The Civic Scene: Fixing New York legislature a slow process

By Bob Harris

We have three branches of government in Albany. The Legislature embodied in the Assembly and the Senate, the executive in the form of a governor and his departments and the judicial branch as our courts with it judges. Each branch wants a certain amount of power and prestige. The legislature is further divided into two parts, each led by leaders who also want power. The fact that they belong to two different political parties just adds to the problem.Actually, different political parties controlling different parts of the government is good because they can check each other just the way the three branches are supposed to check each other to keep one another from becoming too dominant.The powers certain political leaders wield has prevented a state budget from being passed on time. This has meant that counties throughout New York state didn't have their budget so they couldn't provide money to various agencies. The local school boards didn't have a budget so they didn't know how much money they could spend. They didn't know how many classes to provide on different grade levels. Police departments had the same problem, and so on. They didn't know if they could hire more workers or if they had to fire some.A budget delayed for a few days or a week or two could be managed, but after two or three months things became desperate. Money has to be borrowed, thus money is wasted on interest. Things became so bad last year that the legislators voted not to accept pay checks until a budget was passed. The three top leaders in Albany just could not agree on a budget. New York state became the laughing stock of the country.The governor had figured out a technique which gave him full budget power. In 2001 he decided to send the budget with the amount of money and the formula as to how the money would be divided throughout the state. In the past, the Legislature could adjust the formula as to how the money would be divided. Remember that who gets the money has loyalty to who gives out the money. Wanting power to give out money, the Legislature refused to pass an appropriation bill for months last year. What could be done is a constitutional amendment giving the Legislature back the right to amend the budget or we will have more wasteful late budgets.Another solution is the governor letting the Legislature decide how to spend the money. The speaker of the Assembly and the majority leader of the state Senate then must decide on a conference committee system so that differences in the Assembly (D) bill and the Senate (R) bill can be reconciled easily.The two houses are agreeing to end the system of “empty seat” voting where a legislator doesn't have to be present to vote yes. Yet, this change doesn't mean that a legislator will necessarily vote against the decisions of the leader, who gives the perks.There seems to be a desire for more television coverage of the proceedings in the Legislature so people can see what is going on in each house. Perhaps this is good, but I do notice that members of Congress often speak to an empty chamber. We will see what happens in Albany in the next few months.Good news of the weekDistrict Attorney Richard Brown has announced that statistics show a drop in violent crime in 2004. Our area had a drop of 6.7 percent violent crimes. Brown attributes the drop to vigilance and deployment of the police. The NYPD do work hard and must be given the credit for the crime drop. They put their life on the line every day. Hope the drop continues. One should keep in mind that narcotics is probably the major cause of crime.Bad news of the weekIt seems that the Federal Aviation Authority is again playing with the minds of their air traffic controllers. The FAA is threatening to fire controllers who did not list that they had a mental problem during their annual physical examination when they went to a psychiatrist after a mistake or a near-miss by airplanes. Their union feels that the FAA is trying to stop the air controllers from taking off up to 45 days after an incident and thus save money. There are about 40 operational errors each year in the New York area.Isn't it better that workers clear their heads after an incident and not be pressured by the FAA to come to work immediately? I don't know of any airplane accidents for years. I believe the NYPD is under similar pressure. If they feel the stress of the job requires seeing someone, then they can get their gun taken away from them.I still remember the air traffic controllers who were fired after they went on strike during the days of Ronald Reagan. It is a very stressful job and they have equipment complaints also. They had supported him in the election and felt safe. The final irony was when the Washington D.C. airport was named after him.

More from Around New York