ALBANY—Last week, Assemblyman Phil Boyle was standing with Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on Long Island, praising Cuomo'a bill on local government consolidation, which is now wending its way through the legislative process with remarkable speed.
Now, Boyle is drafting an amendment to it, and is at the forefront of those attempting to put some brakes on Cuomo's proposal.
"I still support the bill, but as with any bill I think it might need a little modification," Boyle, a 13-year member of the Great River Fire Department, told me by phone. He hadn't seen the actual text until earlier this week—a program bill was introduced Friday—and was immediately concerned that the bill would apply to fire districts. The Firemen's Association is similarly concerned.
"The bill is complex, and I'm not going to pretend that I understand it completely, and I don't think anybody else is either," said Kirby Hannan, a lobbyist representing the Association. "This thing has been placed on a fast track. This thing is–talk about reverse field here—this started with a press release, then went to a memorandum of introduction and then went to a bill."
The reason for speed is simple: Cuomo is hoping to see his proposal enacted into law this legislative session, which ends June 22, and put a feather in his cap as a savior of suburban property taxpayers. (Cuomo is, of course, the most popular statewide elected official right now.)
The legislators who oppose the bill in its current form are worried about how it affect their local communities. Like Assemblyman Jack McEneny, who voted against the bill Wednesday in the chamber's Ways & Means Committee. Or State Senator Tom Morahan, who voted "no recc" in his chamber's local government committee.
"With 13 session days, this being a major bill, some of the comments I've heard from my colleagues, I would think that time wouldn't allow for it to get done," Morahan told me by phone. He said that Cuomo was being "gubernatorial in style."
"Normally the attorney general, if he proposes legislation, it has to do with his ability to enforce the law of the land," Morahan said. I asked him why he might be pushing so hard for this, now.
"I can't read his mind," Morahan replied.
I asked Hannan if he thought Cuomo's fast push was political.
"The Attorney General has done this thing very differently, and I'm not going to complain about the fast track because this has been done before, but if you expect people to react intelligently, you better give them a document and some time to react to it. We just got it at the end of last week," he said. "I would normally say absolutely, this is a complete political move on his part, except it doesn't make sense. Why would you move on 130,000 people who are contributing their time without hearing something from them first? If that's a political move, it's not a wise one from my perspective."
Cuomo has pointed out in the past that his measure would not force any consolidations—they come only at the will of local officials or residents. A spokesman said he remains "cautiously optimistic" about its passage before the end of the session.