Budget changes are an invitation to corruption
Balanced government is a good thing. In fact, in our kind of republican democracy, it is essential. For one thing, it helps to prevent dictatorship. While many of us have yelled and screamed about “gridlock” in Albany, for good reason, this might be a good time to examine our options. No doubt, part of the problem was brought about by an often greedy and venal Legislature who seemed to forget why they were there. Put succinctly, all too often they believed in representing themselves and not the people they were sworn to serve. Meanwhile the Legislature kept up its folly, drawing lines where only they could win.
A few bad apples were arrested and are on their way to jail. Into all of this chaos, like Lochinvar out of the west, comes Governor Andrew Cuomo on his white horse. Cuomo took full advantage of the mess in Albany and began to fix it. For the first time, he got an Ethics Committee that would look not only at the executive branch but the legislative branch as well. This was hailed as a great achievement although the jury is still very much out. In order for Cuomo to get this watchdog group, it appears that the fox was put in charge of guarding the henhouse. Time will tell on that one. So far we haven’t seen anything to write home about. Cuomo seems to like working with the moderate Republicans in the Senate and keeps saying that he will veto the self-serving redistricting bill. At the same time, he hints that he might not, which would be good for his Republican friends in the Senate.
Cuomo’s ratings are in the stratosphere which scares the Legislature to death. Following on George Pataki’s innovation, the governor has found that he can put anything that would once have demanded a separate bill into the budget. The Legislature gets a choice. Pass the budget or don’t pass it. No fiddling with it. The courts have made that red letter law. If the unpopular Legislature doesn’t pass the budget bill in a timely fashion, they are sent back to the dog house where they have resided for several years. If they do pass it, they will have to swallow some undeserved and unwise poison pills. Two are particularly heinous. The first is that the state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, will no longer have to approve any contract in advance of its being let. This is an invitation to corruption, maybe not for this governor but for others in the future. The Cuomo people assure us that there will be audits after the contracts are let, a case of locking the barn door after the horse has escaped if there ever was one. This is pure nonsense and Cuomo should know it. Much better to take steps to stop trouble before it starts rather than scrambling once the damage is done.
Cuomo also wants to take all the money in the budget and move it around as he sees fit rather than following the Legislature’s instructions as to what it should be used for. I am here to tell you that this effectively stops the Legislature from doing its job. If you watch the history of dictatorship you will see that this refutation of mixed government is exactly what dictators wanted and got. If you’ve got a 74 percent approval rating and the people are roaring about how wonderful you are, there is really nothing to stop you. You’ll find lots of examples of this in history. All this is helped by the billionaires who run the two biggest tabloids in the state telling teachers they should give up their retirement benefits.
No doubt the Legislature brought this on themselves with their gridlock and self-serving nonsense. They may even deserve what they are getting. The problem is, the people don’t deserve to suffer and they ought to keep their eye on the pea as the master magician moves it under the shells.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 2/27/12