The New York Times Editorial
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Published: June 19, 2009
The Lost Arts of Albany
The New York State Senate has engaged in theatrics for two weeks with little more than a pile of press releases to show for it. The best way out of this ridiculous stalemate was suggested by Justice Thomas McNamara of the State Supreme Court. He said all 62 senators, 31 voting as Democrats and 31 as Republicans, should get to work by using “the art of negotiation and compromise.”
It is an excellent idea — although, since it presumes that New York lawmakers are able to stand up and walk after years of crawling, they need some guidance.
Senators should first come up with a short-term solution for emergency legislation. It is probably too late to consider same-sex marriage or a property tax cap. But the Senate has to vote on bills such as mayoral control of New York City schools and local sales taxes for counties. It is time to take the sticking points off the table.
The Republicans have to drop the idea of making Senator Pedro Espada Jr. the president of their chamber. He is hideously unsuitable for that job, particularly because it puts him in line to be governor if something were to happen to Gov. David Paterson — and even when Governor Paterson just goes out of state.
The first step to getting back to work would be to create what Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group calls a Rube Goldberg arrangement. That would mean setting up a power-sharing deal in which leaders of both parties put legislation on the floor and oversaw the Senate’s work. The Democrats have offered a new proposal that seems like a good start. It deserves a serious response.
Once the emergency bills are passed, senators can butt heads over the summer to create a longer-term arrangement. As cockamamie as things are now, at least everyone has seen how one irresponsible senator can disrupt the entire Legislature. That means a few responsible senators could move Albany in the right direction.
We suggest that six or eight senators — a coalition of the responsible, if you will — map out a way forward. Instead of leaders or full-time party soldiers, these should be people who can come up with reforms many senators really want. We suggest these Democrats: Liz Krueger of Manhattan, Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Westchester County, David Valesky of Syracuse and José M. Serrano of the Bronx. Republicans should include Charles Fuschillo of Long Island, Frank Padavan of Queens, John DeFrancisco of Syracuse and Elizabeth Little of Glens Falls.
This group will not agree on issues, but they can agree to make their house work less like an autocracy. For years the Brennan Center for Justice and other good government groups have outlined ways to give each legislator more say. Here is the chance to do that fairly.
First, resources should be parceled out equally. That means money for offices, parking spaces and grants to local districts called member items. This is more important than it sounds. Now the party leader who controls the resources controls the lawmakers.
Next, senators should agree to give their committees more clout and the ability to hire their own staffs. Committee members should cast votes in person. And it should be a lot easier for any bill to reach the floor or for any senator to add his or her name to a piece of legislation.
So that’s the order: forget the big stuff, pass the emergency bills and spend the summer creating power-sharing deals that ultimately reform a rotten, undemocratic system. If the senators can’t manage that, then voters in 2010 should find other people who can.