2006-04-21 / Community

New Convention Plan For Republican Candidate

By Stuart Mirsky Special to The Wave

By Stuart Mirsky
Special to The Wave

BILL WELDBILL WELD Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld has his work cut out for him.

Entering the New York gubernatorial sweepstakes this year, the former governormust convincebadly divided Republicans to throw their support to him in a tightly contestedprimaryagainst one-time Republican State Assemblyman John Faso.

AlthoughWeld has gained the support ofNew York State GOP Chair Steve Minarik, Faso seems to have the much coveted Conservative Party line in the bag, a line without whichRepublicans have been unable to winstatewide office since 1974.Perhaps partly to offset this disadvantage, Weldhas indicated an interest in other third party nominations, including that of the Libertarian Party, and has already securedendorsement by the libertarian-oriented Republican Liberty Caucus, a national group dedicated to building libertarian consciousness within the GOP.

Still, whoever wins the impendingRepublican primary willhave a tough fight ahead of him with Democrat Attorney General Eliot Spitzer apparently beating all comers in early polling. Benefiting from the name recognition he's built up during a high profiletenure as the state's chief legal officer and extensive public disaffection with the status quo, Spitzer's supporters are already scoping outtheir new offices in Albany as theyurge donors to kickeven more cash into their sizeable campaign kitty to enable a Spitzer rout this November. Reached by phone on April 17th, Weld appeared undaunted. "I'm making my run on my record," he said, "a record that includes balancing six state budgets in a row in Massachusetts without raising taxes or borrowing a cent to meet operating needs."

Named the most fiscally conservative governor in the nation by the Wall Street Journal, during his tenure, Weld oversaw an unprecedented triple upgrade in his state's bond rating and changed Massachusetts from one of the most highly taxed states in the nation to one of the lowest. Many would agree that that kind of medicine iswhat's needed in New York State in 2006, as well.

Accused by some of being a Massachusetts carpetbagger, Weld, in fact, is a born and bred New Yorker who currently makes his home onLong Island's south shore and in the Adirondacks. Explaining his determination tomake history and seek the governorship of a second state, Weld notes that "New York needs someone with a proven track record in bringing down spending and who's not part of the current political culture." In other words, he notes, "an outsider." But how do you bringcosts down, given thehistoric resistance to thisthat has seen the state's debt burdensurge to an anticipated $56 billion by 2010? "You start with stopping the runaway spending," says Weld.

Noting his intention to enforce "zero-based budgeting" on state agencies, he emphasized his plan to demandthat state bureaucrats account for every dollar they need, every year, and not just expect to be funded based on past expenditure levels. "But," he agreed, "New York isn'tMassachusetts and there are a lot of things we don't have yet that will have to be implemented if we're to finally get runaway spending under control."

Among other things, Weld wants to seethat New Yorkers get the same capability the electorate has in certain other states to vote directly for change. UnlikeMassachusetts and California, New York voters do not currently have the ability to place initiatives on the ballot for voter referendum. This, he says, will require a change to the state's constitution. In fact, adds Weld, "I'd like to see a state constitutional convention called to make a broad range of critical changes that will help make New York State government more flexible and fiscally responsible." Outlining his proposal, he listed ten key constitutional items he wants to see written into a revised document.

Beginning with a call for a voter referendum initiative that would allowvalid petitions of 5% of the state's voters to place items on the ballot for direct voter decision-making, Weld went on to call for a clause that would impose spending limits on legislators to prevent annual budgets fromexceeding the previous year's expenditures, with 50% of any tax revenue surplus in the current year reverting back to the voters and 50% getting squirreled away in a state rainy day fund. "It's the voters' money, after all," he noted, "not the government's."

He also called for a "constitutional collar around property taxesat a maximum of 2 1/2% of the total real estate valuation in a community annually." This, he said, will help rein in the often out-of-control property tax increases that havebeen driving up homeowners' tax bills in the state and prompting many New Yorkers to seek fiscally friendlier environs.

The proposed constitutional convention, he noted, should also look at eliminating the Blaine Amendment which currently limits the state's ability to assist private religious schools. Such schools, he notes, "often provide cost effectiveeducation alalternativesand canspura competitive environment which makesall schools better."

Although he endorses current Governor Pataki's educational tax credit proposal, Weld notes that one of the most successfulinitiatives he undertook in this area in Massachusetts was actually cost neutral for the public school system and involved no additional government outlays at all.Parents in Massachusetts were simply given the right to send their children to any public schoolin anystate district that had room for them. While siphoning no money out of the overall public school system, the resultant competitive pressure that was created within the system, he notes, prompted remarkable improvements in individual schools. "Constructive competition," he says, "worked wonders in Massachusetts and there's no reason it can't do the same here."

Weld also wantsto seeterm limits of no more than two four-year terms enshrined in a new state constitutionfor all state elected officials since incumbency is one of the main causes of stultification and bureaucratic inertia. "New York," he says, "already hasenough of that."

What other changes could a state constitutional convention help bring about? Weld wants to see a restriction on the use of state debtto cover annualoperatingexpenses, one of the ways government spending seems to invariably end up spiraling out of control. And hewants changes in the state employee pension system, another current big contributor to the massive and growing state debt problem. He'd urge a constitutional provision establishing a new Tier V in the pension systemfor future public employees that would follow modern business practices in creating a defined contribution plan to replace the current defined benefits system which is growing more and more costly and unwieldy each year.

Raising taxes, he adds, should also be constitutionally restricted. He wantsall tax increases to henceforth require a two-thirds majority of the legislature. And gerrymandering needs to be done away with. He wantsredistricting, one of the prime contributing factors to the drag of perpetual incumbency, to become the function of a non-partisan commission instead ofthose state legislators who currently benefit from it.And he would seek a redefinition of the death penalty that wouldnotprevent its use in heinous cases but would prevent its sometimes-controversial restriction by the courts.

What are the chances of Weld getting his proposed constitutional convention? "Not as unlikely as you might think," he told me candidly. While the legislature must agree to call such a convention and the voters must ratify this, "I'd be using the bully pulpit of the governor's office," he said, "to build support. Besides, Republicans already control one of the two legislative houses in the state," he added. He went on to note thathe was making his ten constitutional changes a key part of his campaign. "If people vote for me," he said, "they'll be voting for these changes, too, and that's got to carry a lot of weight with legislators."

In the meantime, Weld is pushing ahead on all fronts. "Tolls and other state levies aren't immune either," he promised,saying he intended to do a sweeping review of statewide tolls once elected, just as he did in Massachusetts, to "roll back any which have long since paid for the roads, tunnels or bridges they're collected on. There's no excuse," he said, "for keeping a bureaucracy functioning just for the sake of keeping it functioning." This last item ought to resonate with voters here in Rockaway where two toll bridges, both of which have long since paid for themselves,connect us to the rest of New York City. Weld himself will be outin Rockaway onApril 25th where he will be hosted by the Rockaway Republicans at the old Belle Harbor Yacht Club beginning at 8:00 PM next Tuesday evening. He'll be the fourth major statewide candidate since last November to come out to our peninsulaand address our issues at theinvitation of the Rockaway Republicans.

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