2010-07-02 / Columnists

East End Matters...

Legislature’s Dramatics Getting Old
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

Maybe it is the reporter in me, but I always find it interesting, when I go away for any considerable length of time, to take stock of what the news is when I return home. For many, two and a half weeks may not be a long time, but when it comes to the news it can be a lifetime. And when it comes to New York’s state legislature it feels like a lifetime as they muddle along trying not to make decisions until they are forced to do so.

The state budget was overdue when I went on vacation. It was still overdue when I returned home last Friday. After sending 12 emergency spending bills to the legislature to keep the government running, Governor Paterson, who said a budget would be passed by June 28, followed through on his promise to include budget bills in the most recent emergency spending bill. It was then that the legislature woke up.

It was either pass the bills or let the government shut down. Now, you must remember the first thing we were told when I took political science in college – “The first job of a politician is to get elected. The second is to get re-elected.” So what happened when the legislature received the governor’s bill? They rejected it, of course. I mean, how would it look to their constituents back home if the governor rammed through a spending bill without each legislator having his or her say. So they passed their own bills and put in, or took out, what they didn’t like in Paterson’s. And they did it in record time – approximately 48 hours. When WCBS 2 news asked Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver why the Assembly and Senate rejected Paterson’s emergency spending bill, Silver replied, “Because we decided to do a budget.” Uh? Isn’t that what the legislature is charged to do? Not when they decide to do it, but on time – three months ago.

When the governor sent the budget to the legislature he said, “However, while the door remains open for negotiation, it will not be on Albany time, where deadlines only exist to be extended or ignored.”

Apparently negotiation was not on the minds of those in the Assembly and the Senate. But if you think this whole mess is over, think again. According to the Daily News Paterson said, “If I start now, I figure I should be finished before I leave office.”

What he was talking about was vetoing the extra spending legislature slipped into their bills that were not in his original January budget. He may have been kidding about the time frame, but not about vetoes. He has already started by vetoing the extra $419 million for education. The legislature would have to override each veto.

Now if you think that this doesn’t affect the people of Rockaway, think again. The city is expecting to lose $1.3 billion in state aid – some of which would have found its way to the Rockaway community. That figure could change once the state legislature goes home and Paterson is done with all the vetoing. So while the city agreed to a budget earlier this week for its fiscal year that begins on July 1, modifications may have to be made in the fall.

In the meantime, the days of three men in a room deciding the fate of the state’s finances is long passed. The legislature abdicated their responsibilities this year until the last moment. Despite being a lame-duck governor, or maybe because of it, Paterson was the only one who did his job. You may not have agreed with all his decisions concerning the budget, but at least he made the decisions.

The title of the most dysfunctional legislature in the country is not something to be proud of, yet that is what the government in Albany is known as. Last year when I left for vacation, the state Senate had just begun the turmoil of a coup.

When I returned, nothing had changed. This year we had the budget fiasco. I wonder what’s in store for Albany next year?

With a new governor coming in we can only hope for a budget that’s passed on time, by April 1, without all the drama. It’s what the people of this state deserve.

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