September 2007
NYC Americans for Democratic Action Legislative Report

Rating the 2006 New York State Legislature

ADA’s ratings of members of Congress and of various state legislatures have been welcomed by scholars, journalists and the lay public as accurate indices of   liberalism ever since their initial appearance in 1948. Other groups across the political spectrum imitate them. 

Unfortunately, we get to evaluate only those issues that reach the floor, limiting our ability to provide much about an individual member’s ideology. The fewer testy  issues, the easier it is to achieve a high rating.

The New York State legislature finally rejected the “fast” roll call in 2005 – a practice where everyone who doesn’t vote “no”, is recorded as voting “yes.”  Nevertheless, the need to reform a plethora of other practices - ineffective legislative committees, leaders’ ability to keep bills from the floor for discussion and an up or down vote - persists in a legislature which still carries – with justification – the stigma as the nation’s most dysfunctional.

It is our intent to begin holding legislators accountable for what they do not do by including in the rating pool issues which were not brought to a vote.  We intend to put the Legislature on advance notice of our Legislative Agenda and look forward to rating responses in the coming years

The 2006 Legislative Report Card

This was George Pataki’s last year as Governor.  Like the Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver and the Senate Majority Leader, Joseph Bruno, Governor Pataki completed his 12th year with a less than mediocre performance.

For the second year in a row we had an on-time budget ($114 billion). We also finished with a surplus.  Yet, the budget process remained severely flawed.  The Assembly and Senate both overrode vetoes in the continuing saga where the Governor insists that the vetoed provisions are unconstitutional and thus overrides are meaningless and will be ignored.  There is a fundamental imbalance in the budget process – embedded in the State Constitution – which gives Governor Pataki the power to dictate the budget and insert policy changes in budget bills, thus changing unilaterally laws which otherwise could be changed only with the legislature’s consent. The courts have upheld this power (2004) and a constitutional change is required to resolve the issue.

Against this background the Legislature did pass a significant ($1.8 billion) capital budget bill to fund new schools in New York City consistent with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) suit while simultaneously authorizing $9.4 billion in borrowing for new capital funding in education over the next several years. 

Other legislation of note includes eliminating the five year statute of limitations on rape and Class B felony sex crimes, expanding cooperative, condominium and homeowner’s property tax rebates for senior tax relief (STAR) eligible citizens, eliminating the marriage penalty and creating a new office of Inspector General to centralize fighting Medicaid fraud. 

Fortunately, the Courts required the Legislature to release the list of member items (totaling $1.7 billion).  Nothing was done to alter the little known practice where the Governor, Speaker and Majority Leader – without public input - agree to insert lump sums into the annual budget bills for projects to be determined in the future.

Yet, what the Legislature failed to do left little doubt as to its ineffectiveness and the need for fundamental reform.  The Assembly  passed one-house bills regarding campaign finance, health care and lobby reform.  The Legis-lature refused to increase education financing significantly,  ignoring an Appellate Court decision requiring it to allocate between $4.7 and $5.6 billion in additional operating aid for New York City schools.  And, it refused to touch the issue of redistricting the overwhelming number of “safe” seats in both houses which perpetuate inertia.

The Legislature also failed to revamp the Authorities which control most of the state debt, manage most state construction and operate agencies including the MTA , the Thruway and utilities.

A special session failed to reach agreement on raising the number of  charter schools, confining sex offenders who have served their sentences and raising legislators’ and court judges’ salaries.

A great deal remains to be done!

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Working Families Win Reports Meetings Newsletters Speaking Out Endorsements Legislative RatingsTestimony