Earlier this week, Robert Harding of the Albany Project posted his suggestions on how to tackle the state's budget crisis: Cut taxes, cap spending and tax millionaires. As always, Harding makes a great case for each, whether or not you're willing to go along with him on it or not.
Meanwhile, at the capitol, leading state legislators bickered and taunted and mocked one another at a special session that cost tax payers in excess of $100,000 and saved them nothing. Nor was anything acheived from the meeting. Outside, more than a thousand protestors gathered to decry any cut in revenue for whatever special interest group they happened to represent.
In short, New York proved yet again that it is more than worthy of the epithet: the nation's most dysfunctional legislature.
So I thought, OK, we've heard over and over again, every day this week, more about the dysfunction, and how nothing is getting done, yet this nothing is costing us more than ever. Well, we've got a few new faces that will soon be heading to Albany. One of them is our own Mike Ranzenhofer, representative of the 61st District. All eyes will certainly be upon him. He ran a solid, hard-fought campaign and got elected to represent us. We will now wait for him to deliver.
But isn't that a lot of pressure? Can Ranzenhofer really change things in Albany, home to the hulking, ineffectual organism that is our state Legislature?
Well, I called to ask those very questions. Here's what he had to say.
"One of the things I've always been able to do is... I'm able to work with members on both sides of the aisle," said Ranzenhofer.
He went on to explain that many new members will be heading to the Legislature at the beginning of the year.
"I'm hoping these members will prevail on some of the more established members to stop all the bickering and finger pointing and come to the realization that changes need to be made," he said. "We're in unprecedented times. We need to encourage members of looking at new ways of doing things."
Ranzenhofer had an inciteful response to just how one goes about getting the otherwise recalcitrant members of the Legislature to "look at new ways." He described the situation as being similar to someone who is going through a "personal" problem.
"First, you have to acknowledge that the problem exists, then be able to adopt strategies to deal with it," he said. "A lot of people in Albany are in denial. They don't realize there's a problem. We first need to identify the problem."
One such problem: We just don't have the revenue to support the amount of spending that has been approved.
Ranzenhofer has talked about his plan a lot before: cut spending across the board.
"I don't think this should be dictated by the governor or by the Assembly," he said. "We need to go to the workforce, go to the department heads and ask them about where they think cuts need to be made."
What's more, he said, we need to consider that it is "not acceptable" for anyone to say: 'Hey, it's this other department that's the problem, not mine.'
So, the real question, though, is how would Ranzenhofer—or any state representative, for that matter—make the case to his constituents, to the people of the 61st, that he's doing his absolute best to get things done, even if the atmosphere in Albany doesn't change. Bringing home the pork has been the standard mode of conduct. But shouldn't we start expecting more than just a gift of Christmas lights to smooth over the utter failure of our state representatives to run things with at least a modicum of efficiency? What if establishment rule carries the day, and no matter what you do, the stalemate, the bickering, the political charades—what if all that continues, despite your efforts? How do you let your people know: 'Hey, I'm still doing my best.'
"There are several things you (such a representative, that is) can do to tell them (the constituents) what's going on," he said. "It really involves communication: through venues such as your own or newsletters or telephone calls or town hall meetings. It's important to let people know that you're trying to make the changes. It's important to communicate with the people you represent in your district."
"I think I've done a good job of that in the (Erie County) Legislature, communicating the efforts I put forth trying to make changes. There are no guarantees. But you certainly have to have the energy, the vigor and the attitude that you're not going to give up."