Clean Government Platform: Reimagining How Politics is Conducted in Albany

Despite the 2018 blue wave that brought a Democratic majority to the legislature, Albany remains a place where legislative and budget negotiations are secretive, where dark money rules and compromises our elected officials, and where the business of legislating on behalf of the working class is brushed aside through unfair processes. As a candidate for the 54th Assembly District, I pledge to fight for a more transparent, inclusive, fair, and ethical State government. My Clean Government Platform is not exhaustive, but I believe it is a strong start. Our legislature desperately needs transformational changes, and this is the beginning.

Create a Full-Time Legislature

Albany legislators currently are only required to be in Albany to legislate from January to June of each year. From February to April, legislators are mostly tied up hammering out details of the annual budget, which needs to be voted by April 1st, or risk shutting down all state government operated facilities. This means, outside of budget negotiations, your representatives are only legislating for about two to three months per year (January, May, and parts of  April and June). Legislators often do not deliver on many policies because they run out of time. This was true even in the “most historically progressive legislative session of 2019,” where ending solitary confinement was left on the table.

The working class and our most vulnerable communities cannot wait for justice to be delivered because of a part-time legislature. The legislature has previously grappled with the topic and it’s time for us to make this happen.

Ensure Equity in Staff Funding for All Representatives

Legislators cannot do everything they need to on their own. They all rely on staff to help them understand and make decisions about policy issues. The funding that pays for these staff members is controlled by the Assembly and Senate leadership for their respective houses. They can decide whether a particular legislator should get more or less funding for their staff. This makes room for vindictive, political decision-making. If individual legislators vote for particular bills, or the budget, in a way that upsets the Majority Leader or Speaker, then they may not want to increase staff funding or office expense-funding as a consequence. Legislators should not be punished like this for the votes they take. This form of political pettiness should not exist in our democracy, and therefore we should create equity in how staff and office funding is allocated. Certain high-ranking legislators should have more resources (e.g., members of the Finance or Ways and Means Committee, and the Speaker and Majority Leader), but all other legislators should be given an equitable distribution of funding. The New York CityCouncil has measures of objectivity or equity when it comes to these particular pools of funding, and this could serve as a model for the state.

Make Discretionary and Capital Funding Transparent

New York has a program called the State and Municipal Facilities program, often referred to as SAM. The Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader divvy this pot of funding out to individual representatives. What public or state facilities (such as parks and playgrounds, public housing, streets improvements, etc.) are funded and by which legislative member and by what amount is not made clear after allocations have been made. The New York City Council, has a recording or tracking website that makes such information transparent. I recommend that a truly independent budget office (S.3287/A.1835) be created and tasked – among other things – to create this transparent tracker.

Reform the Budget Process

Message of Necessity: The New York State Constitution mandates that a bill can not be passed until it has been printed, made available for legislators to review, and at least three legislative calendar days have passed. In other words, the bill has to “age” three days before the legislature can take a vote. There is an exception to this rule: the message of necessity. The message of necessity allows the Governor to call for the legislature to take a vote on a bill and subsequently it can become law immediately. This technical,  executive right has tied legislators’ hands, forcing them to vote for a compromised, faulty budget. For example, it allowed Governor Cuomo to insert final-minute poison pills into the 2019 legislative budget. In the final minutes of the budget vote, the Governor gave himself a pay raise increase from $179K to $250K; changed the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB) to allow for him to unilaterally approve any future Amazon-type deals; killed a pied-a-terre tax that would have helped fund transit, public housing, or other public goods; lastly, the Governor forced possible public campaign finance system into a commission with his appointees.

In order for legislators to have independent votes and pass more progressive laws, we must make constitutional changes to the message of necessity. I believe the message of necessity should only be used  when two of the three branches of decision-making in Albany (the Assembly, Senate, or Governor) agree to do so. Such a two-way agreement will be mandated by law to be communicated in a public and transparent way.

“Three Men in a Room”: Currently, the Assembly Speaker, Senate Majority Leader, and Governor usually meet throughout the budget process to assess where both legislative leaders’ membership and the Governor see budget items heading. These meetings become more frequent closer to the April 1st deadline. These meetings are held behind closed doors. Legislators deserve to know – with clarity – what is occurring during these conversations. I will push to allow for more high-ranking legislators (such as the Finance and Ways and Means committees’ chairs) to partake in these conversations, and to require mandatory note-taking during the meetings, to be provided to all members of the legislature . Such a recommendation should ideally be cemented into our state constitution.   

Use Longer Terms and Term Limits to Strengthen the Legislature

Currently, Albany legislators serve two-year terms and the Governor serves four-year terms. For legislators, running every two years means they often find themselves campaigning for a considerable amount of time. Organizing fundraisers or spending time asking for campaign funds becomes a priority that then takes time away from legislating, building people-power towards their legislative agenda, and serving constituents’ needs. We should not have a system that encourages elected officials to campaign more than half the time. Additionally, constituents need to be able to tell if a legislator is serving them to the best of their representative capacity. It’s more difficult for constituents to be able to conduct a fair analysis of this when presented with a two-year legislative voting record for their representative. I will recommend four-year terms for legislators, or the same number of years as the Governor has in their term.

I believe we can create a political system to advance a better future for New York, but that can also beget greater policy advancements for the working class and marginal societies for future generations. Our democracy should be grounded on the premise of creating more participation and welcoming freshideas from our communities. With term limits we can help make this happen. For this reason, I welcome any proposal that speaks to setting a minimum of at least three terms for legislators and a two terms minimum for the Governor. 

The Lobbyist Culture: Get Rid of Dark Money in Politics

Abolish corporate donations in NY (S1013A/A5488): Corporations and real estate have long-controlled the laws that are passed by Albany legislators. Lobbying firms represent these special interests and facilitate meetings with elected officials. Firms and their clients repay any support that a legislator gives to their cause by donating to their campaign, and politicians usually have fundraisers in Albany while the legislature is in session, in order to collect funds from firms and their clientele. We must remove corporate and lobbyist donations from our politics. Senator Metzger and Assembly Member Carroll have introduced a bill – which I will gladly support – to do just that.

“At the root of everything that is wrong with the Albany legislature – lack of transparency, transactional politics, pay-to-play, etc. – is the enormity of discretion given to both the Speaker and the Leader within the legislative process.” –Boris Santos