Contact: Michael Fraser, (518) 455-3751 (office); (518) 859-8518 (cell)
This week, March 13 to March 19, is "Sunshine Week" in New York, an annual tradition designed to recognize the importance of an open and transparent government. Promises of change were heard far and wide after the corruption convictions of former legislative leaders. But sadly, in New York there isn't much to celebrate.
The Assembly Majority released a package of rules reforms yesterday in conjunction with Sunshine Week. It has taken nearly a year for the Majority workgroup to generate proposals. In fact, their list of recommendations includes a number of Minority-sponsored measures that they voted down two months ago. If their intent was to change the culture of Albany or facilitate dramatic change, they fell woefully short.
The convictions of former Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos proved that the state Legislature is like a house with dangerous structural issues. But the Majority's recommendations are akin to simply adding a new coat of paint rather than implementing a comprehensive fix.
HEADING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION
At times, it feels like there is more secrecy than ever surrounding state government. The public was already in the dark when budget negotiations were carried out using the indefensible "three men in a room," approach. Now, budget meetings between the governor and majority conference leaders are being conducted with cloak-and-dagger-like secrecy, without input from Minority conferences, and neither the public nor press are alerted to when the closed-door meetings are taking place.
It is beyond embarrassing that so little has been done to address the issue. In fact, it appears things have gotten worse. So, this year as Sunshine Week comes to a close, I would like to remind all of my colleagues how absolutely vital transparency is for government to be effective. Stop, reverse course and start considering what you were elected to do; represent the people of New York, not your own political interests.
QUESTIONS MUST BE ANSWERED
The secret budget meetings are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to government dysfunction. One of the largest infrastructure projects in the history of the U.S. is well under way, the new Tappan Zee Bridge, and the public still has no idea how all of the building expenses will be met. The governor has a terrible track record when it comes to keeping the rest of us up to speed. Last year, he delayed reporting data on his pet START-UP NY program, which we still know little about, and details about the "Buffalo Billion" economic development project have been anything but forthcoming.
This is not sunshine. This is not transparency. This shadow-style approach does nothing but show New Yorkers that their state government is wholly committed to the status quo. It is time to open up the books and let the people see how their money is being spent. Anything less is an affront to the hard-working people who rely on the state government to provide them with a high quality of life.
This week is a time to celebrate transparency, yet I find it increasingly hard to see the ray of hope through the dark clouds that linger over Albany.
What do you think? I want to hear from you. Send me your feedback, suggestions and ideas regarding this or any other issue facing New York State. You can always contact my district office at (315) 781-2030 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.