Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Bazzo Says: Reforming Albany

I am sitting at my desk trying to make some sense of the last couple of weeks. Many people were outraged over "deflated footballs" during the NFL playoffs. I heard people yapping about it nearly everywhere I went. Yet, I heard nobody talking about the arrest of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. The people's silence after the choice of Carl Heastie as New York Assembly's new speaker is typical. The fact that Heastie has his own ethical cloud to worry about does not rile up New Yorkers. New Yorkers only get riled up over the latest pointless social issue or hashtag campaign. In last week’s column, "The Fish stinks from the head down," I detailed what those ethical problems are. You can read it here: yourmahopac.com/articledetails/article/opinion/16108#.VNkEkfnF9qI

In the aftermath of the Silver arrest, both Gov. Cuomo and Speaker Heastie said reform is a priority. (Unless there is a way to reform the voters of New York State, reform is impossible.) In fact, Cuomo has gone so far as to say he will not sign a budget that does not include reform. He says this is so important that he does not care if it means the budget will be late for the first time in five years. Funny how it was not so important when he was New York’s attorney general. It was not so important when he shut down the Moreland Commission while it was investigating the corrupt antics of Slippery Silver. The people of New York told Cuomo that they approved of his pro-corruption actions when they re-elected him. Heck, the overrated denizens of Manhattan re-elected Silver for decades. Think of politicians as children and ourselves as the parents who are responsible for teaching our children what is and is not acceptable behavior. As New Yorkers, we have been sending them all the wrong signals. More of us need to start writing in to Dr. Linda…

Anyway, back to these pretend reforms.

One “reform” is a pay raise for our legislators, who really only work three months out of the year even though they are supposedly in session for six months. The yearly salary of $79,000-plus does not include stipends and per-diems. However, we are told this is not enough and that if we raise their base pay to over $100,000 they would suddenly behave themselves. The late columnist Sidney Zion once wrote that in Albany it is the Republicans and Democrats against the people. In fact, as far back as our founding it was said of Albany that nobody’s liberties are safe as long as the legislature is in session. No amount of money is going to change that. As I wrote last week, these people did not float into office. We elected them. 

Another "solution" is to make being legislator a full-time position. Think about all the damage they do to this state and its reputation in just six months. We already have a professional political class that includes a majority of these part-timers, who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, and in some races, over a million dollars, to sit in a job that pays $79,000. Think about the ruling class we would have with full-time members making $100,000.

Now, if we keep them part-time, another solution is fuller disclosure of outside income. We have some disclosure rules now, enough to uncover that, according to an article in the July 3, 2014 edition of The Daily News, “Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's outside income re-emerged as an issue Wednesday with the release of his latest financial disclosure report. Last year, he worked roughly half a day each week for the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, which paid him up to $750,000.” Hey, those are the guys with the commercials in TV!

Of course, revelations such as that one were why Cuomo shut down the Moreland Commission in the first place. Thanks to the investigation by Moreland, we know that in 2013, as an assemblyman, Carl Heastie sponsored a bill that would allow check-cashing companies to make loans with interest rates up to 200 percent. He sponsored that bill after he received $10,000 from the check-cashing industry, which went into his campaign accounts. As I have already noted, Heastie is the man Albany chose to replace Slippery Silver.

Cannot make this stuff up. 

The final solution, or better yet the nail in our coffin, is public financing of campaigns. This is a solution only a government-centric can love. We are told that public financing of campaigns will even out the playing field and give us a better caliber of politician. In fact, just the opposite happens. Understand that the obvious goal of any campaign finance law is to protect the incumbent. Think about it. The people making these laws are already in office and it is no secret that incumbents have a built in advantage come Election Day. One of the most important things a challenger must do is outraise the incumbent if that challenger wishes to win. Public finance laws largely limit how much money can be raised by all candidates, making it all that much harder for challengers to defeat those already in power. Nobody is going to pass a law that would weaken their hold on power, especially in this sick state. 

On top of that, look at New York City's venture into public financing and the caliber of politician it attracts and how they game the system. If one looks at the arrests and convictions of the city's ruling class, the one thing they all have in common is that they gamed the public financing laws. They do this with straw donors who split the donations into smaller amounts in order to qualify for those matching funds. The other thing they have in common, or course, is that they steered public monies to non-profits controlled by friends and relatives. 

Look at the politicians we send to Albany. Imagine if they could get their hands on even more money. Can anyone say straw donor, times 10? There simply is not enough time in the day for the feds to handle that, and forget about our attorney general. As long as it is a Democrat, we will get the same “oversight” we get now. The last three attorneys general have been Democrats and not one of them did a damned thing to stop the corruption in Albany. Why did they even bother taking the oath?

New York is already the worst state to live in relation to taxation. Now our overlords are telling us things will get better if we finance those awful mailers and commercials we are subjected to every two years. Remember, no matter the caliber of opponent, they get the matching funds. If there is any left over, do they give it back? No! It is spent on office equipment, cars and in at least 26 cases, legal fees.   

I do not believe politics or money corrupt someone. I believe you cannot corrupt an honest person. Those who are corrupt were that way from the beginning and just needed an outlet. It has been our apathy as citizens that created that outlet. If only we were as angry over being robbed and cheated as we were over deflated footballs and now the lies of Brian Williams (this came as a surprise to people?), maybe we could get a better caliber of politician.

Reform must come from us. We must change the way we look at Albany and its malfeasance, its perpetrators and its enablers. When it comes to corruption, party label should not matter. No more, “Our crook is better than their crook.” It is time we as parents reign in the children up in Albany, instead of letting them tell us what we need to give them in order for them to behave.

This is what I say. What say you?

 VOLPE BAZZO REPORT:  Guests Yorktown Supervisor Michael Grace talks about local and state issues on public access Wednesday nights channel 74 at 9:30 p.m.; February 18 & 25
Bazzo 02/10/15

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