Albany Update: Dummies in the Doldrums

07/22/2010 09:06 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Nobody wants to think about politics in hot weather. Otherwise, of course, we'd be obsessed with state government. There's nothing a New Yorker likes better than a good long conversation about what's up with Albany.

Take a deep breath. Just for a minute, let's review where we're at.

The budget is four months overdue. Not the spending part. The legislature really doesn't have much trouble with the spending part. Their talent and enthusiasm for the spending part was so intense that they brought forth a $135.7 billion package that was somewhere from 4 to 8 percent higher than the year before, depending on how much of their financial shell game you accept. Any way you slice it, higher than the rate of inflation.

It's the taxing-revenue-raising part they can't quite get together. For instance, to Governor David Paterson's dismay, the legislature keeps insisting that the U.S. Congress is going to send them $1 billion in additional Medicaid funding. That would be the same Congress that's so terrified of additional spending that it could barely get it together to extend unemployment benefits.

For state legislators, failure to pass a budget means failure to get paid. These people haven't gotten a check in four months. The ones who have little or no outside income are hurting. A few are facing foreclosures. But even that hasn't prompted action because rank-and-file lawmakers have no actual power over what goes on in Albany.

It's all up to the leaders, particularly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader John Sampson. Neither of whom have problems with the loss of pay since they work for very plush law firms. We don't know how much they make because they don't have to tell us. The ethics rules say they don't even have to tell us who their law clients are.

The legislators make $79,500 plus expenses, mileage and all sorts of extra payments for holding leadership positions. (It's extremely hard to avoid being a leader in that place. You'd have to walk around with your underwear over your clothes. Or start a club for abusing kittens.) Yet the legislators are insistent that it's a part-time job.

And almost everybody has a safe district because they draw them themselves.

Thank God the elections are coming. The legislative races are a farce, but it's the governor's race that we depend on for a serious airing of the issues.

The governor's race pits Andrew Cuomo, who has $23.6 million in campaign funds at last count, against Republican Rick Lazio, who has $688,000. Presuming Lazio can survive a primary next month against Carl Paladino, an upstate whacko who is promising to spend $10 million of his own money to make absolutely sure that the entire fall campaign will be about nothing except how terrible Carl Paladino is.

So we will have to put all our hopes in ....

When I was a kid, I had a great deal of faith in Our Lady of Fatima.

Right now, maybe I'll go for a stiff drink.