NYS Government 101: It’s Business as Usual
One major observation, reinforced annually, is that the State of New York is financially irresponsible. Every year the governor submits an unreasonably high budget, not covered by recurring revenues. Then both the Republican and the Democratic houses of the Legislature add billions of dollars to it. The public debt of the State is increasing rapidly. The problem is we are plunging into ever-heavier debt, with interest eating up an ever larger portion of the tax revenues. New York’s debt is largely concealed in the debt of public authorities.
Another continuing problem is that the Legislature is dominated by its leaders, Senate Majority Leader Bruno and Assembly Speaker Silver. Although these men are partially responsive to their members’ wishes, particular if the members’ seats are in jeopardy, they are laden with conflicts of interest and exercise undue influence through their power over members’ salaries, committee appointments, and ability to pass bills.
The state government has been corrupted by pay to play lobbyists and campaign contributions by special interests to both the governor and the legislative majorities. A variety of procedural reforms were approved this year in Albany, as a result of vigorous newspaper editorials and intense activity by civic groups focusing on the Brennan Center report which called the New York State Legislature the most dysfunctional in the United States. Nonetheless, the basic dynamic of the legislature was unaffected; months of sloth followed by a flood of last-minute activity, domination by the majority leader and the speaker, with the influence of their staffs exceeding that of many elected legislators, who are little more than salaried spectators.
The failure to publish the particulars of what is called ‘the 007 budget’, which consists of an estimated 200 million dollars worth of member items, allocated to pet projects of individual legislators, is particularly indefensible.
Rather than continue to enumerate the multitude of outrages, large and small, caused by corruption, favoritism, cronyism, conflict of interest and other classic vices of individuals high and low, the issue that is most relevant to us is why these conditions, repeatedly depicted, remain essentially unchanged despite years of carping by critics and columnists.
Indeed, no one outside a circle of grifters seems to have a good word for the men (there are no visible women) who run the State of New York. We have yet to read anywhere that Albany is just, fair or efficient, although it is quite possible that those are the views of the teachers unions, the tort lawyers and the SEIU. These are the people who have the keys to the golden door.
In 2007 we will have a new governor, and we will learn what impact he will have on the pigsty over which he will preside. It will be relatively easy for him to clean up the executive branch, except for the buddies that Pataki has appointed to long terms stretching up as far as 2012.
Our situation is ironic. We are bound by the decisions of a self-serving gerrymandered, life-serving phalanx of legislators who insulate themselves from contests. Yet we enjoy a free press, now augmented by irreverent bloggers so we can let all of you know what is going on.
The continuing dilemma is how people can use the information to unfasten the straitjacket in which self-serving politics has bound us. That will require increased public demand for freedom, and leaders to carry on the struggle.
We await the November election with both hope and trepidation. Historically, the bad guys have been shrewder than the good guys. And they have behind them the power of the dollar. The system can swallow up those who seek to change it. It will require superb leadership to subdue the oligarchs.
The State of New York has now endured a generation of political and economic stagnation. A day of reckoning lies ahead, which you will hear about in due time. The sooner the elected leaders of New York State accept that fact, and make realistic plans to deal with it, the less onerous the solution will be.