Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Senate Deadlocked -- Time to Share

Senate Democrats have proposed a power-sharing plan with the Senate Republicans allied with Sen. Pedro Espada, Jr. The plan would create a six-member conference committee of the whole with equal membership from both sides and a rotating leadership.

Espada and the GOP are uninterested in discussing any power-sharing role until the Democrats formally recognize the new leadership voted in last week, that of Temporary President, Sen. Espada, and Majority Leader, Sen. Dean Skelos.

Until something gives, the state Senate is deadlocked and nothing will get done.

The 30 Republicans and Sen. Espada claim leadership of the Senate, but will have difficulty implementing anything administratively, much less pass legislation, absent cooperation from the 31 Democrats.

Now Sen. Espada is claiming the state Constitution gives him, as President of the Senate, the authority to cast two votes to break a tie or reach a 32-vote majority: one as a senator and the other as the presiding officer in the absence of the Lieutenant Governor. This is a dubious claim, but based on the somewhat ambiguous constitutional language and even Black's Law dictionary. If he and his GOP colleagues attempt to conduct Senate business with Sen. Espada casting two votes, the courts could no longer punt on the issue and would have to intervene since it involves constitutional interpretation rather than just Senate rules.

Whither NYC Mayoral Control of Schools?
With 31 votes on each side, both sides need to reach a power-sharing agreement if they are serious about governing. At the very least, leadership from both sides should meet as a temporary conference committee and agree on which bills they should pass, pass them, and go home. This reasonable position was basically articulated this morning by Democratic Sen. Eric Schneiderman. The problem, he reminds us, is that the "list" of bills is technically generated by the Temporary President of the Senate, and that's the rub. Neither side is willing to agree on who occupies the office.

The list of bills to act on need not be long or controversial and could address time-sensitive, local government issues such as continuing mayoral control of the New York City school system, which expires June 30th. The state Assembly already crafted a bill to accomplish this which it will pass today and which has the support of Mayor Bloomberg (who strongly supports charter schools). This same measure has been introduced in the Senate by Queens Republican Sen. Frank Padavan.

"When there is a tie, it's incumbent on all of us to move toward a temporary coalition government," Bronx Democratic Sen. Jeff Klein told the New York Post. He is right. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean it will happen any time soon.

Peter Murphy
for The Chalkboard

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