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Strategies of Self Interest

July 1, 2010

We wanted to be constructive, and so we advanced the notion in previous posts that lawmakers should simply go ahead and pass the bills they could agree upon. The governor could then veto or approve measures as he saw fit. The legislature would then get the last word with its ability to override. The problem with this approach (we’re so naïve) is that it assumes the players are actually acting in the public interest when, in fact, most of them are acting out of narrow self-interest.   

Consider each actor: 

John Sampson is a decent fellow. As we’ve noted before, he has the hardest job of anyone in trying to herd the skittish cats in the Senate majority. But Sampson needs to understand rule number one about being a leader: A deal must be a deal. He made a commitment to follow through on budget bills, but then changed his mind when some of his members wanted additional items inserted. At some point, people have to put pencils down. They can’t continue to say: “Just one more thing…” 

Shelly Silver is the old fox. No one should ever underestimate him. Having said that, Silver hasn’t handled the FMAP matter well. Of course, he’s right in saying that if the state takes care of the problem now, it will lose any leverage in asking the feds to help. And he’s right in suggesting that if this turns out to be a real problem, the legislature can return in the fall to address it as it did over the last two years with DRPs.  Despite having logic on his side, he’s losing the PR battle and making Paterson look like the responsible one. 

With regard to current governor, it should be said that nobody is ever as good or as bad as they are portrayed in the media. A while back, Paterson was scum in the tabs. The Post was running editorials suggesting that Paterson was Eliot Spitzer’s biggest mistake, which was a double insult. Now the Post, at Andrew Cuomo’s behest, is trying to repatriate the governor. The problem is that Paterson really isn’t cooperating. He’s as inconsistent as ever. He skips out of town to socialize, leaving the leaders in the lurch. He seems more interested in talking tough than actually being tough in negotiation. This morning he was really being mature and statesmanlike: “I’m not talking to them (the lawmakers) again, ever!”     

With regard to the future governor, we think he did something very positive helping to kill the Ravitch plan to borrow billions of dollars for state operating expenses. We think he’s been constructive in encouraging all the parties to reduce spending and avoid taxes. This is all good, but in classic Cuomo fashion, there’s another level to his involvement that is disingenuous. To wit, Cuomo really laid into state lawmakers yesterday, saying they’d “accomplished absolutely nothing” by passing their own version of a final budget and that they weren’t “doing their jobs” and “the people of the state have lost out.”  Cuomo knows that the lawmakers’ actions would indeed be productive if they took the logical next step and actually overrode the governor’s vetoes. And that’s the rub. That’s what Cuomo wants to avoid. The lawmakers would learn one heck of a lesson from that – they’d learn that they have real power, but only if they stand united against the governor. Cuomo’s interests are served if lawmakers continue to believe they are beholden to the governor, and that they can’t act on their own. Cuomo likes this chaos because it creates an overwhelming public desire for strength and order that he’s best suited to fill. That’s why Cuomo, behind the scenes, is egging on Paterson. 

Lastly, there’s Dean Skelos, who like Cuomo, really doesn’t mind if the chaos continues. Skelos doesn’t have to do much but raise money. The Dems are actually doing his work for him. His posture of doing nothing isn’t in the public interest, but it’s smart politically.

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