New Yorkers can breathe a sigh of relief that enough Democrats have decided to side with Republicans for the GOP to retain control of the State Senate. At least, we hope they can, but with the power-sharing experiment the Senate is about to embark upon, the coming session could be more unpredictable than usual.
With five Democrats joining Republicans, it is possible not only that the Senate can continue to apply the brakes – some brakes – to the Assembly’s inclinations, but that a small Democratic influence could allow for other valuable measures to be approved.
Or it could be terrible, as it has been in the past.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has his own 10-point litmus test of success for the new Senate, which will be sworn in Jan. 1. In his own words, they are support for:
• The property tax cap that has finally imposed fiscal discipline on local governments and provided relief to taxpayers.
• Campaign finance reform.
• Increasing the minimum wage.
• Reform of New York City’s “stop and frisk” policy.
• Environmental protection and initiatives that address our changing climate.
• The education and Medicaid budget rate formulas that provided fiscal predictability and sustainability.
• The tax cuts that brought taxes on the middle class tax to the lowest rates in 58 years.
• Education reforms – like teacher evaluations – that bring more accountability to our schools and continued improvement to our SUNY system.
• Protecting a woman’s right to choose.
• Limited and highly regulated casinos introduced as economic development generators.
With the exception of increasing the minimum wage (which should be done, but at the federal level) and the casino proposal (which brings more money to Albany but which has no record of economic development), the test is a good one, and for the Assembly as well as the Senate.
What is certain, based on painful recent history, is that the Senate is better off in Republican hands than in Democratic, a fact that Cuomo noted in observing the “dysfunction” that gripped the chamber when Democrats briefly controlled it.
That’s not to say that Republicans did well before that. Every tax, every unfunded mandate, every gift to unions and other high-dollar donors was approved by the Republican Senate as well as the Democratic Assembly. Senate Republicans were Democratic-light, and they served the public poorly.
Will a power-sharing arrangement work better? If Republicans can insist on supporting the tax cap, education reform and other fiscal issues, while Democrats exert their influence on matters such as campaign finance reform, abortion rights and New York City’s egregious stop-and-frisk policy, New Yorkers could come out ahead.