McKinstry: Big challenge for Albany's strange bedfellows

Sen. Jeffrey Klein speaks during a news conference

Sen. Jeffrey Klein speaks during a news conference at the Capitol where he announced that he and three other Democratic senators were forming an independent Democratic conference. Joining Klein, from left, are Sen. Diane Savino, Sen. David Carlucci and Sen. David Valesky. (Credit: AP, 2011)

Gerald McKinstry

Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Gerald McKinstry Gerald McKinstry

Gerald McKinstry is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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Now that Republicans and five breakaway Democrats have exchanged vows in Albany, you have to wonder if this new marriage is good for the suburbs.

Like so many couples fresh off the big-day bliss, there's potential here for a fruitful union -- but hard work lies somewhere down the road.

There's good reason to be optimistic, though, since Sen. Jeffrey Klein, a Democrat whose district includes part of the north Bronx and a sliver of Westchester, and Sen. Dean Skelos, a Republican from Long Island, hammered out this new coalition government.


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Other members of the power-sharing agreement that was announced Tuesday -- whereby the temporary president title will be passed back and forth between Skelos and Klein every two weeks -- include Democrats David Carlucci of Rockland County, Diane Savino of Staten Island, David Valesky of Syracuse, and former Majority Leader Malcolm Smith of Queens.

This mostly moderate bunch represents different areas of the state and, much like so many suburbanites in these parts, will likely be somewhere in the middle of issues.

Had the Democrats regained control of the Senate, you'd likely have had two branches led by New York City leaders -- Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver of Manhattan, current Senate Minority Leader John Sampson of Brooklyn, or any number of city Democrats that were said to be interested in the Senate job.

Under those scenarios, the two houses of the legislature and the executive office would be led by Democrats. And whatever political affiliation you prefer, a checks-and-balances system works best when it's not one-party rule.

So with this new Senate coalition's regional diversity and bipartisan nature, it should be good for places like the Hudson Valley and Long Island.

That means the 2 percent property tax cap -- generally viewed favorably by taxpayers in the highest-taxed counties in the one of the highest-taxed states in the country -- won't be repealed.

And despite complications with evaluations of public schoolteachers, we can expect they won't be scrapped under union pressure.

Serious discussions on spending controls, business growth and reforming how we fund a perceived "pay-to-play" system of campaign finance won't be dead on arrival. There may even be a chance for mandate relief.

We can only hope.

Klein thinks the Senate won't revert to its past dysfunctional self. He told me Tuesday night that he believes more bills will make their way to the floor and lawmakers will be forced to address them on substance, not partisan bickering or the whim of any one leader.

For these independent Democrats, increasing the minimum wage, reforming campaign finance laws and hammering out some sort of state Dream Act for immigrants are among the priorities.

Even though Republicans have different goals -- equitable school aid, job growth and controlling taxes -- they mostly agree that this is a way to get things done. There's "no issue we feel can't be resolved in a bipartisan way," Skelos said in a radio interview Wednesday.

"No one wanted to go back to dysfunction," Scott Reif, a spokesman for Skelos, told me Tuesday. Under this new coalition, he said, "no area of the state" will be pitted against another.

That may be impossible. There are always going to be upstate-downstate and city-suburb rivalries.

But if we are to believe these leaders and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo -- who in an op-ed piece for the Albany Times Union rightly blasted both parties for past sins and emphasized that he'll base his support on policy positions rather than "misleading political labels, shifting coalitions, or internal organizing concepts" -- there's little reason to think the state can't at least achieve some commonsense spending reforms. .

This new partnership will be tested and might crumble if the pressure gets to these bedfellows.

But if they mean what they say, it might just work -- and that is good for New Yorkers.

Gerald McKinstry is a member of the Newsday editorial board.