Lawmakers need to address the glut of tax-exempt properties
The state Legislature is a mess. We may talk democracy but in truth, the Senate and the Assembly are really oligarchies. This means that despite the appearance of decision-making by the many, in actuality it is one powerful man at the top of each organization who calls the shots. In the Senate, it’s Republican Dean Skelos and in the Assembly, it’s Speaker Sheldon Silver who has one more vote than anyone else. If you ask either of them whether it is true that we have competing dictatorships, they will tell you that they are directed by party conferences who debate and discuss everything and only after that does the word come forth from the powerful leaders. This simply isn’t true. We all know about the now famous “three men in a room” (Governor, Speaker, and Senate Majority Leader). These three meet and discuss and when they come out, the word is carried back to the followers in the various conferences. Our eyes do not deceive us. We see what we see. Once we open our eyes, we cannot be fooled.
Dictators rise and fall all over the world and this country, we insist on what we call democracy. Here in the state of New York, there are more elected Democrats than Republicans in the state Senate and yet, somehow, some way, the Republicans remain in power. There are those who think that Governor Andrew Cuomo, who came to office to “clean up Albany,” has been in some part responsible for this state of affairs. Cuomo, we all know, has been committed to fixing the reputation of New York as a tax heavy state. He knows that if there is a single thing that will cost him votes, it is the fact that the taxes are too high. He also knows that if the Democrats take over the management of the state Senate, they will practice what we can only call “redistributive politics.” He is afraid that the newly empowered Democrats will spend him out of house and home. One has only to look at the people who give the governor immense amounts of money to understand that the wealthy and powerful in the state agree with the governor. If it is taxes or progressive programs, the latter will have to wait.
But the people are restless. In the recent fight for the Working Families Party nomination, Cuomo had to make one major concession: he would help the Democrats in the Senate take back their leadership. While some people believe that Cuomo could call the members of the Independent Democratic Conference who side with the Republicans back home and get them into line with the real Democrats, so far he has not. Now, under immense pressure, he says that he’ll do just that “next year.” Many people are shaking their heads and wondering why he doesn’t do it right now. The skeptics believe that Cuomo helped set the whole scenario up in the first place and the last thing he wants to do is to empower the progressive Democrats. Even if both houses pass progressive legislation, the governor still holds a power veto weapon but the last thing Cuomo wants to do is to be the bad guy. Why should he? As long as the Republicans are in power, they will play the role of the heavies. He can point to them and say, “They did it.” His father did the same thing.
Cuomo seems set for a dramatic reelection. New York’s progressive Democrats are certainly not going to vote for conservative Rob Astorino. After he is elected for a second term, he may actually help his fellow Democrats and do what he promised, call the Independent Democrats to heel. If he wants to run for national office, he can’t take the rap for being a Republican enabler so he’ll have to do something.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 6/16/14