ALBANY—A few hours after Attorney General Andrew Cuomo formally unveiled a local-government consolidation bill, David Paterson put out a statement referring to legislation as something "[T]he Attorney General and I have been working on together."
This caused some head scratching (Irene Liu did a great job parsing the syntax), given Paterson comments Tuesday that he was unaware of the details of Cuomo's negotiations with legislative leaders. While the governor's top lawyer attended the event where the initiative was first unveiled in December, Cuomo has been carrying the ball on it. (Paterson did not attend the press conference yesterday or other events where Cuomo touted the proposal.)
It was also somewhat surprising to Gerald Benjamin, a professor of a political science at SUNY New Paltz. He served on a commission studying government consolidation that was convened by Eliot Spitzer and chaired by former Lt. Governor Stan Lundine. Paterson, in one of his early acts as governor, embraced its final report. But Benjamin says he never followed through.
"We had a very good staff on our commission, and the commission recommended the staff be retained, and it wasn't just the staff but the network that we established among all the state agencies: garnering ideas from locals, scholars, and bringing them to state agencies," Benjamin said. There were about five people on the commission, including John Clarkson from the Office of the State Comptroller, who served as executive director. Some negative press and a healthy dose of Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, who used the commission to blast bloated government, led to its quiet dissolution. Clarkson comptroller's office.
"There were some very talented people, we had smart ideas, we had a legislative program and package, and it was very disappointing to me when the staff was dissipated and the energy behind this effort was lost in the transition from Spitzer to Paterson," Benjamin said. "It was a time of turmoil and transition, I understand. These are largely upstate and suburban issues that require the understanding of long familiarity and attention. It wasn't clear to me that these issues were priorities for the new administration."
"Instead of defending the utility of that staff, the governor's office didn't come forward and take the necessary steps to drive this. That's just my opinion, and I'm very passionate about this," Benjamin said. "It's regrettable."
Paterson's own property-tax relief plan includes a spending cap and efforts to ease the burden of state mandates on local governments. At the end of his statement, he urged Cuomo to join him in pushing for those measures.