In an op-ed for the Albany Times Union this week, Liz explained the current state of the State Senate, the recent history that got us here, and how New Yorkers should judge the Republican-IDC “coalition.” Read on for the full text of the op ed, or read it at the Times Union website.
What now, N.Y.?
Senate has to deliver a progressive agenda
By LIZ KRUEGER, Commentary
“Coalition government” is the new buzzword in state politics. The Senate Republicans have put together a mostly Republican “majority coalition,” incorporating the Independent Democratic Conference. GOP Leader Dean Skelos and IDC leader Jeff Klein promise to share power and take turns as president pro tempore, but no one knows how or even if this will work.
We do know what the coalition members will get for making this deal — committee chairs, increased staff and majority status in a chamber where the minority agenda is traditionally dismissed. It remains to be seen what, if anything, New Yorkers will get.
The Republicans, the IDC and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are marketing this as an alternative to “dysfunction.” But these arguments aren’t rooted in the real story of that dysfunction.
For those with short memories: Skelos; his deputy, Tom Libous; Klein; and the IDC’s newest member, Malcolm Smith, were the respective leadership teams for the Republicans and Democrats in 2009, when Albany dysfunction hit its zenith. Of course, they weren’t the only players: Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate, the villains enlisted by Skelos and Libous to switch sides in that summer’s coup, are both gone.
The power-sharing deal is much the same as that proposed by Espada at the height of the 2009 crisis. In 2008, a “gang of four” — including Espada and Monserrate — held the Legislature hostage until Smith cut a deal with them, offering power and perks. Now a new gang of five is trying the same tactic and cutting a deal with Republicans.
Explaining his position Dec. 6 in an article on the Times Union commentary page, Cuomo wrote: “Neither the Republican nor Democratic conferences come to this juncture with clean hands. From 1966 to 2009, the Republican Conference led for 42 years and blocked much progressive legislation, including last year’s efforts to increase the minimum wage, enact campaign finance reform, and end the controversial ‘stop and frisk’ policy.”
There, the governor barely scratched the surface.
Senate Republicans were also responsible over those decades for driving up spending, racking up debt, and passing the mandates that are now crushing local governments and schools, driving up property taxes. Despite their rhetoric on taxes, they created the budget problems this governor has struggled to solve.
The governor also wrote: “The Democratic Conference was in power for two years and squandered the opportunity, failing to pass any meaningful reform legislation despite repeated promises.” This deserves a fact-check.
Democrats didn’t plot the coup and throw Albany into chaos in midsession. The Republicans did that. Moreover, the Democratic Conference during those years was a very different group. Today’s Senate Democrats include more than a dozen new members who are serious about governing and had nothing to do with the events of 2009. We had some very bad apples in 2009, but today they are gone.
But no meaningful reform in those two years?
We passed landmark green jobs legislation, Rockefeller drug law reform, pension savings, education reforms that unlocked $700 million in federal Race to the Top funds and new support for small businesses. We cracked down on out-of-control public authorities, broke a 50-year logjam to fix our antiquated divorce laws, and passed foreclosure protections to keep New Yorkers in their homes. There was more we wanted and needed to do in 2009 and 2010, but facing sabotage at every turn, we accomplished quite a bit.
New Yorkers elected a Democratic majority. They have a right to expect a minimum wage increase, true campaign finance reform, the Reproductive Health Act, the New York State DREAM Act, reform of stop-and-frisk policies, education funding that fulfills our obligations to New York’s children and mandate relief for struggling local governments. The Republicans who dominate the new Senate ruling coalition haven’t delivered any of that.
These priorities would top the agenda for a unified Democratic majority. If Republicans, party-switchers and frustrated former Democratic leaders defeat that agenda, we will be here to give New Yorkers a better option.
Until then, the Republicans who instigated the 2009 coup and the Democrats who were too weak to prevent it are in the driver’s seat. We will find out soon if they can produce the results that New Yorkers voted for.
Liz Krueger is a Democratic state senator from Manhattan.