October 13, 2008 - 10:03 AM
Each day, hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent around the state by Republicans and Democrats for a prize with sweeping ramifications: which party controls the 62-member Senate.
With a brief exception in 1965, Republicans have run the Senate since 1939. And Albany's culture of a two-party system in the Legislature is legendary among states.
All that could end in November when Democrats have their best chance in recent years of winning the Senate. There are a half-dozen districts in play. The economy has tanked and Republican John McCain is lagging behind in New York, which could have its own effect on local races because of turnout.
Here's the general gist of the arguments. Democrats say Republicans have had long enough to make things work. Look at the upstate economy, the Albany gridlock and an often right-leaning agenda on many social issues that Democrats say are out of touch with New Yorkers. The Democrats say they will, with their party's control of the Senate along with the Assembly and governor's office, be able to bring real change to the dysfunctional Capitol.
Republicans say the kind of change an all-Democratic state house won't be good for New York -- especially upstate. The Senate under the GOP, now with a strong influence from upstate Republicans, is the chief watchdog for upstate, Republicans insist. Under the Democrats, New York City will even further dominate the Capitol's interests. Trial lawyers will rule, unions will expand their influence and taxes will rise, they say.
The victor will get the usual perks: access to pork barrel spending, big staffs, a bottomless pit of campaign cash from special interests and a seat at the table with the Assembly and governor in deciding anything and everything that comes out of Albany.
But the winner also gets an unenviable prize: getting to deal with the state's $1.2 billion current deficit -- which Gov. David A. Paterson says will only worsen -- and a deficit for next year that, as of now, could approach $9 billion. The winner gets to push through cuts
that will affect education, health care, transportation, the environment, parks, arts,
housing, farming, economic development, welfare programs and any of the thousands of entities
that rely on the state's $120 billion budget.
For the winner, at least in the beginning, it may be a short celebration.
-- Tom Precious