Tuesday, October 28, 2008

New York Checks and Imbalances

The NY Times this morning focuses in on the expensive nature of the battle for the state senate in New York: "This year’s State Senate elections are likely to be the most expensive in modern history, driven by the close battle for control of the chamber, the aggressive intervention of Gov. David A. Paterson on behalf of his fellow Democrats and unusually intense fund-raising by both Democratic and Republican candidates."

The shift of two seats could put the Dems in control of all aspects of state government for the first time in over forty years: “Senate Republicans have spent a lot without getting the results,” said Austin Shafran, a Democratic campaign spokesman. “For 40 years, the Republican Senate has failed to meet the needs of working families, and now their time is up.” So, we suppose, if the balance does shift those non working families will get screwed.

Does the issue of checks and balances remain important? That's a good question; with many observers saying that the Republican control of the state senate becoming less of a check than it has been in the past, because the body has become less fiscally frugal as its majority has shrunk. An additional component in the equation has been the support that large powerful labor unions have thrown to the controlling party-support that has pushed Republicans closer to their assembly counterparts on many major issues facing state government.

From our view, the real challenge here goes beyond the partisan make up of the body, and devolves from the incredible challenges that all of the state's governing components will be facing after the first of the year. Record deficits, the Wall Street meltdown, and a growing recession, will make the actions of state government crucial to all families. Of particular importance, is the fact that the state is already one of the most expensive places to live and do business.

So, we're going to need a degree of bipartisan cooperation on all levels like we've never needed it before. A strong measure of intestinal fortitude is going to be needed to rise above the special interests and govern from a sensible center-something that the governor has already begun to do-to the consternation of some on his party's left wing.

The control of the senate, therefore, is less important than the body's ability to act decisively and responsibly in the current crisis. Yesterday we speculated on the "nightmare" scenario of a deadlocked chamber, and observed that there will probably be forces looking to insure that this doesn't happen-and that the body will be structured to take independent action.

The need for intelligent bipartisanship isn't advanced by the acrimony we've seen from some. As the following underscores from the Times:"The Democrats’ central Senate committee also reported $10,000 in outstanding debt owed to Olga A. Méndez, a former Democratic senator from East Harlem who switched parties in 2004 and promptly lost her re-election bid. The debt has been on the committee’s books since the late 1990s. “When Olga Méndez became a Republican, she went the way of the Republican Party in New York — near extinction,” said Mr. Shafran. “We haven’t heard from her since.”

Aside from the unnecessary flippancy of the remark, it's important to add two things about our old friend Olga. She was not only the first Latina elected in New York State, she was also the longest serving; and to say that she hasn't been heard from since she switched parties is extraordinarily offensive, as she continues to wage a tough battle with terminal cancer.

This is the kind of rank partisanship, typical of campaigns we understand, that we should look to transcend since all New Yorkers are hurting and the old government nostrums may be more appropriate for a quieter time. Innovative and creative new approaches will be needed, and we're pretty sure that no one faction has a monopoly on creativity and independent judgment.


In regards to the above, the NY Daily News is reporting on the gigantic budget gap facing New York State: "The state's projected budget gap for next year has ballooned to a record $12.5 billion, a Paterson administration source disclosed Monday. The staggering 2009-10 deficit estimate, which will be included in the midyear financial plan Gov. Paterson releases today, surpasses the previous record of $11.2 billion the state faced after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks."

All of which means that the creativity and independence cited previously are going to be crucial-especially when tired bromides about working families are used to mask more of the same old, same old: "In a statement Monday, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) also said all options for closing the budget gap remain "on the table." He also stressed that there must be shared sacrifice. "[Silver] is committed to the proposition that the burden of New York's fiscal crisis cannot be borne exclusively by working families and the middle class," spokesman Dan Weiller said."

How about the fact that NY has over 1400 municipal subdivisions that act as expensive duplications of service delivery for New Yorkers? How about the fact that the state has over 700 separate school districts-with over fifty, we believe, in Nassau County alone? There is room for reform measures that will save millions; and let's not forget the dysfunctional public authorities like the MTA that hemorrhage money with little real oversight.

It's time to move beyond the hackneyed phrases and remember that all New York's families are working-and struggling. That doesn't mean, however, that we wreck the state's economy in the name of some bogus, and self defeating, concept of economic justice. We're already facing a potential assault on the state's treasury if the Obama tax plan is ever implemented; a replication on the state level would be a shot in the economic gut for all, and not just the wealthy New Yorkers.