Let me take a brief break from One Sunset-email-health insurance-gate to revisit another favorite depressing topic.
After a lot of spin from the Golisano-Pigeon camp over the past week proclaiming that the month-long paralysis of the State Senate resulted in a win for upstate, Tom Precious sets the record straight:
Things are supposed to be different, if everyone from the likes of new Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada to Florida businessman and Buffalo Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano are to be believed. The “new” Senate is about empowering rank-and-file lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans alike — to make it easier, for instance, to get bills to the floor.
The focus for this week’s session, however, is not unlike what Albany witnessed the previous six months: downstate-centric and with the usual Capitol secrecy surrounding what is on the agenda.
Asked Monday for the bills the Senate will be considering, a Senate Democratic spokesman could name only one: Legislation affecting an expired law that had the mayor in control of the New York City schools will be a “high priority” Wednesday.
Another hot-button issue being pushed by some senators: pro-tenant legislation affecting rent-control laws in New York City.
What’s not high on the priority list of the Senate Democratic leadership? Bills dealing with lowering property taxes, or cutting state mandates to help localities cut costs, or improving how industrial development agencies are run, or making technical changes many lawmakers say are needed to the Empire Zone program that gives tax breaks to companies.
Senator Antoine Thompson, in his own spin session last week, unwittingly drove home the point that WNY remains not in the back seat, but in the trunk, of the car driven by downstate interests when he proclaimed:
“In a leadership meeting of the Senate, we have two of the 18 in the room who are from Western New York,” Thompson said.
Um, Senator Thompson, having two of 18 seats at the table is nothing to boast about. It means the other 16 are from someplace else.
Thompson opened his mouth to insert his foot in another story about a big fund-raiser Senate leaders are holding here Friday. Sen. Pedro Espada won't be attending, but Thompson said not to worry, he's trying to get him here for an event in September.
What, Rod Blagojevich isn't available?
Of course, this all flows from the top. Consider the stunt pulled by Senate President Pro Tempore Malcolm Smith and Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, as reported by the Albany Times Union.
Eleven of the State Senate's highest-paid staffers received raises of up to $32,000 when it appeared likely Democrats would lose control of the chamber during the five-week leadership fight. The combined increases will cost taxpayers $200,000 annually ...
One day after the coup, Senate Majority Deputy Secretaries Meredith Henderson and Patricia Rubens each received nearly $23,000 in raises. Both staffers received an additional raise on June 23, for a total of nearly $32,000 each, backdated to Jan. 1, 2009. Both staffers are paid $140,382.
Smith and Sampson, by the way, are the headliners for the aforementioned fund-raiser in Buffalo this weekend. It will be interesting to see who shows up and forks over.
Friends of "reform," no doubt.