Soundings

William J. Stern
There They Go Again
Spring 1996

The venality of Albany’s political culture was on prominent display in February when the New York State Legislature, by an overwhelming margin, shamefully overrode Governor Pataki's veto of a bill to help New York City's police and firefighters win larger pay raises. The bill, now law, shifts jurisdiction over contract disputes from the city’s Office of Collective Bargaining to the state's Public Employment Relations Board. Result: the city loses control over its dealings with its own employees. The state board is sure to be more generous, since it compares agreements with those of suburban police and fire departments rather than those of other city unions. Little wonder that Mayor Giuliani, who recognizes as much as anyone the sacrifice police and firemen make for the city, vigorously opposed the bill and urged Pataki’s veto.

You might think that the liberal city Democrats who control the Assembly would oppose such a giveaway to cops at the city’s expense. You might think that the Republicans who control the Senate would support a governor of their own party by upholding his veto. But in Albany, regional and party loyalty take a backseat to special-interest politics-and public employee unions are the state's most powerful interest by far. They spend millions on campaign contributions and lobbying and provide volunteer workers to get out the vote, leaving legislators of both parties beholden to them. What goes on in Albany is a far cry from the sort of representative democracy we read about in our high school civics books.
 

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