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THE MIRAGE OF REFORM
WITH ELECTION PAST, IT REMAINS TO BE SEEN HOW SERIOUS LEGISLATORS ARE ABOUT CHANGE

Nothing is more important than changing the way Albany works. Even crucial reforms in such broken programs as Medicaid do not top the need to reform the processes of state government itself. Minority party members of the Legislature need to be empowered. Majority members need to take back the authority they dutifully cede to their legislative leaders.

Without such changes, Albany will simply continue to bumble along in its dysfunction, oblivious to the damage it does to the state. With them, there is at least the hope that government will become more responsive to the needs of the state.

There is no shortage of road maps to reform. The one that has received the most attention is the report by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, which perceptively focused on in-house procedural reforms that would be both comparatively easy to achieve yet far-reaching in their influence.

Another report, which has not received as much publicity as the Brennan Center document, also includes legislative rule changes as just one of its 10 recommendations. The report, "Reform New York: 10 Steps on the Path to Change Albany," was written by Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which, along with three other good government organizations, endorsed its contents.

Other significant proposals are the creation of an independent redistricting commission to eliminate the decennial gerrymandering that all but guarantees the status quo; adoption of new campaign finance laws; creation of an independent ethics commission; and, significant to raising New Yorkers' confidence in their ability to direct their own government, a change in the selection process for delegates to state constitutional conventions.

With the unrelenting pressure for reform, it is easy to sense something in the wind. It seems almost a daily occurrence that some additional group demands reform.

Legislators long used to ignoring such pressure are promising change. Legislative leaders are actually entertaining the subject of reform -- not committing to it, just yet, but entertaining it.

Don't count on it. Lawmakers, even those in safe seats -- which is to say, almost all of them -- ran a little scared in this past election. Assemblyman Sam Hoyt and Sen. Byron Brown both want to be mayor of Buffalo next year, and eagerly pointed out the need for reform. Others pushing reform also have their eyes on higher office.

But the typical Albany way will be for its reformist commitment to dissipate as soon as the newly elected incumbents return to the state capital. Anyone who wants a better state government needs to plan on raising the pressure now that the election is over, not letting up.