New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo just proposed a 2011-12 state budget that seeks to close a deficit of nearly $10 billion. As a result, state agencies and employees, public schools, health care providers and anyone else who relies wholly or partly on the state for its revenue is doing a lot of quaking and, if they can afford it, a lot of lobbying.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo just proposed a 2011-12 state budget that seeks to close a deficit of nearly $10 billion.
As a result, state agencies and employees, public schools, health care providers and anyone else who relies wholly or partly on the state for its revenue is doing a lot of quaking and, if they can afford it, a lot of lobbying.
There is discussion about closing under-utilized state prisons, paring back state aid to everything from colleges to libraries and drastically cutting expenditures on programs like Medicaid.
But there is one other institution — entirely state funded — that has been spared the budget ax, even though it no longer provides any quantifiable service. It has outlived any arguable usefulness. It has been nationally recognized for its dysfunction. It has devolved into a playground-level arena for power grabs and political one-upsmanship. It routinely drains taxpayer funds while embroiled in internal feuds that halt all legitimate business. And it is full of members who demonstrate poor judgment, self-interest and, sometimes, a disregard for the law.
It is the New York State Senate. It is a costly embarrassment and it is time for it to go.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Why not get rid of the entire state Legislature? Let’s not be unrealistic. Mismanaging the state is too big a job for the governor to do all by himself. The Assembly may be the personal fiefdom of Speaker Sheldon Silver, but it at least operates without raining ridicule down upon itself –– unlike the Senate, which, in just the past two years, has offered these arguments for its own dissolution:
• In 2009, after losing the majority for the first time in 35 years, Republican senators attempted a coup with two renegade Democrats to take back control. (They argued, with straight faces, that this was because Democrats hadn’t been able to bring reform to the chamber.) The result was a month-long power struggle and utter gridlock.
• Those two Democrats distinguished themselves in other ways. Hiram Monserrate of Queens was convicted of misdemeanor assault for attacking his girlfriend and was expelled from the Senate. Pedro Espada Jr. represented the Bronx but actually lived in Westchester County (they’re lax about these things in the Senate). He was indicted in December 2010 on six federal counts of embezzlement and theft, and he was defeated in a reelection bid in which he was challenged by his own state Democratic Committee.
• Republican state Sen. James Alesi of Monroe County had the audacity to sue a pair of elderly Perinton homeowners after he toured their house uninvited while it was being built, fell off a ladder and broke his leg. He waited to file the papers until the day the statue of limitations ran out for the couple to charge him with trespassing. He dropped the suit in the wake of an overwhelming public outcry.
• Having won back the majority in 2010, Republicans’ first order of business last month was to shore up their slim 32-30 edge by changing the rules so the lieutenant governor (Democrat Robert Duffy) no longer casts tie-breaking votes. Never mind that such a provision is constitutional.
Do we really need these guys? A downsizing advocate from Buffalo, Kevin Gaughan, proposes reducing the Senate from 62 to 50 members and the Assembly from 150 to 125. That pares away 37 state lawmakers; doing away with the entire Senate would jettison almost twice that many.
That is 62 allegedly part-time politicians who make base salaries of $79,000, who have access to pork barrel millions and whose staff and office expenses are mountainous. (Alesi’s expenses for October 2009 through March 2010 — not including his salary — were close to $300,000, according to seethroughny.net).
As New York looks for ways to cut spending, it could make moves that eliminate the positions of teachers, health care workers and others who do important work. Or it could eliminate the state Senate.
Messenger managing editor Kevin Frisch’s column, Funny Thing ..., appears each Sunday in the Daily Messenger. Contact him at (585) 394-0770, ext. 257, or via e-mail at email@example.com.