2004-07-30 / Columnists

The Progressive

State Of The State
By John Paul Culotta

Recent media attention on the international situation, the Presidential campaign, terrorist threats, a divorce scandal in the Illinois US Senate race, Arnold’s uncooperative legislature, a resignation of a Governor facing impeachment, and the sex and influence buying scandal in New Jersey has taken the spotlight away from the ethical decay that emanates from Albany.

There appears that our legislators in Albany are the puppets of political machines. Their only goal is reelection. The incumbency rate of return is 98%. According to a former New York State Assemblyman Joseph Ferris in a New York Sun op-ed article: “There was once more turnover in the old Soviet Politburo.”

The fact that our legislators are habitually reelected would not indicate any defect if legislation is praiseworthy and if the government was run efficiently. Alas, this is not the case. Since April 1, 2004 our state has been without a budget. Continuous budget resolutions have allowed the state to operate.

In order for legislation in New York to become law, the language must be exact in phrase and comma when passed by both houses.

This makes the Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno the most powerful people in New York State. Individual legislators can only rubber-stamp the desires of these two men. Governor Pataki is also part of this facade of democracy.

The only way for legislation to pass and for budgets to be timely is when all three agree.

Should the future of millions be in the hands of three men? Is this representative government?

Any legislator who would buck this system would lose a political life of local prestige and privilege. Our legislators have comfortable salaries, lulus, and a part of the state pension plan. They are celebrities in their local communities and often are able to operate businesses that bring in additional income to their families.

One political pundit has declared the state government is operating in a manner of a criminal enterprise.

There have been criminal convictions and resignations of state legislators and state commissioners who took kickbacks for influencing the award of state contracts.

Legislators have been convicted for taking gifts and services from contractors looking to do business with the state.

Sheldon Silver is being investigated for accepting a hotel room and trip to Las Vegas from a company that operates casinos in the state.

Libby Pataki, the governor’s wife, has been hired as a consultant for companies that do business in this state. There has been a conviction of the Assembly legislative counsel for non-consensual sex commonly called rape. There has been an incident with a legislator and an intern of a sexual nature.

Meanwhile civil servants who are whistleblowers of state mismanagement and corruption face enormous obstacles and retaliation.

Privatization efforts, which are believed to save the taxpayers money, appear to be programs that use state coffers as an opportunity to reward politically connected businesses and individuals.

One union, the Public Employees Federation, under the leadership Roger Benson, is committed to fighting these developments.

Reform is essential to the economic and political health of this state. This state needs initiative and referendum. Twenty states already have this type of reform; the New York City character allows citizens this reform.

Our state body politic is corrupt, ineffective, and undemocratic.

As Citizens of the state, we need to become much more active in reforming the process.

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