From left, New York Gov. David Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Geneva, Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, D-Brooklyn, and Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, arrive for a legislative leaders budget meeting at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Wednesday, June 16, 2010.
If one needed any further proof that the State Legislature is dysfunctional, there’s newly released evidence that makes it clear.
The 212 Assembly members and Senators have not been paid since early April. That’s because of a law passed in 1998 that withholds salaries from these specimens of dysfunction if they fail to enact an on-time budget by April 1st.
The law was created to spur them to action but it’s a mark of their improbably poor performance that they can’t function even when it’s in their own self-interest. What a travesty that is!
The New York Times interviewed some legislators who have been forced to take out loans, borrow from family members and raid retirement accounts to pay for necessities. Unlike many of their members, the legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate leader John Sampson, get substantial income from major law firms. They both express sympathy for some of their members who have no outside compensation.
But sympathy isn’t helping Democratic Assemblyman Michael Gianaris of Queens who has dipped deeply into his savings to pay the mortgage on the home he bought two years ago. He told the Times he’s not looking for pity:
"People are rightfully fed up with the lack of effectiveness in state government. I would quickly forgive them for not having sympathy for our personal plight.”
He deserves credit for honesty----and sensitivity to the plight of some of the people he represents. Centuries ago, a Greek named Diogenes, carried a lantern around the countryside looking for an honest man. If he were around today, he might be pleased to interview this Greek-American about his moral values.
It’s sad that in a year when the Legislature is up for re-election it has been paralyzed for so long. For many legislators re-election is almost automatic. Such is the power of incumbency. Can a new governor or a new attorney general make a difference?
That seems unlikely. History tells us the Legislature must heal itself.