A not so grand bargain?

It is crucial for any citizen who wants to understand state government to know about the seminal case, Silver versus Pataki. This case taught us the principle that the governor can put any policy demands into the budget and the Legislature can’t take them out. Because of that case, governors of New York grew to have power seldom seen in any other state.

Just look at the latest budget in which Andrew Cuomo has been both mischievous and heroic. His terrible proposal to allow for tax breaks for parochial and private schools is there. He should be ashamed of that. But also in the proposed document is Cuomo’s first rate list of reforms to the state’s ethics laws.

His list goes on and on but just for starters, he wants to know exactly how much money every legislator earns on the outside. Since we have seen the proof as yet another legislator is hauled away to the hoosegow and we understand the nature of those who steal simply because they can, Cuomo’s efforts are indeed heroic.

In the end, though, in order to have an on-time budget there will be a grand bargain. Much of what the governor has demanded in his budget will be mitigated and he will submit a revised budget. The question on ethics, for example, is whether he will give away the store. I hope he doesn’t but I suspect he will. Poor Andrew is now so damaged from his major screw up in disbanding his corruption fighting Moreland Act Commission and his refusal to keep his campaign promise on apportionment (not allowing the legislators to draw their own districts), cynics like me expect that when the dust settles, he will have given in on the important issues that govern ethics. No one should really be surprised if he follows suit and sells out on his announced ethics reform platform and gives in to the greedy legislators who have anointed Speaker Carl Heastie to do their dirty work for them.

New Yorkers really know nothing about their state government. When pressed, they may mutter something easy like, “They’re all crooks” (not true) but the media has made such a circus over late budgets that when we get one on time, it is seen as much more important than what’s actually in the document. None of this is meant to discount the idea that late budgets cost us all big time and really affect the state’s school districts which have to know how much money they will have to spend.

The problem for Andrew is that his father was plagued by late budgets. Since Andrew was by his father’s side to see all the pain that this caused, he is determined not to let it happen on his watch. But now the proof is in the pudding. Does he really want all the so-called reforms he has asked for or is this just show and tell? In other words, is it all a big game? In the past Andrew has folded at the crucial moment, arguing that he had to. This time around, people should hold his feet to the fire and if he does the same old, same old, they should say to the ventriloquist, “We saw your lips move.”

You have to ask yourself whether these clowns understand that they are really not doing themselves any good. They are all ripping off the system for huge payoffs in the form of campaign gifts and, in some cases, outrageous legal bribes in the form of outside income.

A friend of the governor asked me recently how come I keep writing this again and again. The answer, said the great Pete Seeger, is that “…repetition is the height of pedagogy.” Maybe if I say it often enough, someone will wake up and act.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 3/17/15

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