Editorials

Speaker Quinn Talks Sense

Every year around this time, the men and women who populate the City Council’s chambers put together their things-to-fund lists. All kinds of worthy projects get mentioned and, with some luck and the right mix of seniority and chutzpah, a Council member can wind up with lots of goodies to distribute.

That’s how the city ends up spending a few million for ball fields and a few million for senior centers and a few million for after-school centers. All of a sudden, you’re talking about real money—often, about $150 million worth of pork-barrel spending designed to make incumbent Council members unbeatable.

Until this year, the process was as orderly as a jazz piece: Council members sent in their requests on pieces of paper or simply by placing a telephone call to the Speaker’s office.

Now, however, rookie Speaker Christine Quinn has told her colleagues that certain procedures will have to be followed in order to get new or additional funding for a pet project. Requests are to be submitted on a form, and the individual Council member must obtain endorsements for the spending request from nine other members representing at least three boroughs. The idea is to show that each project has citywide appeal and isn’t some grubby parochial project. In addition, members would be limited to making four such spending requests. There is no limit now.

Of course, in an ideal world, this kind of spending wouldn’t exist. But this is politics, and Speaker Quinn’s reforms deserve support. If we’re going to have pork-barrel spending, better to make the process professional and transparent, rather than appropriate those funds based on a secret handshake or a scribbled note.

It is sad but not surprising to note that some Council members are complaining that the new rules are too complicated. Well, that’s why Council members have staff: to explain the inexplicable, to simplify the complex and to fill out the necessary paperwork.

Ms. Quinn is a brave politician to put herself on the firing line like this. Her colleagues are not particularly happy: They’d much prefer to conduct such business privately.

In a way, though, Ms. Quinn is protecting her members from their own worst instincts. In the past, many have been unable to say no to specific requests for funds. Now, if they can’t get the required support for the request, they can do what politicians do best: They can blame the problem on somebody else. Whatever it takes to make the city’s budget just a little bit more sensible.

Georgie-Boy and the Choo-Choo

George Pataki was at the Kentucky Derby last week, as part of his ongoing plea to Republican donors that he stands a chance of being a strong Presidential contender in 2008. Even though the mint juleps were flowing, it’s unlikely there’s enough bourbon in all of Kentucky to make the idea of a national Pataki candidacy go down easy. Meanwhile, the man who is likely to succeed him as New York’s Governor, Eliot Spitzer, was giving a speech on transportation that was notable for its common sense and fiscal restraint—two qualities which have been sorely lacking in Albany during the reckless Pataki years.

Mr. Spitzer took a subtle but unmistakable whack at Mr. Pataki’s obsession with building a $6 billion rail link between Kennedy Airport and lower Manhattan, noting that the huge cost would far outweigh any projected economic benefit. Indeed, it is startling to see how flimsy a notion Mr. Pataki has about the way New York City actually operates. Does he honestly believe that more business travelers and tourists will flock to Manhattan because they can get into the city from the airport 10 minutes faster and a bit cheaper? And does he truly think the rebirth of the financial district will be secured by giving investment bankers a quicker ride out to the airport?

Well, yes, he does. Which is why he persuaded George W. Bush and the Republican Congress to assign $2 billion of Sept. 11 funds toward the rail link. If the lazy but ambitious Mr. Pataki has his way, billions will be wasted and little accomplished. As usual, his reach far exceeds his grasp.

Mr. Spitzer has a firmer hold on reality, to put it mildly, and noted in his speech that the Kennedy train was not likely to be a priority should he be elected. Recognizing that the state cannot pay for all of the transportation projects currently under consideration, he suggested that he would focus instead on building the Second Avenue subway, as well as connecting the Long Island Rail Road with Grand Central Terminal. Both are sensible projects that would bring immediate benefits to residents and suburban commuters by speeding the East Side commute and relieving the crowding at Penn Station.

Eliot Spitzer is demonstrating that he is his own person and will bring his own judgment and priorities to transportation policy. That would be a welcome shift from Mr. Pataki, who bungled his oversight of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to such an extent that, for example, transit agencies in cities such as Boston and Houston have done significantly more than the M.T.A. to protect their residents against terrorism.

Such facts, of course, are inconvenient annoyances to Mr. Pataki’s Presidential dreams; so too is the fact that New York’s state and local governments and public authorities are in debt to the tune of $227 billion. With numbers like that, Georgie-Boy’s passion for a $6 billion rail link begins to make sense: It doesn’t actually cost anything if you can pass the bill to future generations of taxpayers.

The Kissing Cure

No one needs to tell New Yorkers prone to allergies that this season has been among the worst in memory, as uncommonly high pollen counts have battered and bruised anyone not living in a sealed, air-purified chamber. The city has been seized by an epidemic of sneezing, itchy eyes and raspy throats. Last week, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported a doubling of emergency-room visits because of asthma and allergy symptoms, and the sales of allergy medications have soared. The mild, wet winter of 2005-6 is the culprit behind the profusion of pollen. The tree-pollen count in Brooklyn was recently measured at 690; any count above 90 is regarded as high.

So when the Zyrtec and Flonase fail, what’s a person to do? Well, there could be a silver lining in that cloud of pollen: A new study from Satou Hospital in Japan shows that a passionate 30-minute kiss can reduce one’s allergic reaction to pollen by lowering the production of histamine that the body produces in response to an allergen. But while the kisses were curative, no similar response was found when the subjects were told merely to cuddle for 30 minutes.

And as time goes by, what could be better news: A kiss is more than just a kiss.

Editorials