Sheldon Silver and the State Senate Majority

Yesterday, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced that he would be open to reinstating the commuter tax.

The timing struck some people as unusual, since it gives Republicans an issue use against Democrats who are running for competitive State Senate seats, with only weeks to go before the election. (A poll earlier this week showed Democratic advantage in a number of those races.)

The tax, which was repealed in 1999, is opposed by suburban and upstate Republican lawmakers whose constituents don’t want to have to pay to work in the city.

On his radio show this morning, host John Gambling asked Michael Bloomberg, “Do you find it unusual that maybe it came up now, and not after November 4th?”

“Um, you’ll have to ask the Speaker,” Bloomberg said.

Last night, I asked Baruch political science professor Doug Muzzio if Silver might be trying to undermine the chances of winning a Democratic majority in the State Senate.

Silver has played politics with the commuter tax before, supporting its repeal to help Democrats in Albany.

“That is plausible,” he said, reasoning that it would keep Silver in control of the Assembly, with its Democratic majority, and he wouldn’t risk losing any power to a State Senate leader in the same party. “The current system, with one house dominated by the Democrats, and one by the Republicans, allows each party to be irresponsible, and pass on house bills. It allows them to appease their constituents without really doing anything. It diminishes their responsibility and accountability, which isn’t necessarily what they want.”

But, Muzzio added more cautiously, “Even for a guy known for his legislative smarts and deviousness, that would bring Silver to new heights.”

The conspiracy theory behind Silver’s timing does, on the surface, sound like a stretch. But remember, Eliot Spitzer sought to overthrow Silver by working for a Democratic majority in the State Senate.

Sheldon Silver and the State Senate Majority