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Legislature is delivering half a loaf

Friday, June 28, 2013 - Updated: 4:08 AM

Well, New York, here's your state Legislature, getting ready to pack up for the year. Good riddance to Albany, these people are effectively saying, after a session marked by corruption and dysfunction.

Yes, they can claim a few accomplishments. The first days of January brought a post-Newtown gun control law that made New York safer. April brought a scandalously overdue increase in the state's minimum wage.

And the almost three months since then? High-profile arrests of several legislators have overshadowed a state government that's been spectacularly successful in neglecting the people's business.

The women's rights agenda that brought a brief but unmistakable tone of idealism to the start of the legislative session is in peril. Salvaging Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan now requires surrendering to the politics of the unacceptable -- giving up on making sure a woman's right to an abortion is protected by state law, and settling instead for passage of a Women's Equality Act that is incomplete without this.

Campaign finance reform worth the name -- that is, with a provision that provides matching public funds for serious candidates for state office -- seems doomed, too. That makes Cuomo one more governor who made a show of changing the culture of state government but couldn't deliver.

The typical end-of-session frenzy, by all accounts, looks as if it will produce half a loaf, if that. Deals on a referendum to bring full-scale casinos to the state and a tweaked version of the governor's plan to give tax breaks for business development on university campuses still leave a great deal of urgent business undone.

Cuomo's penchant for holding back details of his lofty proposals played into the hands of the Senate Republicans, who despite being in the minority clearly control the chamber, and thus can block his more progressive and reformist ideas, particularly abortion rights and campaign reform.

Mr. Cuomo is justified in responding to the Legislature's failure to address its ethical breaches, and to the Republicans' defense of the ethical status quo, by naming a special commission under the Moreland Act that will target legislative corruption.

But Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos couldn't pull off this obstruction alone. Sen. Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, made it possible. Klein and his little cohort need to ask themselves what they got out of their power-sharing alliance with Skelos when the price of maintaining it was turning their backs on their supposed commitment to progressive politics.

And the rest of us?

We need to ask why New York has to settle for less than a full loaf. It's not like these legislators are 18th-century farmers who need to leave Albany and return home to tend to their fields. They're getting what amounts to full-time pay, at a minimum of $79,500.

Legislators need to stay here -- to pass real campaign finance reform, strengthen abortion rights, protect transgendered people, broaden the rights of farmworkers, and make marijuana laws more fair.

Leave now, and voters may wonder why they bother to send them back.

-- The Times Union of Albany


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