2008-05-02 / Columnists

Smith Speaks From Albany

'A Need For Reform In New York State'
Commentary From The Desk Of Senator Malcolm Smith Minority Leader New York State Senate

MALCOMN SMITH MALCOMN SMITH Today hundreds of advocates from across New York will come to Albany to demand more from their government. They're not asking for money or special privileges - they're asking for reform. And if we want our state to grow and prosper, we must provide it.

Comprehensive government reform is essential to the future of New York.

Our state is beset by serious problems - a dramatic economic downturn, rising energy and food prices, a crushing property tax burden in many areas, a deepening housing crisis that could put thousands out of their homes, lack of affordable health care for millions of New Yorkers young and old, an oversized state budget we frankly can't afford - that will require a strong and effective government response.

Our state also has tremendous opportunities for progress and growth- a diverse economic base, a well-educated and productive workforce, a strong competitive position in renewable energy, transportation, and agriculture - that could launch a new era of prosperity if we make the right public and private investments.

We'll need a new atmosphere of creativity and a wide-open door for new ideas to respond to these pressing problems and new opportunities. The old ways of doing business in Albany simply won't get us to where we need to go.

The current system of campaign finance warps government priorities: too often our top budget and legislative priorities are driven by the needs of big campaign contributors rather than the need to right-size government or invest and grow our economy for the future.

The current system of legislative rules bottles up good ideas instead of setting them free: bad ideas favored by special interests rush forward with little review or consideration, and good ideas are killed in committee, delayed, set aside, or worse. In our State Senate, one person - the Majority Leader - can stop any piece of legislation from being considered, debated, and voted on, regardless of the impact on millions of New Yorkers in need of government action.

The current system of ethics and oversight has resulted in less public trust in government at a time when we need to demonstrate competence and effectiveness in order to deliver meaningful results for New Yorkers. All lawmakers and government officials must recognize and respect bright-line rules for fairness and accountability in the use of government resources, while avoiding clear conflicts of interest in their private and family lives.

Senate Democrats have long been committed to comprehensive government reform. We support comprehensive reform not only because it's the right thing to do, not only because we've seen the consequences of unfair treatment of legislative minorities, and not only because we hope to give voters a good reason to support Democratic candidates for

State Senate in November.

We support comprehensive government reform because it's the necessary starting point for developing the right responses to the pressing problems and new opportunities we're facing as a state.

We need bold, new, good ideas - and we shouldn't reject those brought forward by minority lawmakers, or by individuals or groups that haven't made donations to campaigns.

We need to make difficult decisions about government spending and public priorities - and we can't afford to have our decision-making process warped by special interests when we need to concentrate first and foremost on the public interest.

We need big investments in the future of our state that will bring affordable energy, quality health care, tax relief and hundreds of thousands of good paying new jobs to all New Yorkers - and we need those New Yorkers to trust their government and help us use their tax dollars wisely and effectively, applying fiscal discipline to state spending.

Comprehensive government reform is the starting point that will allow state government to respond to these needs. Our Senate Democratic reform package includes:

Campaign finance reform legislation with full public financing of elections that will take the special-interest money out of our electoral process;

Legislative rules reform to open the deliberative process, allow more bills to move forward, empower committees to allow majority and minority members to have access to resources and to be able to move bills, provide a fair amount of resources for all senators and provide greater transparency in funding and legislative initiatives;

Ethics and voting reforms that will restore public trust in government and ensure that the strongest, clearest voice heard by government officials is the voice of the people we represent.

I will welcome the hundreds of reform advocates who walk the halls of the Capitol today in Albany - because they've got the key to our state's future and the interests of New Yorkers at heart.

I'm confident that New York can respond to our current crisis, expand opportunity, and restore trust in government - if we put comprehensive government reforms on our agenda and make it our top priority.

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