January 22, 2007

Slushpork democracy

Every now and then I realize that I'm not nearly cynical enough about New York State politics. State Senator Dale Volker tells the New York Times that:

I personally believe it is the biggest democratization of the Legislature in all the years that I’ve been there.

And what would be the "biggest democratization"? A creative system that allocated a pile of borrowed money - off the budget, and well-protected from public scrutiny until recently - to whatever projects the State Senate Majority Leader, the Assembly Speaker, or the Governor felt worthy. (Each had his own separate pool of cash.)

I guess that a system involving lawmakers bowing and scraping before their leadership for borrowed money is the peak of democracy for some people. Or maybe the system before was even worse? It's hard to imagine, though I suppose it's possible.

Blair Horner of NYPIRG sums it up well:

"secrecy and its fundamental unfairness... The money is doled out really outside of public purview. But on top of that, it’s doled out as a function of political power, not based on need. So yeah, there are some wonderful programs that get funded, but the question is whether or not the system allocates money fairly."

The good news is that Governor Spitzer, Majority Leader Bruno, and Speaker Silver scrapped this bizarre system. There will still be member items - but where they belong, in the budget, where they can be part of the larger budget priorities discussion instead of goodies handed out in a dark room by a leadership that already has far too much power.

I sure hope that redistricting, forcing political geniuses like these into districts designed around something other incumbents' grasp on power, helps clean up these absurd rituals of power. It'll be too long a time coming, I fear.

(I worry that New York State government would do well to spend a decade or so re-establishing credibility with the people it governs. Even the people I know who support what the state does tend to doubt how it operates - and those who don't like what it does don't tend to be impressed with how it operates either.)

Posted by simon at January 22, 2007 5:25 PM in
Note on photos


NYCO said:

I noticed Volker's comment too. Fiefdoms as democracy! (GOP have their Senate fiefdom, Dems the Assembly, etc) What a hoot. But this is what some of these legislators genuinely, sincerely believe. And pork is not the problem - it's the spoils system that's the problem.