New Proposal to End Senate Standoff in Albany

Judge tells warring sides to figure it out themselves

Just when you thought it couldn't get any more chaotic, the lawmaker logjam in Albany got a little worse.

And political experts are saying the fiasco upstate is hurting taxpayers.

With 62 bills waiting for approval and billions of dollars at stake for New Yorkers, there was a lot riding on today's court showdown at the Capitol. But they couldn't even settle on who would control the Senate after State Supreme Court Justice Thomas McNamara Tuesday refused to rule on the matter.

"A court should not impose a legal solution," he said.

Senate Democrats responded Tuesday night with another letter to Senators Pedro Espada Jr. and Dean Skelos. The letter suggests a shared power agreement that would last long enough to get them through the last 2 weeks of the legislative session. In the letter, Democratic Senators Malcolm Smith and John Sampson suggested rotating leaders, so that one day a Democrat would lead the Senate and the next, a Republican. They are calling for the creation of a 6 member bipartisan committee that would determine which bills will be considered. Their proposal also prohibits any one senator from making a casting vote, the deciding vote in the event of a tie. The letter also calls for a bipartisan meeting Wednesday to work out the details of the agreement. Neither Skelos nor Espada would commit to the terms of the agreement or to meeting with the Democratic leadership Wednesday.

Before last week's coup, Democrats held that razor-thin, 32-30 advantage in the Senate. But after Sens. Hiram Monserrate and Pedro Espada Jr. jumped ship, the Republicans took control by the same margin. But then Monserrate jumped back into the Dems' pool, tying things at 31-31, a tie that keeps state government frozen solid.

"You're talking about a system that is ripe for deadlock," said Doug Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College. "How do you have 62 senators?"

Muzzio added that the political gamesmanship in Albany is no laughing matter. New York residents are waiting to find out how much their taxes will rise. And at stake is the fate of dozens of bills, covering everything from the housing crisis to transportation.

"Why does this matter?" Muzzio asked. "It's got a $130 billion budget, and affects the lives of billions of people. It's extraordinarily important whether the state government in New York works or not."

The showdown has gotten so bad that Gov. David Paterson sounded like a parent Tuesday, offering a time-out to squabbling kids.

"We would come into the Senate and have no leadership," he said. "We'd put the bills on the calendar and find someone impartial to be in charge."

But both parties rejected the governor's idea. Republicans tried to hold a session this afternoon and Democrats didn't show up. The stalemate for which no settlement appears in sight prompted a letter Tuesday night from eight members of the New York State Assembly, the last paragraph of which read:


Rent regulation reform will affect millions of New Yorkers at a time when many working class and middle-income families are already being priced out of their own neighborhoods.  The repeal of vacancy decontrol is critically important because of the unrelenting diminution of New York’s affordable housing stock. Domestic workers must be treated with greater decency and respect. Finally, the sunset of mayoral control on June 30 compels us to vote on school governance and the model under which the New York City public school system will operate in just a few weeks. It is imperative for the Senate to avoid further delay and get back to the business of addressing these and other important issues.

McNamara predicted that eventually voters will have a chance to fix things in Albany when he wrote, "The failure of the Senate to resolve this issue in an appropriate manner will make them answerable to the electorate."

Meanwhile, Espada opined that McNamara's decision not to rule leaves the Republicans in charge, and urged all senators to get back to work.

"Enough with the court challenges, boycotts and antics," he said. "It’s time for all 62 Senators to return to work."

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