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Maureen Lane

To Whose Tune are We Dancing?

Executive, Judicial and Legislative branches of government working independently but together for the greater good are the three-pronged models for our democracy. The balance between the three moves wildly sometimes. Let us take New York State, for example. The Governor has rolled his executive powers into quite a baton to beat the tune of his view of NYS priorities.

Pataki has interpreted a court ruling to give him the power to revamp state law without legislation. As Danny Hakim from the NY Times reports, "Emboldened by a 2004 Court of Appeals ruling, Mr. Pataki has been using appropriations bills attached to his budget to rewrite existing law by himself on topics from school aid to Medicaid to environmental policy. And over the course of his administration, he has wielded this unusual power with increasing vigor."

However, the governor does not heed all court rulings with the same enthusiasm. Ignored by the executive branch is the ruling that instructs the governor to pay NY City hundreds of millions of dollars from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity suit for equal state funds for NYC public schools.

This year as the NY Times notes, "Mr. Pataki's proposed budget would bypass the Legislature in deciding how to allocate more than $1 billion worth of federal aid to needy families, and would keep for himself the authority to disperse $350 million of domestic security funds."

On Tuesday, Welfare Rights Initiative (WRI) students went to Albany to speak with their legislators. WRI is part of the Empire State Economic Security Campaign (ES2). ES2 addresses a wide range of issues critical to all New Yorkers, from jobs to welfare, to transportation and housing and from healthcare and child care to education and training and the minimum wage.

Students spoke with legislators who were frustrated and crotchety about the current imbalance of power. The students were meeting legislators for the first time and were amazed to hear leaders so discouraged. The struggle between the three branches of government is historic on the federal and state level. What students are curious about is why leadership is not bringing more people to the decision making table.

We came away from Albany hearing a lot of blame and not a lot of discourse about working together for a better New York. Nevertheless, students were energized. One in particular was enthused about connecting policy makers to dialogue with others like her from the community. She was raised in poverty with her family receiving income supports and is the first to go to college. She was a glow with the excitement of seeing her legislator and undeterred by his ennui. Now, hers is a tune to which we can all dance gracefully.

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Posted at 2:39 PM, Mar 06, 2006 in Economic Opportunity | New York | Welfare | activists
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