Albany’s No Shows

Readers of this page know that we care passionately about the finances of the State of New York. And we’re not alone, of course. Our colleagues in the media have expressed their anxieties and their own formulas for recovery in recent weeks. Governor Andrew Cuomo has been nothing but candid about his own concerns. New York voters are getting the message: The old ways cannot continue, and we need to figure out a new model for delivering services.

Given all these concerns, you’d probably assume that public-spirited state legislators are working harder than ever to hear their constituents’ comments and ideas while formulating their own notions about how to get out of this miss.

If you made that assumption, you may want to adjust your expectations.

Apparently, Albany’s fiscal emergency just isn’t enough to stir some lawmakers out of their complacency. Last week, when advocates for the state’s colleges and universities gathered in Albany for hearings about Mr. Cuomo’s proposed cuts to higher education, most members of the Assembly’s and State Senate’s higher-education committees showed up as empty chairs. Eighteen of the 22 members of the Assembly’s higher-ed committee skipped the session, as did 16 of the Senate committee’s 19 members. That’s a disgrace bordering on dereliction of duty.

True, budget hearings are not known for their entertainment value. Lawmakers, especially the grizzled veterans who win reelection every two years simply because they continue to breathe, must find them tiresome. Still, it’s part of the job, and constituents have every right to expect a show of interest from their elected officials.

Committee members had a variety of excuses for missing the hearings, just as any of us could find an excuse to miss a task we loathe. In a normal election year, their absence probably wouldn’t even bear a mention. But at a time when the governor is trying to reinvent state government, lawmakers should be on the job whenever possible, especially when the public is watching.

It may be true that nothing unexpected ever happens at a budget hearing. But the public is dissatisfied with business as usual, and so lawmakers owe it to their constituents to show up for work. It’s the least they could do.