Cross posted from ReformNY
Yesterday, the day 3000 pages of budget bills hit New York state legislators’ desks in advance of a vote scheduled for only 48 hours later, the Times ran a story on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s unprecedented power in Albany. The story details Silver’s stranglehold on the legislative process in general,
and the budget process in particular, attributing this year’s
secret-even-for-Albany negotiations to Silver’s penchant for
closed-door meetings and something hovering between oligarchy and
autocracy. Readers of the article could be forgiven for thinking that
we’ve never been further from meaningful reform in Albany,
but we prefer to see the article as an illustration of why legislative
rules are so important—and why it may be darkest just before the
will take more than one or two individuals to loosen the Speaker’s
15-year grip on the legislative process; the legislature needs the
weight of an entire chamber to act as a countervailing force. A robust
committee process, regular and substantive legislative analysis, and
rules that protect the voices of rank-and-file members can all help
ensure that the locus of power in the legislature lies with the body of
representatives elected by New York
voters, and not with any one individual. With the recommendations of
its Temporary Committee on Rules Reform due in just a week or two, the
Senate may well become this essential counterbalance to unchecked power.
back to those budget bills. Speaker Silver has often touted the
punctuality of his budgets, arguing that open budget negotiations might
get in the way of meeting the state deadline. Looking around the
country during budget season, it’s clear that this is a false tradeoff.
Ohio, faced with the same number of weeks to consider its budget as New York, holds extensive budget hearings. Virginia, acting under similar time constraints, posts all budget documents, including early proposals, on a website where members of the public are welcome to comment. A total of nine states have budget deadlines similar to New York’s, but only New York shuts rank-and-file legislators and the general public so completely out of its budget process.