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The Missing Kumbayah Moment

July 12, 2010

The State Senate is supposed to return to the Capitol tomorrow. Members are supposed to conference the revenue bill and two separate bills. One would authorize SUNY schools to set their own tuition; the other would implement an FMAP contingency plan. 

Apparently, this is the result of an agreement over the weekend between the Governor and Senate leader John Sampson. Assuming that the Senate can actually muster the votes to approve the revenue bill, it would conclude the budget process and allow lawmakers to finally get paid. 

Think about this one: Lawmakers haven’t been paid yet this year, which means they must either have considerable outside income, or, ironically, they are very good at home budgeting. 

Passage of an unaltered revenue bill represents a victory of sorts for Assembly Speaker Silver, who was adamant that the Senate not reopen the bill to insert SUNY Flex and other provisions. Silver may not get the last word, though. That’s because the Governor may summon the Assembly back to town soon to act on stand-alone SUNY Flex and FMAP proposals in special session. 

Of course, the Assembly could gavel in and gavel out easily enough, and that’s probably likely given the strained relations between the Assembly and Executive branches. In fact, the Assembly is sick of dealing with Paterson, and he says ditto. Moreover, the Governor’s people are blaming Assembly operatives for the New York Post article today that suggests impropriety in the award of a $287 million no-bid contract to the firm that employs Michelle Paterson. 

If this all seems rather acrimonious and petty, it’s because it is. 

In years past, there was always a “kumbayah moment” at the end of a legislative session. It was the time when everyone let go of grudges and made up after arguments. On the floor of both houses, they would look at each other and said: “Gosh, we sure had a raucous moment or two, but look at all we did this year. The people can be proud of us for having come together to pass legislation. It wasn’t easy, but we set aside our differences and did the people’s business. We acted in the best tradition of the institution.” 

Yes, it was self-congratulatory and even a little sappy at times, but it was a good tradition. Unfortunately, nothing like this has happened in several years. As a result of the resignations and the coups and the budget impasse, lawmakers have left town not on a high, but in varying states of shock, disgust and frustration. 

If you talk to long-serving members, you get the sense of both nostalgia for the old days and skepticism that things are going to change anytime soon. And if you talk to newer members, they’ve steeled themselves to the notion that this is a hard place.

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