Making Democracy Work: When governing gives way to politics

Making Democracy Work: When governing gives way to politics

By Lisa Scott

At the end of March Gov. Cuomo (D) and the New York State Assembly and Senate agreed to a $168 billion budget that tried to please constituencies in an election year while ignoring reforms that are desperately needed. Budget negotiations were conducted behind closed doors among the governor and three top legislative leaders, out of sight of even other lawmakers. It was clear that the policy issues such as gun control or bail reform would not be addressed until (possibly) after the budget’s April 1 deadline, in favor of financial considerations. 

The governor had drafted initial budget proposals that touched on many progressive reforms, yet the negotiations showed that a Republican-led NYS Senate was able to fight hard against any new taxes and fees, and defer inclusion of social policies, while the NYS Assembly had pushed for a large spending increase in its initial budget proposal. The financial 900-lb gorilla in the room was the impact of the new federal tax plan whose cap on SALT (state and local tax deductions) would fall the hardest on New York’s middle class homeowners and taxpayers. The governor called the tax plan “an arrow aimed at the economic heart of the State of New York.” 

The budget also included $26.7 billion in school funding, which will prove useful to incumbent Senate and Assembly members as they campaign for re-election this November.

The League of Women Voters, along with other good government groups, has lobbied long and hard in two areas that were ignored in the final budget: election reform and campaign finance and ethics reforms. Although including the funding for reforms in the budget is the likeliest way to ensure their adoption, it is still possible for the NYS Senate and Assembly to pass bills on these reform areas stipulating their adoption and funding in the following fiscal year (if funding is actually needed). The NYS Senate and Assembly only meet until June 20, so the time for lobbying and constituent pressure is of the essence.  

Election law reforms advocated by the NYS League of Women Voters

Early voting

The league supports enacting early voting in New York State. Currently 37 states allow for some form of early voting. Early voting should be implemented in a manner that will allow equivalent access to the polls for all voters.

 Voter registration

The league supports Election Day registration, on the same day, as a proven method of increasing voter participation. The league also will support reducing the voter registration deadline to 10 days before an election. The league supports pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds.

Ballot design

The league supports improvements to ballot design that would make a clear delineation between offices with a bold vertical bar and a fine line between the candidates, a larger font with an absolute minimum size and fill-in circles in black instead of gray.

Automatic voter registration 

Currently 10 states and the District of Columbia have automatic voter registration (AVR). The league supports an opt-in AVR system that would not require voters to duplicate information. The league supports all state agencies participating in an AVR program.

No-excuse absentee

The league supports a constitutional amendment to allow for no-excuse absentee voting. Currently 27 states and the District of Columbia allow for no-excuse absentee voting.

Single June primary

The league supports legislation that would create a single combined congressional and state June primary date and would bring New York State into compliance with the Military Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. 

Electronic poll books

The league strongly supports replacing printed poll books with electronic poll books to eliminate time and resources spent producing paper poll books and updating voter information and to speed up processing voters at the polls on Election Day. 

Campaign finance and ethics reforms advocated by the NYS League of Women Voters

Ban ‘pay to play’

Strict “pay to play” restrictions on state vendors. The U.S. attorney’s charges that $800 million in state contracts were rigged to benefit campaign contributors to the governor underscores the need to strictly limit contributions from those seeking state contracts.

Close ‘LLC loophole’

Ban unlimited campaign contributions via limited liability companies. LLCs have been at the heart of some of Albany’s largest scandals. 

Strict limits on outside income

Real limits on the outside income for legislators and the executive branch. Moonlighting by top legislative leaders and top members of the executive branch has triggered indictments by federal prosecutors.

Create a database of deals

A “database of deals” will list all state economic development benefits, including grants, loans or tax abatements awarded to a particular business or organization. The database of deals will also include the cost to taxpayers of each job created, and create a uniform definition of what a “job” is across subsidy programs including full time, part time, permanent and contract jobs.

Many good government groups like the league continue to lobby our elected officials in Albany until the end of the session in late June. Please review the above list of reforms, choose one or two, and call or write your NY State senator, Assembly member and Cuomo to express your opinion and priorities. To find the legislators who represent you, enter your street address and ZIP code in the LWV of New York State website link: https://salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/5950/c/8551/getLocal4.jsp.

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

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