It’s a fine thing that the New York State Senate is cracking down on the use of cash welfare benefits to pay for cigarettes, beer and liquor, state lottery tickets, casino games, strip clubs and even illegal drugs. Who could argue against seeking to prevent such gross misuse of state tax dollars that are meant to help people in need?
But here’s the question: What are senators doing about the misuse of power within the State Legislature? New Yorkers have been pummeled with reports of corruption in Albany over the past year and the Legislature, so far, has done nothing. The Senate, in particular, has been resistant to confronting the culture of corruption, especially given the criminal charges pending against its former leader, Joseph Bruno.
The vote to better regulate the use of welfare cash seems legitimate, but something about it nonetheless smacks of a magician’s diversion: See … nothing up our sleeves. We’re protecting taxpayers, so pay no attention to the chronic abuse of public trust by the state’s elected officials.
The Senate passed this bill last year, but it was ignored by the Assembly. This year, the Senate acted again, citing a new federal requirement to prevent the use of Electronic Benefit Transfers from inside liquor stores, casinos and any “adult-oriented entertainment” facilities, on pain of a five percent reduction in next year’s federal funds.
The Assembly wants to crack down on the problem through the Office of Temporary Disability Assistance. If that doesn’t work, it will consider legislation, a spokesman said.
Good. Taxpayer cash shouldn’t pay for vices or frivolities, and the problem could be significant, according to Republican estimates.
They say nearly $4 million a month in cash welfare withdrawals is made from automatic teller machines between midnight and 6 a.m., when they suspect the money is being used in ways other than intended. New Yorkers should be glad that legislators are paying attention to this. The matter was worthy of action.
But so are the nefarious activities that have become the norm among elected officials in Albany. New Yorkers should be demanding action and accountability on those issues, too. In fact, many are, but the Senate isn’t listening.
The problems began most recently with the promise of then-Majority Leader Dean Skelos to support independent redistricting after the 2010 election. He reneged.
The Senate is also refusing to take up public financing of elections, a practice that works in New York City and that would open more incumbents to challenge. An incumbent who knows he will have serious opponents is more likely to behave in ways in which his constituents would approve. Lawmakers, of course, don’t want to deal with the messiness of fair elections.
Albany is a cesspool. Lawmakers are being arrested and forced out of office. Top elected officials, including Bruno and former Comptroller Alan Hevesi, have been accused of crimes. Hevesi went to prison.
It’s time for Albany to get as serious about official malfeasance as it is about welfare recipients tucking tax dollars into g-strings.