The Empire Page Poll Question of the Week for March 29 asked how people viewed the just completed NYS budget negotiations. Given 4 options of the 277 readers who voted, 3% think the budget is very good; 9% view it as good, but admit it could have been better; 16% think it’s bad, but could have been worse and 73% see the budget as terrible. Nearly 9 of every 10 person who voted think the budget is bad and the state’s newspapers seem to be in 100% agreement.
Taking a sample from today’s editorials, the best commentaries on the budget appeared in the Buffalo News, Glens Falls Post Star, Kingston Freeman and Elmira Gazette. The News review is caustic. They blast the politicians’ “disdain for taxpayers” blaming NYS’s electoral system which insulates legislators against the voters’ wrath by gerrymandered districts and “fundraising standards that benefit themselves instead of their constituents”.
The News recommends “initiative and referendum” to allow the voters to “supercede a government they cannot trust”. Initiative and referendum, however, has never lived up to its billing. It reduces issues to black and white contrast when a technicolor solution is in order. I’d rather see the News support a Constitutional amendment to change the way legislative district lines are drawn, taking the power away from elected officials and putting them in the hands of an impartial instrument — the computer. Assign a set of rules to the problem and let the computer science departments at our state’s universities compete to produce software that can do the job.
The Freeman calls the budget a case of “fiscal double jeopardy”. Albany is counting on the federal stimulus and new taxes to meet the projected deficit that they admit will very likely be worse than projected. The Freeman offers no remedies. My solution: Let’s try some actual democracy in New York instead of make-believe democracy that concentrates so much power in one man’s hands. Sheldon Silver — the Majority Leader of the NYS Assembly — is the most powerful man in NYS — much more powerful than Governor Paterson. He has power to determine who gets elected and then how the Albany machine gets run. The Governor has the superficial power of trying to run government according to the laws and financials controlled by the Legislature. In business Silver would be the CEO, President & Board Chairman and Paterson would be the COO.
The editorial page board of the Glens Falls Post Star sees “a miracle of arrogance that our state lawmakers would approve a budget that increases spedning by 8.7 percent.” They are incredulous that New York truly needs 62 state employees for every 1,000 citizens, needs to spend more than double the national average on Medicaid per person and more per pupil on salaries and benefits than any other state. Perhaps it would take a miracle for the governor and legislature to do anything but keep funding themselves at those arrogant levels.
The Elmira Star Gazette is upset about the secrecy and lack of transparency that led to the formation of the budget. The fact is that negotiations cannot be conducted in public and if we were to force the leaders to hold their negotiations in public, they would find a way to negotiate in private and play charades during the public meetings. The problem again is a lack of democracy — not enough interest groups have representation in Albany. Both the Assembly and the Senate represent organized labor and New York City. The governor, who is supposed to represent the entire state, has to look where the votes will come from that he’ll need to be re-elected. In other words, there’s no one at the table who represents upstate New York; there’s no one who represents business — large, medium or small; there’s no one who represents the property owner. And if you’re not at the table during negotiations folks, you know you’re going to get shafted. The only question is how badly.