An Albany Q&A

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

The business of state government is essentially done for the year, although who knows what special sessions may be called after the November election (pay raise anyone?)

Now, Assembly and Senate members are back in their home districts. Maybe they’ve even taken a vacation break – something veteran lawmakers probably find refreshing (late budgets had become such a regular occurrence that lawmakers often found themselves bathing under florescent lights in the capitol instead of summer sunshine on a sandy beach).

But not in 2006. They’re home, and soon they’ll gear up for an election – this despite the fact that many incumbents will not have any real challenges to fend off. You’ll still certainly see campaign literature in your mailbox.

And some of you might run into a legislator, perhaps at a county fair or a local festival. Some might even see a candidate at their doorstep, talking about the accomplishments of the 2006 legislative session.

You should prepare for this potential contact with those who pass budgets, approve laws and make policy in Albany. This page would like to help. In that light, here are 10 questions you might want to pose to the incumbent in your midst:

  • Hello Mr./Ms. Legislator. I know that you and your colleagues are proud to have met two budget deadlines in a row. But aren’t you worried that the budget you just approved allows expenses to rise at faster rate than revenues in the following years?
  • I hear you folks in Albany always talking about controlling state government costs. But doesn’t that mean getting personnel costs – the biggest driver of expenses – under control? Why doesn’t that happen?
  • I hear that you folks approved debt reform in 2000. But state debt has gone up by something like $12 billion – or about one-third of its total – since then. Do you support a constitutional amendment to cap the amount the state can borrow? (Make sure you thank the Rochester Business Journal for the background, too).
  • Do you like the way your district boundaries are drawn? Do you like the way the state does them? Why do some districts look like misshapen blobs connected by a cord or earmuffs? Should the state change the way they make up those districts?
  • I see that Senator Joe Bruno is thrilled that a new computer chip manufacturing plant will be built in Saratoga County. The state gave more than a billion dollars in direct aid and incentives to get Advanced Micro Devices to come to Upstate New York. Is this the way the state plans to grow business around New York — spending millions in incentives?
  • I know the leaders in the state legislature don’t want to reveal how member items (some people call it pork) get spent. Do you think that all of that should be open to the public?
  • I heard a lot of talk about there being a deal to expand the number of charter schools slots in exchange for a legislative pay raise. But usually you guys pass a pay raise after an election. So, would you approve a pay raise after this November election?
  • Speaking of charter schools, would you lift the cap on charter schools? If not, why?
  • And speaking of schools, isn’t there some kind of a court-ordered increase in state spending for New York City schools? How are you going to pay for that? Should you guys even listen to the court (I’ve heard some say you shouldn’t)?
  • What have you done to ban gifts from special interest groups to legislators?

There you are . . . a little list for that chance encounter with a sitting legislator. Allow me to add one more question, although this would be for the voters, not the legislators: Why do you think it is that incumbents get reelected at a rate of better than 90 percent?

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