Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines the word “extraordinary” as “more than ordinary and not of the ordinary pattern,” and “going beyond what is usual, regular, common or customary.” Judged by these definitions, the recent so-called “extraordinary” two-day session of the state Legislature demanded by Governor David Paterson was anything but. In fact, it was a complete farce that ended up wasting $100,000 of taxpayer money.
GOVERNOR CALLS AN AUDIBLE – AND FUMBLES THE BALL
This recent extraordinary session of the state Legislature was called by Governor Paterson back on Friday, July 23. Under our State Constitution, governors are granted the power to call just such a session. Typically, extraordinary sessions are convened to take up unfinished business or address pressing public policy issues that warrant immediate attention. New York’s still unresolved State Budget – which was due back on April 1 and is now 121 days past due – qualifies in both respects.
However, such extraordinary sessions are not cost-free; they involve considerable costs that are borne directly by already overburdened taxpayers. When all the expenses are fully accounted for, the price tag to bring all 212 legislators back to Albany for an extraordinary session can cost $100,000 or more. That is $100,000 in additional costs that must be absorbed by New Yorkers, which further adds to our $9.2 billion budget deficit, $57.5 billion debt and just about every other state fiscal problem under the sun. In last week’s column I described how, for only the second time in modern history, New York finished the first fiscal quarter of 2010 approximately $87.1 million in the red. That alarming fact illustrates just how bad the state’s cash crunch is – and why spending $100,000 for an extraordinary session is a poor use of taxpayer money.
$100,000 OF TAXPAYER MONEY DOWN THE DRAIN
Realizing the hefty price tag accompanying these sessions, it would be highly unlikely that a governor would bring legislators back to Albany without first ensuring that enough Members of the Senate Majority would bother showing up for the extraordinary session. Moreover, a governor would never bring Members back knowing that no agreement on the late State Budget had been reached. Right? Wrong – on both counts.
MAJORITIES GAVEL IN… AND QUICKLY GAVEL OUT
As incredible as it may sound, that is exactly what happened last Wednesday and Thursday. First, in the absence of any agreement on resolving the late State Budget, the Majorities in both houses simply gaveled in and quickly gaveled out, bringing the $100,000 extraordinary session to a prompt close. Second, some Members of the Senate Majority were not present for session, severely diminishing prospects that anything of consequence could be achieved, even if an agreement had been reached. In fact, several Members of the Senate Majority Conference were not at the State Capitol when session was convened.
COSTLY POLITICAL THEATER
The governor knew all of this, yet he still called the extraordinary session. I believe calling for such a session knowing that no specific policy agenda had been provided, and that some Members of the Senate Majority would not be attending, proves this whole episode was more about political theater than getting something done. The fact of the matter is that the governor never should have called such a pointless and costly session. On Thursday, I said that the governor should reimburse taxpayers for wasting $100,000 of their hard-earned money. Taxpayers should not pick up the tab for a session that the governor knew was unlikely to produce any tangible results. I also called on the governor to stop all this empty political posturing and get back to the serious business of addressing New York’s fiscal crisis.
2010-11 STATE BUDGET APPROACHING RECORD LATENESS
The State Legislature is, as of this column’s writing, slated to come back on Tuesday, August 3. There are some rumblings in the capitol that the Senate Majority may finally complete the job they left unfinished back on July 1 and pass the remaining portion of the 2010-11 State Budget. I certainly hope this is the case! On August 3, New York’s spending plan will be 125 days past due, just a few days shy of New York’s latest State Budget ever, which was approved on August 11, 2004.
With public confidence in state government at an all-time low – and justifiably so – that is one record New York cannot afford to break. We don’t need more “extraordinary” sessions that waste time and $100,000 of the taxpayer’s money. What we need is a fiscally responsible State Budget in place, ASAP. This is exactly what I will continue pushing for.
As always, constituents wishing to discuss this topic, or any other state-related matter should contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow me on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and informational updates regarding state government and our Assembly Minority Conference.