Bringing Back The Bull Moose Spirit To Albany

Legislative column by Assemblyman Michael A. Montesano (R,I,C-Glen Head)
February 16, 2010

Mornings on horseback, evenings at the yacht club: Theodore Roosevelt’s was destined to be a charmed life of idle wealth and unlimited privilege. This Oyster Bay resident was born into the Manhattan upper crust of the mid-nineteenth century, a native aristocracy not equaled before or since on American soil. It was a shock and a surprise, therefore, when a young Teddy announced to his patrician family that he wished to be part of the “governing class.” The future New York State assemblyman, governor, and twenty-sixth president of the United States was forsaking a life of comfort for the demands of public office, a goal typically sought by the middle- and lower-middle classes, not his fellow East Side Brahmins.

Still, young Teddy craved what he called the “strenuous life” – the idea that, through productive achievement and vigorous education, Americans in general and his fellow New Yorkers in particular could do great things. Roosevelt pursued a variety of reforms while serving at the state and national levels, financial, civil service, labor, and conservation among them. In my role as your representative from the 15th Assembly District, I hope to continue in Teddy Roosevelt’s reformist tradition, and establish myself as a voice for hard-working families and small businesses on Long Island.

Reform starts with you. Only by empowering the average taxpayer can we get the Empire State back on track. Our political system is broken. We need root-and-branch change in order to avoid the simultaneous political fiscal collapse of states like Rhode Island and California. I am supporting a People’s Convention to Reform New York because the systemic dysfunction, gridlock, and partisanship in Albany have become so damaging to New York’s economy, hurtful to taxpayers and poisonous to the public trust in state government that bold action must be taken. A constitutional convention must be on the ballot in November 2010. The Empire State immediately needs a state spending cap, a property tax cap, comprehensive debt reform and a ban on budget gimmicks such as backdoor borrowing, recall of elected officials, initiative and referendum, and a two-thirds majority required in the legislature for all tax hikes.

In addition, transparency and common sense must be returned to our state’s public policy. A balanced budget requires a better idea of how much each legislative item costs. To accomplish this the Assembly and Senate ought to make the financial impact of every bill available online before each vote. A simple and fair tax system, especially concerning anti-competitive business taxes, should be our goal. We are driving small-business owners away as New York punishes those that remain. Economists have been quick to point out, too, that the higher the compliance costs on any business tax, such as corporate income, the lower the revenue. Also, let’s open up all committee meetings and votes to public view; the time has come for a New York version of C-Span’s 24-hour public affairs coverage. Public authorities spend money with little oversight and swell state budgets each year. The more than 700 public authorities and agencies should open their books, immediately - a complete audit of public authorities’ operating budgets will finally start to rein in their reckless and costly behavior.

Public servants need more epistemological humility: there’s only so much that any legislator can know. That is why the best course of action is to create opportunities for those able to make decisions for themselves, cut red tape, reduce sky-high taxes, and make government more responsive and accountable to voters, families, and industry. Teddy Roosevelt was in New York when another event would transform the course of his life. The assassination of William McKinley in 1901, when Roosevelt was hiking the gorgeous Mt. Tahawus in the Adirondacks, would catapult him, at age 42, into the country’s highest office. He would go on to serve two terms, running again in 1912 on the Bull Moose Party ticket and receiving the largest percentage of votes of any third-party candidate in United States history. I am proud to represent Oyster Bay, Teddy Roosevelt’s Long Island home, and the other towns in the 15th Assembly District, as your new assemblyman. Once again, New York State is in desperate need of “strenuous” reform, and I hope to join you in bringing it about.