Believe it or not, progress in Albany


BY Daniel Squadron

I know that many people will be surprised to read about Albany in the “Progress Report.”

And I understand why.  In my two years representing Lower Manhattan in the State Senate, there have been some real disappointments: the Senate “coup,” the worst budget crisis since World War II, and the ongoing need to pass ethics reform, marriage equality, tenant protections and more.

But even through these challenges, we have been able to plant the seeds of reform.  It is a story of progress made, with much still left to do.

The legislature passed the strongest ethics bill in decades—a bill I wrote with Speaker Silver and my colleague Eric Schneiderman. Though the Governor vetoed our bill, it will nonetheless help lay the groundwork for a new, hopefully even stronger ethics reform package, which I believe the new governor will sign into law.  I also wrote a bill with Speaker Silver to make it illegal for public officers to use government resources for their own, for-profit business—to close what I call the “Bruno Gap” ethics loophole, named after former Senate leader Joe Bruno.  I am pleased that it became law.

We also worked on tackling New York’s terrible system of financing political campaigns, which empowers lobbyists and a few very wealthy individuals instead of voters and communities. Reforms we proposed include lowering campaign contributions to more reasonable limits (right now one person can contribute more to my State Senate campaign than to President Obama’s re-election!), closing the “LLC loophole” which lets individuals pour virtually unlimited sums of money into political campaigns, and creating a system of public financing similar to the one in New York City.  I also pushed to rewrite the Senate rules so that the Senate Leader would no longer hold a personal veto over every piece of legislation.  Now, a simple majority of senators can bring bills to the floor, even if the Leader objects—a change that brings new accountability and more democracy to a body in desperate need of both.

These reforms are relevant for the Progress Report because they make a difference beyond Albany; they are critically important for Lower Manhattan as well.  The better state government works, the more progress can be made on issues that matter in the day-to-day lives in our community.

State government plays a big role in progress on the World Trade Center site and the ability to mitigate the impact on the local community, including instituting a real plan for the millions of tourists expected to visit the September 11th Memorial Museum.  The state also has important responsibility in addressing Lower Manhattan’s school overcrowding crisis, supporting small businesses affected by construction and security closures, improving transportation, and preserving and expanding affordable housing in the community.

I ran for office because I believed state government could work better, and that if it worked better, it would make life just a little bit easier in Lower Manhattan and across the state. After two years in the Senate—including a whole lot that can hardly be described as “progress”—I am more convinced than ever of that untapped potential. Though there is much still to do, there have been some concrete steps toward a more open, transparent, and accountable state government.

Of course, we’ll know that our state government has made real progress not just by the looking at the laws we pass in Albany, or the reforms we make in the State Senate, but by the positive change we experience in Lower Manhattan and around the state.

Daniel Squadron is a New York State Senator.