Here's the complete statement issued late this afternoon by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in response to this denunciation by former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, a fellow Democrat now pushing a bipartisan reform agenda:
"For decades, Republicans controlled the State Senate and blocked every single piece of reform legislation proposed by the Assembly and Democrats in the Senate -- campaign finance reform, election reform, ethics reform and budget reform. For Ed Koch to call Senate Republicans ‘reformers’ and ignore our record undermines the credibility of the pledge and his entire campaign."
The big problem with Silver's defense is that Republicans have not controlled anything in Albany since the end of 2008, and still none of those meaningful reforms have been enacted. The only way for him to maintain a shred of credibility on this is to compromise with Gov. Paterson on an ethics bill that includes radically improved provisions for disclosure of the private incomes and clients of legislators. (A decision by Silver to support nonpartisan redistricting, Koch's main issue, would be nice, too.) But as demonstrated by this lawsuit to bounce his opponent off the ballot (Joe Bruno used to do the same thing), and the ongoing budget debacle, it may be impossible to embarrass a leader of the New York Legislature.
I was wrong to suggest the possibility of New York legislators ever being embarrassed by demanding higher spending in the face of ever growing budget deficits. According to the AP, "Senate Democratic spokesman Austin Shafran says the Senate and Assembly leaders are meeting separately because [Gov.] Paterson refuses to negotiate with them." That's a reference to Paterson's prior statement rejecting a two-way Senate-Assembly budget deal, when he proceeded to veto 6,700 budget items. "If he changes his position again, we will be happy to meet with him anywhere, anytime to discuss restorations and closing down the budget," Shafran said.
The key word there is "restorations," meaning the Legislature wants to revisit those vetoes and get the money spent. According to the AP's always well informed Mike Gormley, "lawmakers want to negotiate the restoration of about 6,700 budget items added by the Legislature that Paterson vetoed. They include $190 million in pork-barrel grants for lawmakers to be sent to health, social service and civic groups back in their districts.
"Paterson said he won't negotiate until legislative leaders come to him with agreements on his two critical issues: A contingency plan in case $1 billion in federal Medicaid money doesn't come through, as feared, and a plan to give more power to the public university systems, including allowing them to raise tuition without Albany's approval."
The Assembly position was fughedabout both the contingency plan for the Medicaid money and the public university reform, but Senate Democratic leader John Sampson has backed away from his deal with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and expressed willingness to consider the two Paterson proposals. It's the Senate that has not passed the revenue bill, which according to Sampson is because it does not include those measures.
None of that stopped Shafran, Sampson's chief spokesman, from issuing this insult to the governor in the AP story: "Legislative leaders are working to resolve the outstanding budget issues and the Senate hopes to see engagement by the chief executive in some form other than another press release." He didn't explain how the Legislature proposes to pay for any "restorations." I guess when there is no logic to your position, you're left with the politics of nyah-nyah.
If Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had a point in not writing off FMAP money until the feds said no, it does now look like Congress' check won't be in the mail. So what's another billion-dollar hole in the budget, which is already unbalanced because of lack of a revenue bill? And what's in that bill?
According to the Empire Center for New York State Policy, the revenue bill includes: "Temporary reinstatement of sales tax on clothing purchases under $110, which is expected to raise $330 million. Imposition of state income tax on the investment income of nonresident partners in New York-based hedge funds ... [and] restructuring of the state STAR tax credit program that will effectively boost New York City's resident income tax by another 6 percent for high-income households." Also a measure which seems egregiously counterproductive (unless it's designed to dry up philanthropy in areas like education which might threaten public-sector interest groups): "A further reduction in allowable itemized deductions for taxpayers earning over $10 million. The wealthiest taxpayers will now be able to claim deductions for only 25 percent of their contributions to charity."
These and other tax measures are stalled because a couple of Democratic senators want to include Gov. Paterson's sensible SUNY funding reforms, which would open the way for more private philanthropy but are opposed by the Assembly (I guess there is a pattern here). Legislative leaders also had been pressing for restoration of vetoed spending, and it's unclear if the continued flow of bad fiscal news will be enough to get them to stop, or whether their accustomed bubble remains secure from the prick of mere embarrassment.
Among candidates endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice NY, according to the State of Politics blog, is Michael Gianaris, who is "running unopposed for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. George Onorato." Both men are Democrats and the Senate district is in Queens. But Onorato is a social conservative who opposes abortion. In the Bronx, another socially conservative Democrat, Sen. Ruben Diaz, is the most outspoken and effective opponent of abortion in New York state. So if social conservatives can get elected as Democratic senators, why is a socially liberal Democrat who is in line to succeed one of these social conservatives not being opposed by a Republican candidate? Is it because the New York Republican Party remains in the pocket of NYC Mayor Bloomberg, even though he's no longer a member?
But the party's problem with social conservatives is a losing proposition everywhere. In a year when Republicans are expected to do well across the country, and Democrats control all the levers of power in this floundering state, the New York Republican Party's statewide designees -- a generally socially liberal slate -- don't look like winning a single race. The GOP will probably make gains in Congress, since it only holds two seats now statewide, but here too they are on track to screw up again in at least one key race.
In the state Senate, where Republicans desperately need motivated voters to win it back, they've allowed endangered Democrat Darrel Aubertine to run to the right of the GOP in a Republican district, and are abandoning Onorato's socially conservative constituents.
Gov. Paterson's spokesman took a justified shot at Thomas DiNapoli's latest budget pronouncements, saying the comptroller "once again fails to provide any direct guidance as to what he would do to close the state's budget deficit." That is indeed DiNapoli's longtime MO, but his projection of billions in deficit this year "unless state spending is tightly controlled" will make it somewhat harder for legislative leaders to demand with a straight face more money for schools, member items etc., if and when they resume negotiations with each other and the governor over the stalled revenue bill. And if that bill goes nowhere, DiNapoli's analysis will justify the further spending cuts that Paterson will have to impose.
This lawsuit filed by a spurned bidder could hold up indefinitely the installation of video lottery terminals at the Aqueduct race track, putting another hole in the state budget and a bigger one the New York Racing Association's. Installing what amount to slot machines at a Queens track may not seem like rocket science, but New York state government has not been able to accomplish it in nine years of trying. At this point, the racing industry would probably be prepared to accept any bidder who could get it done, on the principle that Boss Tweed did build the courthouse where they convicted him. We seem to be stuck, though, more in the world of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which in Dickens' "Bleak House" consumed all the time and money available.