election by the exposure of their refusal to consent to independent districting.
That requires people of stature and influence to unite in favor of independent nonpartisan redistricting, a subject which has often been viewed as a technical issue, a diversion for mapmakers, and a device to protect neighborhoods whose population is changing, ethnically or economically. The leaders we need are people whose interests go beyond particular districts or a single criterion. They are people who simply want a level playing field. That tired cliche sums it up. It is a fairness issue. And, when they understand the issue, people basically want fair competition, not a stacked deck or a fixed fight. What is notable in 2010 is that people who are now out of politics, having held high office, feel the necessity to involve themselves in public issues.
Part of the reason for this is the sad state into which New York State has sunk due to the ineptitude of its executive branch and the irresponsibility of its legislature.
Civic leaders realize, just as they did in Fiscal Crisis 1 in 1974-75, and Fiscal Crisis 2 in 1990-91, that wider participation is necessary to help the city and state in their financial difficulties. The city is well managed, certainty compared with the state, but it too faces a substantial gap between anticipated receipts and expenditures. The city’s gap for 2011 is much smaller than the state’s, but it will require further reductions when the mayor presents his budget to the Council.