Opinion Editorial on Redistricting
Partly cloudy lawmaking in AlbanyEditorial Board
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York’s legislative leaders reached a grand deal last week that settled a number of complex and controversial issues, for which they deserve due credit. But they did it absent any public debate, for which they do not.
The achievements were nothing short of stunning. Lawmakers signed off on pension reform, redistricting, an expanded DNA database and a process that could see up to seven gambling casinos built across the state. In truth, any one of these initiatives would have been a legitimate accomplishment in pre-Cuomo Albany, when special interests and entrenched positions calcified legislative progress.
And yet, while the “what” is a large, welcome step forward, the “how” is an unfortunate two steps back. Cuomo and legislative leaders ensconced themselves out of sight last week — during Sunshine Week, of all times — to cobble together the wide-ranging package of agreements known, for good reason, as the “Big Ugly.”Pension reform
The crowning achievement is a new Tier VI pension level, which will affect only future hires. It increases employee contributions by as much as 3 percent, raises the retirement age one year to 63 and bases benefits on the average salary for the last five years on the job, rather than three. The inclusion of a so-called poison pill ensures the cost of any changes to the plan will be paid for by the state, rather than passed on to local governments. In all, Cuomo’s office estimates the changes will save local municipalities some $80 billion over the next 30 years.Redistricting
Cuomo is taking heat for backing off his earlier promise to veto any maps not drawn by an independent panel. He instead used a willingness to sign off on maps drawn by legislators to win their agreement to pursue a constitutional amendment, and backup law, changing the process in the future. The failure to achieve less-partisan districts this go-round is disappointing, particularly after lawmakers’ pledge back in 2010 to pursue an independent commission. Cuomo says the trade-off for reform is worth it. We’ll see.DNA database
Law enforcement leaders are lauding plans to double the state’s DNA database. Beginning on Oct. 1, New York will collect genetic samples from those convicted of not only all felonies, but almost all misdemeanors.Casinos
Cuomo also won approval of legalized casino gambling, although where the gambling palaces will be located is undecided. Existing racinos are good bets, and local lawmakers must make the case for either Batavia Downs or Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack in Farmington.
This package of achievements shows yet again Cuomo can work the system. The question that remains is, can he change the system?