The market for gavels up in Albany just got hot.
Need for an increased supply surfaced Tuesday when Senate Republicans and the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference entered into an unprecedented and risky agreement to share control of the chamber. Every two weeks, Republican leader Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre and IDC leader Jeff Klein of the Bronx and Westchester will trade off the title of "temporary president."
Past creative coups and shared conferencing caused chaos. But this power-sharing could actually provide progress for New Yorkers. With the GOP still having some muscle, the needs of suburbs -- especially in ensuring public school funding -- will be met. We're also hopeful that it will allow meaningful reforms to come up for a vote, breaking the grip of a single ideology dominating each chamber.
|The arrangement could collapse, however, if it allows each member to broker votes in a constant bazaar of deal-making. For sure, the absence of strong leadership would accrue more power to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and help his goal of governing as a moderate in a very liberal state while maintaining his credentials nationally as a Democrat.
The agreement makes a power player out of Klein. As head of the third caucus, he is sure to challenge Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for control of the Democratic agenda. And it could create deep tensions between the GOP and the Conservative Party, which provided a critical group of Republicans with margins of victory this fall.
It's also likely to grant outsized influence to the other members of the independent conference: David Carlucci of Rockland County, Diane Savino of Staten Island and David Valesky of Syracuse. Onetime Democratic Majority Leader Malcolm Smith from Queens has now joined the group, too, but his reasons for doing so aren't clear.
Both parties courted Klein after the GOP won decisive victories in only 30 of the Senate's 63 seats. Then a newly elected Democrat, Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, agreed to caucus with the GOP. These caucuses will hold the majority regardless of the outcome of one undecided seat upstate.
For Cuomo, whose achievements over the past two years came sometimes with Skelos' active help and sometimes with his grudging permission, the deal is likely good news. If Democrats had taken back the chamber, there was the danger of the majority rolling back advances such as the 2 percent cap on property tax hikes and the implementation of a new teacher evaluation system. But the "strange bedfellows" deal also means Republicans won't be able to block debate on social issues like a minimum-wage increase, a state Dream Act for immigrants, or legalization of small amounts of marijuana for medical purposes. In the past, minority ideas have most often been filed for careful consideration in trash cans.
So this coalition may be the the right way to garner real progress on politically tricky and oft-avoided issues like campaign finance reforms, reducing costly mandates and controlling state spending.
But while the new dynamic could improve things, that's not why it's coming about. This is the endgame of a ferocious power struggle, and that's business as usual. It may not be any worse than the old system. It may even be better. There's reason for both hope and cynicism.