One More Dance for Bloomberg
By Herman Merritt
Director of Political Affairs
Last year at this time, I wrote about the annual budget dance between the city council and the mayor. The budget dance is the cat-andmouse game of budget cuts proposed by the mayor, rallies by the affected parties, adjustments by the city council and a last-minute agreement that saves the day. Predictably, everything is resolved and no one is completely happy with the results.
We are currently dancing now but I think that there are systemic changes coming that will make this dance a thing of the past.
Transparency seems to be the buzzword today in government. Because of instant access to data, people now know more than just the headlines. The recent epidemic of arrests of elected officials has placed the issue of reform on the front burner of good government activists. Change is in the air. Some of the things that I have advocated for in this column are being debated.
• The city council speaker has traditionally refused the introduction of legislation unless the bills are agreed upon by the speaker. Last month, a few bills were introduced that the speaker did not approve of. This was a major victory for democracy.
• Many city legislators are using participatory budgeting to decide how to allocate a councilperson’s discretionary funds. The process is open. Community members can express their thoughts on the allocation.
• Legislation has been introduced to allow early voting and same-day voter registration to increase participation.
• The Citizens Union has called for ending partisan elections and instituting a primary open to all registered voters where the top two vote-getters move to a general election. Citizens Union thinks that this will eliminate the “political party bosses” who seem to control party primaries. Gov. Andrew Cuomo seems to favor a lesser role for local political parties since he is refusing to call for a special election in the 86 Assembly District (Bronx) to prevent local party officials form handpicking a candidate. He is calling for an election on the regularly scheduled September primary day because he believes more voters will vote in the primary than during a special election. (Too bad for the people in that district; they have no representation until November.)
• Campaign finance reform. Some are suggesting that the state adopt a program similar to NYC’s where government matches small contributions of donors and limits individual donations. The result in the city has been that 90 percent of the money raised is from individuals while only 7 percent comes from special interests. In statewide races, individuals contribute 31 percent while the special interests contribute 69 percent. This tells you all you need to know about campaign financing.
But back to the budget dance. You will be asked to contact your councilperson to advocate for additional funding for the Executive Leadership Institute. We are also looking for additional money in the capital budget to force the city to comply with the EPA and eliminate PCBs from the schools in a timely manner. (The city has agreed to speed up the process.) We also need to continue funding early childhood education until our next mayor develops a comprehensive program for preschoolers. Watch for CSA Action Alerts and dream that next year at this time, with a new mayor and city council, some of these reforms will have been enacted to make our government run a little more smoother.
From the June 2013 issue of the CSA News.