The New York state budget is passed. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has been vigorously attacking corruption and potential corruption in New York state. He says that a big part of the problem is the long-standing tradition of three men in a room — the governor, the speaker and the president of the Senate. So no matter how often we are told that there are 211 members of the Assembly and Senate, it really turns out that there are only three essential players, and that’s where the mischief begins.
As it happens, Andrew Cuomo used his substantial powers to load the budget with things he said he wanted. We’ll never know when he dropped some of the things he said he wanted, like a higher minimum wage, a disgraceful education tax credit that would have helped pay for parochial schools, the DREAM Act which would have provided college financial aid to undocumented immigrants and ethics reform insisting that legislators fully disclose all their outside income.
Did he really want those things or did he just want people, especially his left flank, to THINK that he wanted them. Was he going for results or was he going for the perception on the part of voters that he wanted those things? If you read The Contender, a new unauthorized biography of Andrew Cuomo by Michael Shnayerson, you learn in no uncertain terms that Andrew can be ruthless in pursuit of his political goals when he wants to be. So when he doesn’t get things he says he wants, we have to at least suspect that he never really cared about them in the first place.
The question, of course, is whether or not he underestimates how smart people are. For example, he holds up his fist Rocky style with Assembly Speaker Heastie and announces that he got what he wanted in an ethics package. As it turns out, there are holes in the new ethics provisions big enough to drive a cement truck through, including a provision that if a legislator doesn’t want to tell how much money he is getting from a client, he doesn’t have to but he can file an appeal that will surely be approved. Think about that one — Shelly Silver, the indicted former Speaker, stands accused of not telling who all of his clients were.
Then there is a provision in a so-called pension reform bill that will have to be voted on stipulating that even if a crooked legislator is stripped of his pension, his or her spouse is entitled to some of it! Unbelievable. Presumably, that same spouse was living off the crooked legislator’s ill-begotten gains.
Of course, Andrew went out and claimed victory in things like his ethics reforms way in advance of the release of the budget. Naturally, we have to wait to get the details. In fact, the legislators had to wait until a few hours before the voting began for the printed copies to be put on their desks. You see, under the New York State Constitution, each bill has to be aged, much like a strip sirloin steak. In this case, the aging process took three days. However, there is a provision in the Constitution that says that if there is an emergency (presumably on the magnitude of a tidal wave) the governor can use what is called a message of necessity, without the aging. Unfortunately, New York governors have been known to use the message of necessity to pass non-emergency bills. In that way, legislators are treated like a bunch of sheep and don’t even have an opportunity to examine and maybe even object to the legislation.
The reason we hold our public officials in such low regard is that they often act in a self-serving way just because they can. As Pete Seeger sang, “When will they ever learn?” Apparently, never.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/6/15