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Lost opportunity on budget vote

Bill Stachowksi, Antoine Thompson and other Democrats in the local delegation are defending their vote last week in favor of the $1.6 billion package that closed this year's budget gap. To hear some of them tell it, they made tough calls; "painful decisions," as Thompson put it.

I think not.

The painful decisions, for the most part, were put off for another day. Making long-term fixes through structural changes in spending practices was largely overlooked in favor of one-shot infusions of cash and other such gimmickry.

But that's not the point of this blog post.

No, I want to talk first about the manner in which the Dems handled the vote itself.

Everyone in Albany has known for months that the budget was in the red and needed to be balanced. Paterson even called the Legislature into special session a few months back in an effort to find a resolution, but nothing happened.

When a deal was finally struck, the governor passed it along as an emergency measure, giving the Legislature cover to approve it with little public review and debate. Moreover, the Senate and Assembly Democrats shielded their deliberations during the course of negotiations with the governor by dealing with the matter in caucus, out of sight from the press and public.

This is just the kind of stunt that has prompted the Brennan Center at the NYU Law School to declare our state legislature the most dysfunctional in the nation.

Then there is the substance of the budget revisions themselves.

One could reasonably argue that WNY paid a disproportionate price and that our delegation passed on an opportunity to use some real leverage to get something for the region.

How did we pay a premium?

The budget plan hijacks college tuition increases, and a quarter of SUNY's enrollment is in WNY.

The budget package also took nearly a half-billion dollars from the New York Power Authority, a good chunk of which is the byproduct of profits generated at the Niagara Power Project in Lewiston and the proceeds of unallocated low-cost hydropower earmarked for WNY industry.

A lot of folkshave been hollering that more of the money generated by NYPA in WNY ought to stay here to promote economic development.

Seems like the Dems in the local delegation could have used that as leverage. But they didn't.

Robin Schimminger and Sam Hoyt hold leadership positions in the Assembly, where were they on all this? (I mean, before they met in private last week with officials from Uniland and other developers/political contributors intent on undermining meaningful reform of the flawed Empire Zone program.)

Stachowski and thompsonStachowski and Thompson seemed to be in a particularly good spot to leverage something, given the Dems' razor-thin majority in the Senate. (They're pictured here with Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and Mayor Byron Brown.)

If the Gang of Three could hold up Majority Leader Malcolm Smith for their own self-interests, what's wrong with Stachowski and Thompson playing hardball on behalf of the region?

I mean, does Stachs owe Smith anything but a one-finger salute for being bypassed for the Finance Committee chairmanship? 

Why couldn't -- indeed, why shouldn't -- these two play the Senate Dems and GOP against each other in order to get something for WNY better than the back of Albany's hand?

Yeah, I know, party loyalty. Does anybody out there think party loyalty ought to take precedent over doing right by Buffalo, Lockport, Jamestown and all points in between?

I didn't think so. 


State government
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