Monday, April 21, 2008

Cutting Council Members' Items

On Saturday the NY Times editorial board decided to give New Yorkers another civics lesson, and our only response: "physician heal thyself." It appears as if the Times doesn't like the way in which the city council distributes discretionary funds; and believes that this should be the sole prerogative of the executive branch: "Discretionary funds are always prone to abuse, and so it is with City Council earmarks...It is disappointing that Ms. Quinn is not calling for the elimination of the discretionary funds. Legislators are elected to pass laws and draw up budgets, not hand out money to favor-seekers."

Well now, let's examine this blanket assertion. All the legislatures that we know-from the Congress on down-appropriate monies through the use of earmarks, and there's little doubt that the practice can really be abused in a piggish fashion. At the same time, all of the monies that are appropriated must be funneled through an executive agency. And the scandal involving the Donna Reid Fund can be laid partially at the door of a mayoral agency that failed to do any proper due diligence.

So the NY Times, what a shock, is simply flat out wrong in its Poli Sci 101 lecture. The Times, in all of its resplendent ignorance, also ignores the long history of executive abuses-and it might have taken the time in this context to reference the prison jaunt being prepared by Newark Mayor Sharpe James; not to mention Governor Rowland's malfeasance over in Connecticut.

So we understand that corruption and politics are often coterminous, and the legislative venue for appropriations is no exception. That being said, the call for the elimination of the legislative role in discretionary funding furthers the imbalance between the branches of government in NYC; and assumes executive propriety where we find its absence.

The Times' take is wrongheaded; "The system’s defenders argue that it allows council members to direct money to worthy community groups that might be overlooked in the big-ticket budgetary process. That may be so, but it creates far more serious problems than it solves. It leaves taxpayer money vulnerable to misuse and theft. It also makes it far too tempting and far too easy for politicians to use these funds for political gain. Council members are allowed to run their districts like fiefdoms they control with a big bag of public money."

Some fiefdoms! Some "big bag" of money. Remember the old saying: "The law in all of its majesty, punishes the thief who steals the goose from off of the commons, but lets the greater felon loose, who steals the common from the goose." Mayor Bloomberg has given out millions of dollars in unbid contracts-and has let certain developers heist public lands with no RFPs in sight. The Times' myopia in all of this is telling.

Here's the Times' final bon mot: "We know that even by uttering the word reform, Ms. Quinn has infuriated many of her fellow council members who believe it is their right to hand out taxpayer dollars as they see fit. It should not take federal indictments to show members the serious flaws of that system. But now that those indictments have come, Ms. Quinn has all the evidence she needs to press for a complete overhaul."

A classic case of misdirection from a paper that has had lockjaw throughout the Bloomberg reign; and another example of how the paper doesn't really get the entire process of government. The speaker's elected by her colleagues-and serves at their pleasure. To advocate a "complete overhaul" is to advocate a leadership change since no speaker has carte blanche to do as she wishes.