There are a lot of reasons why New Yorkers are so frustrated with our government. The gubernatorial scandals and last year’s senate stalemate are certainly high among them. A tight job market and unsure economy add to the unhappiness.
And, on top it all, there is a perfect storm battering state budget negotiations in the form of the worst fiscal crisis in two generations.
And this all comes after years of dysfunctionality. Yet again and again, we have seen that these problems in Albany have serious consequences for individuals and families across our state. For me, the biggest frustration is that at its best, state government can be an enormously positive force.
So, how can we fix it? Can it even be fixed?
After 18 months in the Senate, I know that it can.
The truth is, despite ongoing frustration — on the budget, campaign finance reform, housing, buses and subways, and other issues — I do believe the senate has already achieved some important victories. We passed comprehensive ethics reform out of the legislature, including my bill to close the “Bruno Gap,” making it illegal for public officers to use government resources for outside, for-profit business.
We implemented rules reform to improve the legislative process, including a more equitable allocation of resources and a greater ability for rank-and-file members to get bills voted on in committees and before the entire house. And these procedural changes have been matched by some significant policy successes, including reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, new oversight of public authorities, a green jobs program, and the bill I sponsored to federalize 21 public-housing developments and bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid.
These legislative victories did not come out of thin air. They were a victory for citizen participation, each won because the public demanded real action. On some, the focus on a new issue was so great that even without an intervening election, the legislature responded.
Going forward, our effort to fix the legislature will take sustained public focus — today’s frustration must be channeled for the long haul.
I know how busy most people are and how hard it is to have any time for government or local politics.
But you should know that the public’s focus is paying off. And that public focus should be directed at all of us — remember, I’m saying this as an incumbent who is up for re-election. No legislator should simply be let off the hook. Don’t vote for me just because you know my name; only vote for me if you really believe that I am fighting for goals that matter in your life and across the state.
Albany’s problems won’t be solved overnight. But it is possible to build on the successes and begin to create the kind of effective, efficient and accountable government we want.
As the clouds of this year’s “perfect storm” clear, I hope that the frustration you feel today transforms into sustained engagement. Because with public focus — on each legislator and the entire government — I believe that our state’s future is bright; without it, the storm clouds will always be right over the horizon.
Daniel Squadron is a state senator representing Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and parts of Williamsburg.