Published: 16 October 2009 16 October 2009
Here are four specific proposals for changing the way the New York State Senate and Assembly go about their business.
Publicly list clients
Even though the base salary for State Senators and Assemblymen is $79,500, their positions are considered part-time, thus enabling many to engage in non-public work. Who they work for /with can be extremely difficult to find. To ensure transparency and avoid any potential conflict of interest, each elected official should be required by law to list on their official web sites the name and addresses, as well as money earned, for every source of private employment/consulting.
That information should also be compiled into a master list and posted on the State Senate / Assembly web sites.
Remove earmarks from budget and deposit them into a new State Bank
The debacle of the “senate coup” this past spring & summer was an embarrassment. But the compromise solution, dividing earmark money 75-25 percent as opposed to the traditional 95-5 percent, was even worse. As someone who is represented by minority members of the Senate and Assembly, in the eyes of New York I’m only a quarter-New Yorker.
While many have called for elimination of the earmarks, doing so would make it much harder for municipalities to receive funding for necessary projects. What I’m proposing is that the funding for earmarks be permanently removed the budget and instead deposited into a new State Bank, whose sole mission will be to issue long-term, low-interest loans to municipalities and taxing districts. Awarding of such loans will be graded on a series of needs-based criteria, rather than whom one knows.
This will accomplish the following:
- remove the distribution of “free money” to private interests
- force municipalities & taxing districts to be more responsible when asking for state aid, knowing it will not be a gift
- remove a major source of contention between the two dominant political parties
- ensure that the financial needs of all regions of the state are treated equally
Theoretically, because such a bank would be issuing loans, at some point in time, it may approach being self-sufficient.
Arrange seating alphabetically or by random lots
The current seating system, Democrats sitting on one side and Republicans on the other, creates an environment where loyalty to one’s political party is more important than doing the people’s business. It’s time for something that pushes party loyalty to the background. Giving each elected official assigned seating either alphabetically or by yearly random lots, will create a new paradigm. Sitting amongst those from different regions and opposing parties will send a powerful message that party politics should be secondary, at best.
Change the Ballot Access laws
Term limits have become a growing trend around the country. While an easy way to force turn-over in elected offices, I believe that term limits result in power transferring to staff and lobbyists. A more effective approach would be to change the antiquated ballot access laws New York State is currently saddled with. Far too often, either third party or independent candidates are forced off the ballot by technicalities. It’s not unusual to have elected officials run unopposed, due either to lack of interest from the opposing party or to challenging the petition signatures of the opposition. The most notorious example occurred a few election cycles ago when the Saratoga County Democratic Party managed to get a Democrat from Troy thrown off the ballot, thus ensuring that incumbent Republican, State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, would run unopposed.
The population of New York State is over 19 million. The idea that only two political parties can and should represent the citizens of this state is ridiculous. Instituting term limits may force a faster turnover among elected officials, but it will do nothing to ensure that a broader spectrum of political opinion will be heard in the halls of Albany.