The governor can’t steamroll separation of powers

By Deborah J. Glick

The Bush administration’s view of the unitary Executive highlights the importance of the separation-of-powers doctrine. Due partly to the Republican Congress’s failure to properly fulfill its role as a check and balance to the all-powerful chief executive, the administration was successful in pushing through a number of highly misguided actions. But regardless of the level of government or the party affiliation of its branches, the retention of a strong legislative branch is an essential protection for the public. It is for this reason that I, as a member of the Legislature, am not charged with rubber-stamping the Executive’s actions and why I have refused to do so in the case of the selection of a state comptroller.

The New York State Constitution assigns the Legislature exclusive responsibility for filling a vacancy in the Comptroller’s Office since the Executive branch controls all of the state agencies and authorities that the comptroller is charged with auditing and overseeing. During the process, the State Assembly did attempt to cooperate with the governor by agreeing to have a panel of three former comptrollers participate in candidate-screening hearings. The Legislature’s understanding of this agreement was that the panel would then put forth the names of five qualified candidates from which the Legislature would select the comptroller. As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, I had the responsibility and privilege of participating in those hearings.

Over the course of the two-day, 17-hour hearings, I was struck that not one candidate was asked a single question by any of the three former comptrollers. All of the detailed responses from the candidates were elicited by the thorough questions that were generated by members of the Legislature. I thus began to suspect that the former comptrollers didn’t actively participate because they had a predetermined outcome. My suspicions were further confirmed when the panel put forth only three names for consideration, although members of the Legislature believed we had agreed to select from among five candidates. Further puzzling was the fact that the former comptrollers — two of whom were state legislators before they themselves became comptrollers — purportedly believed that no state legislator was qualified for the job.

I strongly believed in the end that the process used by the screening panel was not open and honest and that the panel’s actions broke our agreement. Therefore, I feel it was completely appropriate that the Legislature fulfilled its constitutional duty to select a comptroller without the involvement of the Executive, as we did when we selected Carl McCall as the comptroller in 1993. I was not elected to defer to anyone else’s judgment but to use my own to best serve my constituents. That is exactly what I did when I voted to support Tom DiNapoli for comptroller.

While the three individuals recommended by the former comptrollers indeed had many qualifications, they each lacked an in-depth understanding of the workings of state government, which is a crucial element in doing the necessary oversight that is the principal task of the comptroller. In my work with him and during the comptroller hearings, Tom DiNapoli demonstrated that he has such an understanding.

I have worked closely with Tom for years and greatly respect his intelligence, integrity and fairness and believe that his progressive views mirror my own and those of my constituents. As a longtime assemblymember and a member of the Ways and Means Committee, he is highly knowledgeable about the workings and finances of state government. He has chaired the Assembly’s Local Government Committee and Government Operations Committee, working closely in both positions with numerous local governments and jurisdictions throughout the state and developing a very deep knowledge of state agencies.

When Nassau County was on the brink of bankruptcy, for example, Tom worked to establish the Nassau County Control Board to help stabilize the county’s finances. He has also drafted laws to increase financial oversight of school districts statewide, leading to greater local accountability. Furthermore, Tom has demonstrated his knowledge of the most pressing challenges that face New York.

As a member of the Assembly’s Education Committee and a longtime member of his local school board, Tom will undoubtedly use the power of the Comptroller’s Office to improve education statewide, in addition to continuing his work on the environmental issues facing our state, as he did as chairperson of the Assembly’s Environment Committee. Finally, Tom’s good judgment makes me certain that he will assemble a highly skilled team of financial experts to help guide the work of his office. For these reasons, I have no question that by voting to select Tom for comptroller, I have done what is right and best for my constituents — just as I have always done throughout my Assembly career.

Now I am eager to turn my full attention to addressing the important tasks that lie ahead of us in the new session, like negotiating a progressive and positive budget in a timely fashion, adequately funding schools and increasing access to healthcare. We have much work to do in order to reverse 12 years of misguided policy decisions by the Pataki administration, but I am confident that the Legislature and governor can — and must — work together to start New York down a new path.

Glick is assemblymember for the 66th District, representing Greenwich Village, part of Soho and Noho, Tribeca, Hudson Square and part of Battery Park City and the Financial District.