Three reasons why we may not need the Legislature

Do legislators care more about money and political survival than they do about the welfare of their spouses, their children, their grandchildren and even their own health?

Take the case of the governor’s proposed sugar tax. It would have brought millions into the state’s coffers. If you imposed a tax on sugary soda like the one we have on cigarettes, we might curb the overwhelming obesity and diabetes we are now witnessing. Despite all of the many good reasons, the state Legislature said “no.” The system is a house of ill repute. The lobbyists give the legislators what they need to survive and that means money. For the big boys it is cheap money. In order to make billions the affected interests will spend millions. A good deal for them, but lousy for the rest of us.

It certainly doesn’t stop with the sugar tax. Consider hydrofracking. That’s the practice of forcing chemicals into the ground to get to the natural gas. The country needs natural gas; some of the farmers who own the land want to get rich from the profits. The gas companies, speculators and industrial types want the gas to add to their stockpiles and fortunes. The state of New York’s political leadership, including the otherwise sane and balanced Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis and the new populist hero Governor David Paterson, want the revenues. The implication is that the state desperately needs to balance the books. That’s a lot of power right there. The problem is that they are dead wrong.

We are talking about a massive threat to health of the people of New York state. A new film, “Gasland,” by HBO documentary film maker Josh Fox, makes a very persuasive case that the practice of hydrofracking is a major league health threat to the people of New York.

Under immense pressure, the politicians have conceded that the New York City watershed could not be subjected to the hydrofracking. Only in New York state would politicians conclude that some citizens, but not all, should be protected from a practice that has been suggested could lead to a rise in cancer rates, among other health hazards. Both houses belonging to the Democrats who are New York City centered. Might that be the reason for protecting New York City but not other major parts of the state?

They could have issued a moratorium on hydrofracking but in the rush to summer vacations, the Legislature never got around to protecting the public health. In New York politics, money has always trumped all. One of my all time heroes, Congressman Maurice Hinchey, has led the charge in Congress. Hinchey can be seen in the “Gasland” film quizzing the gas moguls asking them to name the chemicals that are being forced into our groundwater. He asks them whether they would want to drink a glass of those chemicals. It’s unbelievable. If ever a clear case could be made about what was wrong with our Legislature, this is it. I have always thought that when these senators and Assembly members first head to the Legislature they really believe that they are going to Albany to do good. Pretty soon, however, reality sets in. “Go along to get along,” comes into play. Do what the leaders tell you to do and you’ll be set.

Case three. The State University of New York, under tremendous fiscal threat, has a plan to save itself and the City University. They want to allow the campuses to raise tuition. Up until now, when tuition is raised, the state keeps the excess. Under this plan, the University would keep it. Speaker Sheldon Silver says that if the plan is allowed, the state will just stop giving the money it currently gives now to the University and some kids would not be able to go because the tuition will be too high. Good points. Of course, as one of the most powerful men in the state, Silver is in a position to put a stop to that. Not only that, the speaker is just the man to make sure that New York’s Tuition Assistance Plan (TAP) provides for our poorest students. I am convinced he is passionate about that position. He should pass the plan. We have to save the University.

A sugar tax can only help. Putting a ban on hydrofracking is also in the public interest and protecting the state and city universities is a must. If the Legislature can’t do these simple things, what do we need them for?

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 7/7/10

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