Could it be a fresh start for Albany?
Seems hard to believe, so deep is the cynicism, that a government addressing the wants of its residents could be coming to the state capital of dysfunction.
It’s possible. Democrats finally wrested control of the State Senate from the GOP in Tuesday’s election. After being one vote short of a majority, Democrats, to their own surprise, turned so many seats blue that their margin could be as large as 39-24 when they return to Albany in January. The party of Gov. Andrew Cuomo already dominates the State Assembly.
One-party control offers the tantalizing prospect of movement on popular initiatives blocked for years by Senate Republicans. If the past is a guide, the risk is that there could be a brawl over school funding and taxes. The GOP ran for years on those issues — elect us, we’ll keep the suburbs safe from money-hungry Democrats from the big bad city.
City, suburbs share interests
Democrats should adopt a different model. No more pitting one region against another. Instead, recognize reality: Downstate, we’re all part of one region. We share, for example, a transportation network. Funding the MTA is as important to Long Islanders as it is to city dwellers. It’s not a question of picking between, say, the Long Island Rail Road’s East Side Access connection to Grand Central Terminal or modernizing signals on the A/C/E subway line. Both are vital: We all use trains and subways. It’s up to the new Democratic Senate to find ways, traditional and creative, to pay for both.
The same is true of school aid. No one wants kids from nearby areas to have a bad education. But bolstering one set of schools can’t be accomplished by diminishing another. We all need resources, and we need to understand the same is true of others. Besides being unfair, it would be political suicide to weaken the property tax cap or cut Long Island’s school aid just as the federal cap on deducting state and local income and property taxes takes hold.
City Democrats must not misread their Election Day mandate. Nearly half of their caucus, including leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, represents suburban areas, or are outerborough members who share a more fiscally conservative philosophy. A third of that group is from Long Island, and those six members are well-positioned to remind fellow Democrats that the Senate and the state will accomplish more if they respect the concerns of the new members who gave them the gavel.
Big opportunities for progress
There is much to do. Democrats can strengthen abortion protections, tighten common-sense gun controls, approve climate-change legislation, and pass measures to allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits. They can pass ethics reforms, like a ban on outside income for lawmakers in exchange for making their jobs full-time positions. They can pass voting reforms, like early voting and no-excuse absentee ballots, and finally fix once and for all the NYC Board of Elections, which again performed miserably in Tuesday’s elections. They can have open debates about legislation that New Yorkers have demanded on issues like bail reform and the Dream Act.
Yes, we’re expecting a lot from this Senate and its 17 new faces. But real change is possible, if it’s done right. We’ve been waiting far too long. Democrats are on the clock.