DMI Blog

Amy Traub

The Albany Kakistocracy

Kakistocracy refers to government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens. Which is to say that Albany's habitual gridlock has devolved into a 62-car pileup, and at least one engine is starting smoke. But I won't be the umpteenth person to recite the excruciating details of the power grab that flipped the Democratic-controlled State Senate into chaos. Instead, let's step away from the scene of vehicular homicide to assess the potential casualties.

Supporters of marriage equality are clearly facing a setback, as the momentum behind enacting a basic civil right threatens to get lost in the muddle.

As the New York Times points out, tenants are among the biggest potential losers from Senate inaction. With more than three in ten NYC renters shelling out more than half their income on rent, the state's rent laws are sorely in need of reform. Tenants advocates have long dreamed of repealing the Urstadt Laws which put Albany -- not New York City - in control of the city's rent regulated housing. Failing that, tenants at least hoped to get rid of vacancy decontrol, a provision in the state's rent laws that causes the loss of 20,000 affordable housing units every year. Landlords are gleeful at the prospect of this legislation idling, and the Times gingerly suggests they might be major backers of coup-meister Pedro Espada, although no one knows for sure since he has flouted the law on campaign finance disclosures.

Unemployed New Yorkers are likely to be disappointed. Unemployment benefits statewide have been frozen at $405 a week for nearly a decade and even the stimulus unemployment money won't provide much of a boost. Reform of the state unemployment insurance system was underway before the coup. Now it's probably not going to happen.

Small businesses and individuals trying to purchase health insurance are also set to lose out. With premiums in the state-regulated health insurance market soaring, Governor Paterson proposed reasserting public oversight of insurance rates. (See this for more on this sensible proposal and the rather senseless arguments against it.) With the Senate in turmoil, health insurers will likely succeed in blocking any reform.

The future looks similarly bleak for New York's 200,000 domestic workers, including nannies, housekeepers and caretakers, who hoped to gain basic labor protections by enacting the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

Paid Family Leave? Unlikely. Improving the criminal justice system to prevent wrongful convictions? Doubtful. Campaign finance reform? I wouldn't bet on it.

For a few weeks, the Progressive States Network has been sending out their annual legislative roundups, informing readers what was accomplished in Iowa this year and how Maryland is dealing with its budget. I'm dreading the day they get around to New York State.

Amy Traub: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 8:00 AM, Jun 18, 2009 in New York
Permalink | Email to Friend