Tug of war for control on the floor of the Empire State's Legislature
New York's hapless accidental Governor, David Patterson, may finally have found an issue that will give him some public support, as the State Senate descended from a crippling political and procedural deadlock into sheer buffoonery today.
With both Democrats and Republicans claiming control of the evenly split putative legislative body for the past two weeks, Patterson sought to break the impasse by using his power to call the chamber into a special session, which supposedly forces the body to convene and the members to attend. But all did not go well:
Republicans and Democrats attempted to hold separate Senate sessions at the same time on Tuesday, leaving the Capitol in confusion and bickering as members of both parties shouted over each other on the Senate floor, and each party claimed it was in control.
Though Democrats had entered the Senate chamber through a back hallway just before 12:30 p.m. and locked the doors — much to the surprise of Republicans — Republicans moved ahead with plans for their own session and began calling for votes on bills as Democrats sat silent in protest.
Exactly who was in control of the Senate — or whether any of the procedural action the Republicans had taken was legally valid — was unclear. Democrats were successful in blocking Republicans from taking control of the Senate gavel, which remained firmly in the hands of Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Westchester County, who was guarded by sergeants-at-arms on both sides.
So, far from clearing anything up, the special session further muddied the legislative waters.
Here's an idea, Governor. Tell the state's Commissioner of Taxation and Finance (currently an Acting Commissioner), an appointee of the Governor, not to cut any checks for the salaries, expenses or "lulus" (payments in lieu of expenses that most legislators get) of the 62 Senators and their many hundreds of staffers.
Sure, this is probably not something that is strictly speaking within your authority, and at some point, a judge will order you and your commissioner to pay what the Legislature in its wisdom has appropriated for itself. But here's the thing: first, the Senate -- or whoever speaks and acts for the Senate, which is exactly what is currently in dispute -- will have to go to court to compel the state to pay them.
Given that nearly all New Yorkers now regard the Senators as a bunch of disreputable clowns, you should announce the pay blockage by saying, "These people don't deserve to be paid as long as they don't do their jobs. They should mend their differences and get to work, or they can sue me." The voters will love it -- and maybe even begin to like you a little.
Anyway, I've long believed that the only way to reform the New York State Legislature (both Houses) is to abolish salaries altogether and make the posts fully voluntary and truly part time. For decades, the legislators have whined about needing ever-higher salaries and those "lulus," more staff, and bigger and better budgets on the grounds that they have so much work to do in a big, complex state or even that they are members of a "full-time legislature."
Nonsense. They go to Albany three or four days a week for four or five months (the Legislature is in session an average of 63 days a year). But when they are in Albany, most hang around, play politics, hunt for new sex partners (or otherwise get into trouble), and plot ways to make their biennial reelections even easier, while waiting for the two leaders of the Assembly and the Senate to tell them how to vote. Their "work" on days they are not in Albany consists almost entirely of endless campaigning for reelection. Most are practicing attorneys, and that's what gets the lion's share of their time anyway.
For this, they receive a minimum of $79,500 a year, plus the "lulus" that give many $90,000 or more. That's the third-highest state legislative compensation in the country. Most states sensibly regard legislative duties as a part-time burden and pay very modest stipends and/or expenses. (In New Hampshire, state legislators get $200 for a two-year term!) The members of many governmental bodies in New York, such as local school districts, town and village boards, planning and zoning boards, and the like put in every bit as much time and energy on demanding issues as state legislators do -- in fact, more time and energy. Yet, the thousands of people who hold these often-elected positions receive only nominal compensation or no compensation at all.
I believe that there are many well-qualified, energetic, and dedicated people like these folks who would be delighted to run for and serve in the state legislature, if it was voluntary and unpaid -- as long as legislative sessions were kept short and business-like. Of course, the sessions would be like that, if only the members were not a bunch of self-important, lazy, overpaid, deceitful, irresponsible and all-too-often corrupt dummies.
In any case, Governor Patterson would have them on the run if they thought they might actually lose a paycheck or two.
What do you think of the Albany fiasco? Post a comment.