New Yorkers may shrug at the possibility that the State Senate will soon come under Democratic control. After all, the state has been an economic basket case for decades, regardless of who controlled the Senate, Assembly and governor’s office. How much worse can it get?
Imagine what New York would look like with a legislature that resembled the State Assembly – dominated by downstate members, unaccountable to voters due to gerrymandered district lines, in the pocket of special interests for whom it cheerfully doles out taxpayer dollars.
Yes, it has been something very much like that with the Senate under Republican control.
After all, every unfunded mandate, every tax increase, every legislated favor to a special interest had to be approved by the Republican Senate as well as the Democratic Assembly. There is a reason this is the nation’s highest-taxed state.
Still, the Senate has acted as a brake on many of the Assembly’s worst spendthrift inclinations. And New Yorkers don’t have to imagine what it will be like without that brake; they witnessed it five years ago and upstaters got the raw end of the deal. For example, of $85 million in Senate pork barrel allotments in 2009, $77 million went to Democrats, and just $13.7 million of that went to upstate programs.
Democrats say they’ve learned their lesson and they’ll play nice this time. And, to be fair, it’s possible. Mike Tyson hasn’t bitten anyone’s ear off in 17 years, after all. If Tyson can grow up, we see no reason that Senate Democrats can’t, too.
But what thinking person would voluntarily get into a boxing ring with Tyson? And what upstater can be comfortable with the idea that Democrats will control the Senate, Assembly and governor’s office? The mind reels.
New Yorkers have been fortunate over the past 3½ years to have a Democratic governor who defies the stereotypes. Andrew M. Cuomo understands the damage that New York’s taxes have done to the state economy. He has worked ferociously to rebuild prosperity in Western New York. And he holds a veto pen. Assuming he is re-elected in November, he could act as a restraint against what could well be a runaway legislature.
But Cuomo has also signed on to the effort to put Democrats in control of the Senate. In truth, there is nothing unusual about that. A Republican governor would work to keep the chamber in his party’s sway.
But Cuomo has prospered partly because of his close working relationship with Senate Republicans. It’s not that they have been pushovers; the bill that legalized same-sex marriage barely passed in the Senate and Republicans won’t have anything to do with Cuomo’s 10-point women’s agenda that, among other less controversial matters, codifies state abortion laws.
Partly because of that relationship, though, budget growth has been kept under control. Taxes were cut. Buffalo got a billion-dollar investment. Yet Cuomo, looking for a strong re-election mandate and determined to win the endorsement of the state Working Families Party, agreed to work to give the Senate keys to the teenagers, aka Democrats.
It’s already hard to achieve political balance in a state that is dominated by New York City and that is drifting ever leftward. But whatever degree of balance is possible, upstate needs. Republicans are no innocent bystanders in the region’s wrecked economy, but they are more likely – much more likely – to provide that balance than Democrats are.