It’s the new year, U.S. Congress has opened its 114th session and the New York Legislature is back in Albany to do the people’s work.
Your applause is deafening.
Most Rochestarians know that both bicameral legislatures — the state’s and the country’s — have been riven by everything from corruption to political paralysis to a debating style of governing that doesn’t suit the fast-paced 21st century. Failure surrounds them like a pea-soup fog.
That’s among the reasons the agenda for the state Legislature looks depressingly the same year after year. It’s not because they like symmetry in their work. It’s because these issues are never resolved, and some aren’t even worked on.
A look back at the legislative issues deemed important in 2011, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s first year in office, finds that too often, too little was done. What we got then, and what we’ve got now, are promises to fix the campaign finance system and to commit to public financing; passage of a strong ethics law covering all of state government, including elected officials; and tax reform to at last stem population and business loss.
Here’s what this page advocated in 2011 on the issue of ethics reform: “Cuomo is seeking (to) require lawmakers to disclose outside income and establish an independent body to oversee the legislative branch.”
Here’s what was effectively done:
If you’re seeing a blank space where accomplishments should go, you have the right idea.
Actually, state law now requires reporting of outside income. But it is far from air-tight. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is under investigation for doing just the sort of thing lawmakers were supposed to fix four years ago.
Tax reform to benefit struggling upstate is another perennial. What’s the record? Pretty pitiful.
Here’s what a Cuomo report on taxes said in 2011: “Local property taxes are higher in New York than anywhere else in the country. The median property tax paid by a homeowner in New York ($4,090) is twice the national median ($2,043).”
Here’s what was written last year on the taxes.about.com website: “The state of New York consistently tops lists for having the highest property taxes, income taxes, and sales taxes in the nation. In other words, New Yorkers pay a lot of money in taxes.”
Here’s what Albany commentator E.J. McMahon had to say last year about taxes after Cuomo and the Legislature agreed on a tax reduction package: “To reduce New York’s combined per-capita tax burden to the national average, as counted by the Tax Foundation, we’d need to cut the total per-capita tax burden by 20 times as much.”
Basically, Rochester and the rest of New York are in a deep tax hole and the Legislature is using a child’s play scoop to get us out.
The knowledge that every vote matters, that the public welfare is at stake, is one that should underlie everything the state Legislature does this session.
If that happens, politics may have to move to the side. The public interest will matter more, as it should. Good decisions will be made and next year’s agenda won’t look like this year’s.
A pipe dream? Perhaps, but the new year is the time for that.
© 2015 Rochester Democrat & Chronicle