Giglio: The System Is Broken

An editorial by Joseph M. Giglio (R,C,I-Gowanda)
July 20, 2017

With the recent federal appeals court decision to overturn former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s corruption conviction, I would like to address the tragedy of the system of New York State government that fails to work. The crisis facing our state isn’t just the fact that the courts vacated the verdict. The problem is very simple: the system itself is broken.

When the Office of the State Comptroller and the Office of the Inspector General conduct investigations into problems and illegal acts that happen under their jurisdictions, they examine the systems that allow these acts to occur and offer remedies to prevent them from recurring. This is not what happens in the Legislature, and this is why these problems continue. Due to the way our Legislature does business, it will happen again and again unless fundamental changes are made in the system.

In the Assembly, the speaker has absolute power over the legislative agenda. The committee chairs are appointed by the speaker and have held their positions for years. They are responsible for whether or not legislation moves forward from their respective committees to the floor of the Assembly. The speaker then controls which legislation is brought to the floor of the Assembly for a vote. There is no dissent, and because the committee chairs and speaker have absolute control, they don’t have to vote on bills they don’t agree with.

Every year, we propose legislative rule changes, and every year they are defeated by the Majority when brought to the floor for consideration by the entire Assembly. The system remains broken and continues to create these individuals, allowing them to remain in charge of our government and keeping the door open for corruption.

We need a more open and fair system of government in the Assembly for all of New York State. Each Assembly member, when elected, is given the opportunity to say a few words. Almost everyone says the same thing: “I look forward to serving the State of New York and working in a bipartisan fashion.” We all began our careers with the same naïve dreams of an opportunity to serve New Yorkers in a government that treats everyone fairly. Experience has taught me differently. As Bob Seger so eloquently said in his song Against the Wind, “wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.”

My hope is that we can fix our government and that someday all 150 Assembly members are treated equally and all our work is transparent. Until then, the media and the public must scrutinize the Legislature and how it functions and demand that the system be fixed. New Yorkers deserve a government that works. Our citizens deserve to have public servants who do what they were elected to do, and consider legislation that benefits all of the citizens of the state, rather than serve the whims of those in power.