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Pension change good, but process still stinks

March 17, 2012
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

It is disappointing to see Andrew Cuomo's first term take the same path as that of New York governors before him: Start off strong, not just talking reform but actually changing some of the undemocratic practices in Albany, and then, come crunch time, slide back into the familiar, murky pattern of governance by three men in a closed back room, wheeling and dealing with high-stakes issues that should be debated publicly on the Assembly and Senate floors.

The big trade-off came out overnight Wednesday-Thursday: The governor got a cheaper pension Tier VI for new state hires, and the legislators got to once again draw their own district lines. It was a let-down. It's not even "ends justify the means," because the end of gerrymandered election districts is unethical by itself.

Granted, the redistricting process had dragged on for months, thanks to the Legislature, and had to come to an end at some point, preferably soon. If Cuomo had followed through with his promise of a veto, the process would have dragged on even longer. Candidates would have suffered because they would have continued to be left in the dark about what the districts look like.

It's also worth noting that the governor is not only supposedly trying to clean up state government; he's also trying to right the ship fiscally. That means enacting pension reform like Tier VI to ensure that, in the future, pension costs won't swamp state and local government the way they have in recent years. So it's good that goal was accomplished.

It looks like he chose saving money over saving integrity.

It's too bad the Legislature selfishly made him choose between two good goals. It seems that unless the governor gave lawmakers something big, like the power to once again gerrymander their own districts to favor their own re-election, they were going to side with the public employee unions and block Tier VI.

This is a good time to note that those unions contribute heavily to those legislators' campaign war chests. Had Cuomo or a previous governor been able to reform campaign rules the way they promised, such special-interest groups wouldn't have so much sway over New York's lawmakers.

What's also sad is the cynical, somewhat shady way the deal went down. It's ironic that this is Sunshine Week, when we celebrate openness in government - one of the critical things that makes the United States the "land of the free." The overnight, backroom deals certainly fell short of the spirit of New York's Open Meetings Law, which opens with the following "Legislative Declaration":

"It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens of this state be fully aware of and able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy."

As for our area's legislators - the Republican trio of Sen. Betty Little and Assemblywomen Janet Duprey and Teresa Sayward - we agree with them that Tier VI is needed, but we are disappointed none of them spoke out against the legislative redistricting process, which is traditionally rigged to protect both party interests, such as the Republicans' slim Senate majority, and individuals' re-election prospects. (New York's incumbent re-election rate is around 90 percent, by the way - coincidence?) These special interests, like those of unions, should be set aside when the major decisions are made about how to run one of the United States.



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