Friday, January 02, 2009

Budget Face-off

This budget season is bound to be acrimonious-with a huge deficit this year to be followed by an even larger one in 2010. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that the narrow majority held by the Democrats in the state senate will mean that all of the body's decisions on budget matters will be guided by each party's political needs. As the Democrat and Chronicle points out (via the Politicker): "The 2010 elections are especially crucial because the power to redraw legislative district lines for themselves and the state's members of Congress will lie with the majority party in both houses. Republicans will want to use the budget crisis to gain election victory, while Democrats won't want to alienate their strongest supporters, traditionally organized labor, including the powerful teachers' union, which provide valuable help during election time..."

And then there are the various interest groups-each special in its own way: "Raise taxes on the rich. Reduce Medicaid reimbursement rates. Shrink state Legislature staffs. Eliminate school aid to the wealthiest districts. Get rid of pork barrel spending. Ideas on how to close New York state's budget gap, estimated at $15.4 billion by 2010 if taxing and spending continue on their current course, come from labor unions, budget watchdogs, business boosters, upstate county executives and other special interests."

What does this mean in the state senate, where a 32-30 split will militate against boss rule? The Journal News offers some clues: "With Democrats potentially poised to take over the Senate next week, the power and influence of GOP senators from the mid-Hudson Valley could be reduced after decades of being in the majority. Republican senators this week were quick to point out that the Senate leadership issue remains unresolved. Even if the Democrats take control for the first time since 1965, the state's fiscal crisis and the small margin either party will hold ultimately will reduce the strength of a Democratic- or Republican-controlled Senate, they said."

Bipartisanship will have to be the rule, and not the exception: "Because the numbers are so brutally close, we have to work together," said Sen. Vincent Leibell, R-Patterson, chairman of the Senate Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee. Leibell, whose district covers all of Putnam County and parts of Dutchess and Westchester counties, said he didn't know who would end up with the majority. "If I'm in the majority, I'm looking forward to working with my Democrat colleagues. If I'm in the minority, I'm still looking forward to working with my Democrat colleagues," he said."

Lee Miringhoff captures the essence of the situation: ""Because it's so close, their votes will be sought because there's no guarantee by any means that there's going to be uniform Democratic support on any one issue," he said." In this potentially chaotic cauldron, throw in the Smith pledge-should he become leader-to implement the Brennan reform platform. If the body becomes more democratized, will reform be as welcome in practice as it is in theory? Who can predict what will happen in these uncharted waters? But first, Smith needs to get his own conference in order.