The lengthy list of goodies from Albany today was extremely impressive even by the standards of our dysfunctional State Capitol. To wit:
-- The witness list in the corruption trial of former State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno includes several Republican state senators and a crew of major lobbyists. Bruno is accused, in the words of the Daily News, of "using his government influence to make money in private business deals." That is a term that could be used for so much of what goes on in Albany that we really ought to have a special button on the computer keyboard where it could be inserted whenever needed.
-- Ray Harding, the former head of the Liberal Party, has agreed to cooperate with authorities and plead guilty of one count of violating state securities law. Harding said in court that he had been promised a $150,000-a-year no-show job in return for opening up a safe Assembly seat in Queens for the son of former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi.
(New York corruption trivia fans may remember that one of Harding's sons went to jail for misusing public funds when he was New York City Housing Commissioner. It was a pathetic story about stolen vacation trips and porno on the city computers, and it all happened when the mayor was Rudy Giuliani, now a possible reform candidate for governor.)
-- Attorney General Andrew Cuomo indicated that the Harding plea was just a piece in his ongoing investigation into corruption in the comptroller's office. The New York Post reported that Cuomo said abuse "continues today." Which the office of Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli denied.
The Daily News reported that DiNapoli "has raked in more than $200,00 in campaign cash from law firms looking to represent the state's pension funds" in two big securities class-action suits.
-- The trial of state Sen. Hiram Monserrate continues in Queens. Monserrate is not charged with using his government influence to make money in private business deals. He is charged with slashing his girlfriend across the face in a jealous rage.
-- Meanwhile, Gov. David Paterson has ordered a $500 million cut in state spending during the final six months of the fiscal year. The governor's office depicted the plan in a way that sounded totally pain-free. No layoffs, just reductions in things like travel, consultants and equipment purchases.
The cuts include $90 million for the SUNY system and $69 million for Corrections. If they're spending that much on trips and consultants, we should have no trouble balancing the budget next year. We'll just take the difference out of petty cash.
But the truth is that the state's financial plight is brutal, simply brutal. Even if Paterson is successful in what sounds like a mindless Hail Mary pass at fiscal prudence, his $500 million represents only a quarter of the most optimistic estimates of what Albany is going to come up short in 2010.
Dealing with this crisis is going to require leadership, commitment on the part of state agencies to be part of the solution, and a legislature willing to make tough decisions in the name of the public good.
And there is nothing, nothing, nothing going on in Albany that suggests any of those things are going to be on hand. It's hard to believe anyone with leadership, commitment and public spirit would even be willing to hang around the place. Cynicism and despair aren't going to get us anywhere, but there are days when you open the paper and find it hard to feel anything else.