It was Gideon John Tucker, a New York political figure in the mid-19th century, who observed, perspicaciously, that, “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.” What Tucker meant, of course, is that ordinary New Yorkers should hold their breath, wallets and liberties close between January and July of each year when their state representatives gather in Albany to improve mankind’s lot.
Modern-day adherents to Tucker’s dubious view of government — and they’re a growing many — are beginning to sense relief now that the 2015 New York legislative session appears to be drawing to an untidy close. Not much has happened this year, which is to say that things haven’t been made too much worse. The State Legislature remains in session, though, so no one is fully exhaling until the final gavel drops.
It’s not that things have been uneventful in Albany this year. The 2015 session has been chock full of drama. The leaders of both legislative houses, one Democrat and one Republican, were arrested, indicted and replaced. New York City nail salons were improbably labeled Public Enemy No. 1, and, by the end of this week, college kids will be breaking state law when they shift a hand, beneath the percales, from his or her shoulder to his or her thigh, without first gaining “affirmative consent.” The session even came with a late commercial break: a flashlight-wielding governor sleuthing around upstate drain pipes tracing the steps of homicidal prison escapees.
Big perennial issues remain on the table as of this writing. But no one expects much change. Rent regulations will be extended, real estate developers will get their 421-a tax abatement and the property tax cap will stay in place for now. What’s conspicuously missing from the session is any progress in undoing the damage caused by previous legislatures. Where’s the regulatory and mandate relief to jump-start job growth that was promised at election time? What happened to the public pension and Medicaid reforms that the state so desperately needs? The question is almost rhetorical at this point. Albany adds; it rarely subtracts.
Gallup released a survey this week showing that Americans have lost faith in virtually every major national institution, save the military, which they continue to trust. “Big” government, business, labor and media are viewed with appalling skepticism. The general view of government, according to Gallup and others, is that elected leaders care more about their interests than ours. Witches — the ones with pointy black hats — scored a 46 percent approval in a 2013 survey by polling organization PPP. Congress came in at 8 percent with Gallup.
Maybe, as Ronald Reagan used to say, there’s a pony in here somewhere. Maybe this a healthy thing in the long term. Perhaps we’ll stop turning to government so much for solutions and start thinking for ourselves again.
Gideon John Tucker was a Democrat, a laissez-faire Democrat, but I suspect he would have gotten along with Reagan, who pretty much observed the same thing he did when it comes to legislatures. “The nine most dangerous words in the English language,” Reagan warned eight decades later, “are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’ ”
We should count our lucky stars that we didn’t get more help from Albany this year, at least the kind it’s used to giving us. The legislature should finish up and take a good, long break.
No need to hurry back.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a Republican consultant.