Friday, June 12, 2009

Capital Affairs: Whats Goin on in Albany?

Albany sure is amazing. It's a place where, within several weeks, State Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. (D-Bronx) can rocket from a position of censure - as a serial campaign-rules scofflaw and the target of a fraud investigation - to standing a heartbeat away from becoming governor.

It's a place where billionaire businessman Tom Golisano, having lost three legitimate elections for governor, can interfere with the State Senate to pursue his agenda instead. His backing - assuming this week's new leadership deal holds - turned the Senate into a different, unfamiliar animal overnight.

And it's a place where Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Dean Skelos (R- Rockville Centre), can grab power under the cloak of reform, which didn't much interest them in recent regimes when they held the majority. And in doing so, they can ally themselves with the likes of Espada and Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D- Jackson Heights), who faces domestic violence charges this month for slashing his girlfriend's face.

At the moment, New York is a place where hypocrisy thrives.

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Vote: Change?
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This page said in January that if Senate leaders gave in to demands by rogue Democrats selling their votes for power and money, the rogues would rule the Senate indefinitely. We were right - and if he's not careful, Skelos will be judged by the company he keeps.

And what about the governing?

But let's assume for a moment that the new Espada-Skelos majority coalition means what it says about reform. The coalition wants term limits for committee chairs and equal resources - for Democrats and Republicans alike - in staff and member items. The coalition is pledging more power for individual members to bring bills to a floor vote. These reforms would be welcome, and carry on where the recently deposed Democratic majority led by Sen. Malcolm Smith (D- St. Albans) stopped short.

The coalition is also promising a new ideology that emphasizes jobs for New Yorkers, lower property taxes, restoration of STAR rebate checks, and an end to overspending and overtaxing. Well, that's great. But we'll believe it when we see it. In recent years at the helm, the Republican majority stood for big-spending budgets and end-of-session pension sweeteners for public employees. A return to GOP leadership should not also signal a relapse to the cheap posturing, one-house bills and favors for special interests that characterized the years of former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.

What's important is that the coalition - or the Democrats, if they return to power - move a reform agenda forward more effectively. Burdened by the national economy, New York is in a crisis of too-high costs for residents and businesses, and nobody is leading the way out. The Senate is too immersed in internecine squabbles. Assemb. Speaker Sheldon Silver (D- Manhattan) plays defense instead of raising big ideas. And Gov. David Paterson, who launched a high-tech spending initiative on Monday that was largely ignored, is so weak that no one is listening.

Long Island may well be better off if the coalition stands. The cost-control issue is at a crescendo here, and most of our state senators are Republicans. But a change in control does not necessarily mean a change in performance. This group still has a lot to prove. hN

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