Passing an on-time budget may have been a highlight for New York's Legislature, but no more so than completing a session absent attempted coups or resignations-in-disgrace.
“Highlighted by the passage of an on-time and balanced budget, ethics reform, a property tax cap, strengthened tenant protections and marriage equality, we began to restore the faith and trust in state government,” wrote New York Senate Minority Leader John L. Sampson in one of a litany of pat-ourselves-on-the-back press releases issued by state leaders as New York’s legislative session came to a close last month.
Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb cited those same achievements, along with reducing spending and making permanent the “Power for Jobs” program, which provides incentives for job creation in the form of lower utility costs.
Southern Tier state Sen. Tom O’Mara said wrapping up the legislative session with no tax or spending increases was “pretty remarkable by Albany’s standards.”
Even Gov. Andrew Cuomo described the session as “powerful” during a recent radio interview.
It was a far cry from the session that ended two years ago, the last night of which I happened upon Kolb at a local restaurant, looking somewhere between depressed and despondent (him, that is; I always look that way). He said it was the worst session he had endured as a lawmaker and I didn’t argue.
We should keep that in mind as we hand out gold stars for 2011; New York’s State Legislature — infamously adjudicated as the most dysfunctional in the nation in 2006 by The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law — had set the bar pretty darned low in recent years.
Passing a balanced, on-time budget may have been a highlight, but no more so than completing a session absent attempted coups, legislative-chamber lock-outs, felony indictments (although state Sen. Carl Kruger, D-Brooklyn, was charged in March with taking part in a bribery scheme), censures of members, months-long budget impasses or resignations-in-disgrace.
It didn’t hurt that former New York congressional Reps. Chris Lee, R-Amherst, and Anthony Weiner, D-Queens, did their best to keep the political spotlight elsewhere all spring.
What did hurt was the Legislature’s disregard for redistricting reform.
New York’s political districts — at both the state and congressional levels — will soon be redrawn to reflect changes in the 2010 Census. Historically, the process of reconfiguring the state’s political map has been — like much else in state government — embarrassingly partisan. That’s not about to change.
Senate Republicans signed off last year on a pledge peddled by former New York City Mayor Ed Koch to create an independent redistricting commission. That was before they retook the majority in the Senate last fall. Their support for the commission has since mysteriously dissipated. The Democratic-led Assembly hasn’t exactly gotten out in front of the issue, either.
So we can look forward this fall to the creation of political districts shaped like balloon animals — the re-creation of such districts, actually; the better to help those in office stay in office.
Keep that in mind as you assess New York’s Legislature in general and its representatives in particular: Those press releases highlight what lawmakers did for “state residents” and “taxpayers.” Left unmentioned was inaction on redistricting reform — something lawmakers did for themselves.
Contact Kevin Frisch at (585) 394-0770, ext. 257, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.