The State Senate was scheduled to “go home” on June 20. But
not even Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno is trying to pretend that the
legislative session is ending. That would be a hard argument to make, because
in the first 23 weeks of this year’s session, state legislators managed to
agree on just two substantive new bills-one making it even harder for convicted
felons to profit from their crimes, and one ending mandatory jury
sequestration. Now that’s an
No, really, it is.
O.K., O.K., there was a last-minute flurry in mid-June,
designed to make you forget that between Jan. 3 and the beginning of summer
there were just two handshake deals up in Albany. That’s low even by Albany’s
“Governor Pataki has no needs this year,” said one lobbyist.
“And it’s hard to negotiate with a man who has no needs.” Indeed. He isn’t
seeking any major new programs or tax cuts. The changes everyone is waiting
for-Rockefeller drug-law reform, for example, or the Women’s Health and
Wellness bill-aren’t necessarily coming from the second floor of the Capitol,
where the Governor has his offices.
Politically as well, Mr. Pataki is doing just fine. His
predecessor, Mario Cuomo, said he couldn’t run for President in 1992 because he
didn’t want to be standing in an Iowa cornfield while the State Senate held up
the budget. But Mr. Pataki had no problem jetting to a brunch in Baton Rouge to
raise funds for his 2002 reelection bid while the annual budget standoff
And why should he? For six and a half years, he has managed
to fend off the slings and arrows of the
New York Times editorial board for failing to deliver a budget by its April
1 deadline. Quinnipiac College once did a poll on the late-budget issue: No one
cared. With pressure like this, it’s a good thing legislators got him on the
record on the jury-sequestration thing.
And why, you may ask, is this year so hard? After all, by
this time in 1996, the Governor, Mr. Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had come to an agreement on rent control,
surely one of the most contentious and difficult battles they’d ever faced. By
this time last year, Mr. Bruno had even been prevailed upon to pass the
hate-crimes bill, long anathema to Republicans.
But this is not a legislative election year. No one really
needs to go home, except for family vacations; there are no campaigns to run.
Another holdup, strangely, is that there’s money this year
and pressure to spend it, much of that coming from advocates for education. But
next year, for the first time in a long time, there may actually be a state
budget deficit-bad news for an election year, and just what Mr. Pataki is
trying to avoid. The word in Albany is that he’s waiting for second-quarter
economic figures to bolster his argument that he needs to be parsimonious this
year. (The better to have money to spend in 2002.) Those numbers come out in
mid-July. That means a budget when? You do the math.
On June 14, Mr. Pataki unveiled the Anti-Terrorism Act of
2001 in his Manhattan offices on the 38th floor of 633 Third Avenue, about 150
miles from Albany. Only two reporters noticed the bill was being introduced
just six days before the “official” end of the session.
“Given that nothing is happening in Albany this year, might
this not become the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2002?” the Governor was asked by one
of those reporters. “Well, I think everyone understands there’s a lot more work
to do this year,” Mr. Pataki said.
And indeed there is. The budget will include some big
issues: how much to put in the state’s Superfund for environmental cleanups,
for example, and how much to add to the Governor’s proposed $382 million
increase in education funding. (A state judge said that more than $1 billion is
needed for New York City alone to fix inequities, though the Governor has
appealed that decision.) And until those issues are settled, no one expects any
other dramatic legislative achievements, like a reform in the Rockefeller drug
“Dysfunctional” is a word that has been used to describe
Albany so often that it packs all the punch of a burst water balloon. So it’s
hard to imagine the days when a low-level aide would actually climb up and
literally stop the clock in the Capitol so the lawmakers could get an extra 45
minutes to work out a budget deal without “officially” missing the deadline.
Now the delays run into months, and few people- other than earnest editorial
writers-care. So nothing changes.
And nothing gets done.
Terry Golway will
return to this space in several weeks.