Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Government transparency (updated)

The New York Times has joined several good government groups in taking Governor Andrew Cuomo to task for the way in which he pushed a new tax bill through the state Legislature this week. As the Times noted in its editorial:
New York’s legislators began arriving in Albany on Tuesday morning, and, by late Wednesday night, the Legislature had voted to revamp the entire state income tax code. The Senate voted less than half an hour after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 19,000 word bill was made public. As for the voters and taxpayers? They were out of the loop.

The governor’s plan, which drew only eight no votes from the entire Legislature, will raise about $2 billion next year, less than half as much money as the so-called millionaires’ tax that expires at the end of December. It also means that the state will still face a deficit of at least $1.5 billion next year.
. . .
At a press conference after the voting, Mr. Cuomo dismissed criticism by good-government groups for failing to allow full public debate. And, as for legislators, he said that if any had not been thinking about state tax policy, “then that is a person who shouldn’t be serving in the Legislature.”

That is not the point, of course. Everybody has thought about taxes. It is the specifics of tax law that matter, not the generalities.

The entire editorial is here. Also worth reading is Jimmy Vielkind’s article in today’s Times Union, about how pressure was brought on legislators to approve the measure. Here is a portion:
Assembly Republicans were huddled late Wednesday in the parlor where they hold their private conference. It was about 9:30 p.m., 30 minutes after a bill to restructure the tax code was finally printed.

Members were asking questions based on the legislation, which had been announced via news release Tuesday afternoon, when, according to four sources in the room, the phone rang.

It was Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

He asked Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, to hurry up, the sources said. The leader said his members were reviewing the bill, and to back off. Kolb had said he was going to vote against the measure earlier in the day, but as the governor phoned, the 32 Republicans in the Senate were leading the way to its unanimous approval in that chamber.

Cuomo then told Kolb he wanted a unanimous vote, and threatened to campaign in the district of any member who voted against the package, Kolb repeated to the room, according to the sources.
The Governor's office has not denied the electoral threat.

[UPDATE: Governor Cuomo says the story is “inaccurate,” but others disagree.]

Prior to the vote, Bill Hammond at the Daily News had written about the effort to bring the legislators back and push through an overhaul of the state tax code:
That is absurd. Overhauling the state’s entire tax code, with billions of dollars at stake, is not something to be squeezed in between shopping trips to the mall. It’s serious business that demands serious, thoughtful consideration and debate.

New York’s Constitution provides a step-by-step procedure for making large-scale decisions about revenue and spending. It’s called the budget process. Cuomo should use it.
Apparently very few in state government were listening.

Labels: ,