July 1, 2005
Say They've Enacted Reform, But Many Observers Are Skeptical
leaders made promises of sweeping reform when they started the state
legislative session in January. NY1’s
Kristi Berner takes a look at whether those promises were kept in the
The three men who run Albany say they kept their pledge to
reform the way business is done in the state capitol.
“This is just historic, and I don't think there's ever
been a time when this number and magnitude of true reforms have been passed
by both houses of the Legislature and signed into law,” says Governor
“We made a promise that these issues would be a
priority,” says Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
“This is the most productive session ever in terms of
getting things done,” adds Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.
Lawmakers did change Senate and Assembly rules to make
members sit in their seats to vote, and they put through reforms that
require more reporting for public authorities and for those who lobby the
state for contracts. They also passed an on-time budget, a first in 21
But longtime capital observers, as well as some
lawmakers, say there's still a long way to go toward fundamental reform in Albany.
“I think what we have is a small scattering of fig
leaves trying to cover unsuccessfully the same old mess,” says E.J. McMahon
of the Manhattan Institute.
The biggest problem remains that three men control
almost every decision, and rank-and-file legislators have little power to
get things done.
Bills don't make it to the Senate and Assembly floor
without the backing of the chamber's leader, and some say the
Republican-controlled Senate actually took a step backward with rules
“They made it more difficult for the minority to bring
issues to the floor,” says Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women
“We don't get a say on the floor of the Senate - they
do,” adds Manhattan
state Senator Liz Krueger.
Experts say regular members sometimes use their widely-known
lack of power as an excuse to pander to all sides of an issue.
“They don't have to think very hard about the
consequences, and then they can point to the leader and say, ‘It’s his
fault. I’m with you, but he's stopping it,’” says McMahon.
So what would force change in Albany? Observers say it needs to be more
challenging to get elected and stay in office. Campaign finance reform and
redistricting are key.
“Being able to pick the voters before they pick them has
always secured incumbency for a 10-year span of time,” says Bartoletti.
McMahon adds: “Until you change some fundamental aspects
of the political structure here - the way they gerrymander their districts,
the election laws, campaign finance laws and the edge it gives to certain
groups over others – you’re not going to have fundamental change in the way
this place is run.”