Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Process Matters

Imagine this: It’s March of 2009, and newly-minted Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith is negotiating his first budget. He’s promised a more open and transparent budget process to the public and to Tom Golisano, the man who helped Smith’s party regain control of the Senate, and he wants to stick to his word despite pressure from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to keep things under wraps.

So Smith and his fellow Democrats decide to draft a budget resolution that will allow members to debate and vote on the outlines of the budget in advance of the deadline, in effect allowing members to draw up the blueprint that Smith will use in crafting the actual budget with Assembly Speaker Silver and Governor Patterson.

All of this actually happened. This next part is a little more hypothetical.

Let’s say that instead of pulling the plug on the resolution and negotiating the budget in the most secretive process Albany has seen in years, they draft the resolution. The Finance committee holds a hearing or two, where Tom Golisano testifies about his concerns with the tax increases proposed in the resolution. Nobody fiddles with their blackberry during the hearing.

The resolution comes to the floor for debate and a vote. Senate Republicans air their grievances with aspects of the resolution, and maybe the chamber even incorporates an amendment or two. Maybe the “millionaire tax” stays in, maybe it doesn’t. The senate votes on the resolution, and Smith goes into budget negotiations with Silver with the opinion of the full Senate as his guide.

Maybe Tom Golisano is still mad about the millionaire tax, but he has to concede that Smith delivered on his promise to give the public, including the tax’s opponents, a chance to speak their minds. Senate Republicans still don’t enjoy being in the minority, but they can’t stick Smith with the argument that he has made the legislative process in Albany less open than it was under their rule.

Fast forward to June 10, 2009: Is Malcolm Smith still Senate Majority Leader?

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