Very often, the ideological difference between Republicans and Democrats is over the role of government in people’s lives. For the most part, Democrats favor a more active government role while Republicans seek the opposite. Because NYS government, for the first time in recent memory, is almost exclusively controlled by downstate Democrats, the expansion of state government into every aspect of our lives accelerated at a great pace during the last legislative session. This was true with both economic and social policy. For example, the state expanded rent control regulations to upstate which has the potential of limiting what landlords can charge for rent. The NYC sponsored Farm Labor Act was enacted which will further regulate our upstate agricultural industry. And perhaps the legislation that will have the largest impact on the lives of all New Yorkers, upstate and downstate, was the enactment of the so-called Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act — a law that is so expansive that it will regulate every aspect of our lives such as what type of cars we drive, how our houses are heated and cooled, what appliances we can purchase, and how our electricity is generated.
With liberal Democrats in charge of state government, it isn’t a surprise that this type of legislation was enacted. During debates over these bills, Democrats argued that the legislation was necessary in order to protect New Yorkers particularly those who have been seen as traditionally disadvantaged. Fair enough — most Democrats would agree and most Republicans would disagree — but no one would argue that helping those who are disadvantaged isn’t an honorable goal. Democrats and Republicans just differ on how to accomplish that.
In this context, it is surprising that downstate Democrats would be pushing so hard for the implementation of two policies that would assist no one other than state politicians: people who everyone would agree are the antithesis of the disadvantaged. These two policies are the creation of a full-time state legislature and public funding of campaigns.
A full-time legislature and public funding of political campaigns interestingly are proposals that were not and are not being implemented in a traditional manner. The creation of a full-time legislature is policy that was attempted to be imposed by an unelected commission made up of downstate Democrats empaneled by the Governor and the legislative majorities to review legislative and executive branch salaries.
The Commission made the specious argument that a full-time legislature would prevent corruption even though the corruption that has plagued Albany has not been tied to legislators’ outside employment. Fortunately, two courts held that the commission exceeded its authority in its attempt to impose a full-time legislature on New Yorkers. From a policy perspective, New Yorkers should be thankful that the courts repudiated the commission’s overreach.
A full-time legislature will create a professional political class that will be solely dependent on state government for its income. Instead of professional politicians, we should be encouraging citizen legislators who have diverse occupational backgrounds and who can bring a diversity of thought and experience to state government.
Like the full-time legislature proposal, the public funding of political campaigns has the potential of being imposed by an unelected commission. As part of the 2019-20 state budget, the Governor and state legislature created a commission tasked with, among other things, creating a system for publicly funded political campaigns—that is, very simply, using taxpayer dollars to fund the campaigns of state politicians. The budget also included $100 million to do so. The commission has until December 1, 2019 to come up with its plan. The legislature then has until December 22, 2019 to reject the plan otherwise whatever the commission comes up with becomes law. Putting aside that this is a constitutionally dubious way to enact state law, public funding of campaigns is also bad policy.
In 1989, NYC enacted a law to publicly fund city campaigns. Proponents claim that doing so would limit the influence of private money in elections and encourage more citizen participation. Neither of which has happened. Current NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio alone spent more than $10 million in private donations on his last election in addition to the public money his campaign received. Furthermore, the elected positions in New York City are almost exclusively held by one-party and since the implementation of public financing, voter turn-out continues to be at some of the lowest percentages in the country. Is that what proponents meant when they said it would encourage more citizen participation. Lastly, there is something inherently troublesome about using taxpayer dollars to support political candidates. Why should a person’s tax dollars be used to support candidates with whom they do not agree.
It is likely that the expansion of state government will continue as long as the current downstate leadership remains in power. Their arguments that this expansion is to and for the benefit of the socially and economically disadvantaged at least can be made sincerely. Their support for a full-time legislature and for publicly-funded campaigns however isn’t to help the disadvantage but rather simply to help politicians themselves.
Assemblyman Will Barclay can be reached by mail his district office, at 200 N. 2nd St, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at email@example.com or by calling (315) 598-5185.