Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Smith Post Toasted: State Leadership Questioned

The NY post took its shot at senate leader Malcolm Smith today, wondering whether the new head of the chamber was up to the daunting task in this perilous economic times: "Just when you thought Albany dysfunction couldn't get worse, Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith steps up and proves you wrong. Only this time, New York happens to be on the brink of fiscal disaster."

The paper's concern is with Smith's ability to stand up to the pressure-sure to come from all of those interests worried about losing state support. The Post does, however, give him some leeway to recover his balance: "Smith - and his Democratic colleagues - are playing with fire. Amid an anemic economy, the state is staring down the barrel of a $14 billion budget gap. It's time for the shenanigans to end - and if Smith hopes to be a serious player, he needs to be the one to end them. If he can't, well, that's instructive, too. After all, how - as Senate head - will he stand up to all the special pleaders looking to be spared the budget axe if he can't control his own members? On the other hand, if Smith does have what it takes, now's the time to prove it."

This issue of leadership could be even more significant, if Jacob Gershman's analysis of Governor Paterson's shortcomings is in any way accurate: "But the closer one looks, the more cracks one sees in his leadership and in the capabilities of the ever-shifting staff under him. Every week seems to bring fresh news of miscues and mishaps."

All of which magnifies the leadership vacuum in the senate-and raises the power stakes for the masterful maneuverings of Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver: "Already you can hear lawmakers sharpening their claws, as they prepare to shred Paterson's soon-to-be proposed spending cuts. If they learned anything from last month's special session, it's that they can walk over the governor with impunity. Interest groups, particularly health care and education groups, are also ready to pounce. Taking advantage of the chaos in the executive chamber, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is likely to push for a larger and broader-based tax hike than the "millionaire's tax" he championed this year. He'll probably have some support in the Democratic Senate."

But perhaps not. It may turn out that the senate will provide a countervailing force to Silver's assembly-particularly with the more moderate Kruger at the helm of the senate finance committee. We can see Kruger forming, along with Smith, a more moderate centrist position on the state budget-particularly on taxes and government reform.

If this does happen, then the governor will have a powerful ally in his effort to steer the state in a more fiscally responsible direction; and tax payers will be spared the expected evisceration that the left wing of the Democratic Party so gleefully has in mind.