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Analysis: In Big Deals, A Big Deal Law Is Lost

Wall Street Journal

Cuomo has made the politically expedient shortcut routine for major bills, just months after a judge chastised the practice. Even good-government groups that howled when previous governors used the measure far less frequently accepted it last week, which also happened to be the annual Sunshine Week dedicated to openness in government.

The decision by a governor overrides a committee system in the Senate and Assembly as well as the joint conference committees created under a reform that attempted to force at least some public debate on major policy issues.

Instead, Albany's notorious "three men in a room" talks involving the governor and the majority leaders of the Assembly and Senate continue. A senior Cuomo administration official last week confirmed even that has, most often, become just two men in a room: Cuomo negotiates individually with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. The Republican Skelos and Democrat Silver have a frosty relationship at best.

So about the way a bill is supposed to become a law?

"It's a flawed process," Cuomo said.

"One of the dysfunctions of Albany is they never stop," Cuomo said Thursday of legislators. "They never conclude, they don't act."

In 15 months in office, he's used private negotiations and messages of necessity to legalize gay marriage, enact a 2 percent cap in the growth of property taxes, pass a timely budget with a rare cut and double the database of DNA samples from criminals. All had languished for years.

"Government is supposed to function," Cuomo said. "It's not a debating society."

Dick Dadey of Citizens Union, one of the good-government groups that has spent years criticizing the swift secrecy of lawmaking in Albany, understands his point.

"Government is ultimately judged by how effective and efficient it is in meeting the needs of its citizens," Dadey said. "We always would like to see it achieved through an open and transparent process. The sad reality is sometimes it's not."

Inside the Albany's majority conferences, a compromise on a major bill will last only as long as members can withstand pressure of lobbyists and powerful interests groups, which these days can quickly flood TV and radio markets to incite the public.

"You can't sit there once you've made the decision to compromise and allow it to essentially be picked apart," said Richard Brodsky, a 30 year veteran of the Assembly's Democratic majority and now a senior fellow at the Wagner School at New York University.

"Every legislative body and governor across the nation are subject to the exact same criticism," he said. "This is the alternative to impasse."

It's all so much neater and easier. But democracy isn't supposed to be neat and easy. It replaced neat and easy.

In November, Acting State Supreme Court Judge Robert Wiggins slammed the secretive, fast-track approval and vote for the landmark gay marriage bill.

"Clear arm-twisting by the Executive on the Legislative (branch) permeates this entire process," the Livingston County judge wrote.