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EARLY WARNING SIGNS
HOW ASSEMBLY LEADERS TREAT SCHROEDER WILL SHOW THEIR SERIOUSNESS ABOUT REFORM

Assemblyman-elect Mark Schroeder is as good as his word. Instead of wasting time, waiting for his January inauguration, the newly elected Democrat has begun to press the issue that he rode to an overwhelming margin of victory: the broken state budget process.

More than a month before he takes the seat being vacated by Brian Higgins, the Erie County legislator on Friday issued a press release calling on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the chamber's other Democrats to sign a pledge promising to pass the 2005-06 state budget on time. This is not likely to be received well in the halls of a legislature whose leaders believe their system works just fine, and it is their critics who are deranged. This, even though the budget has been late for 20 consecutive years, and counting.

Indeed, Schroeder could see any or all of the usual adolescent responses: poor committee assignments, angry hang-ups, unreturned calls and, if he still refuses to back down, a party effort to defeat him two years hence. It's the Albany way.

But the 145th District voters who elected their new representative with 72 percent of the vote made clear to Schroeder that the late budget was a real issue to them. This is an overwhelmingly Democratic district, but a blue-collar one, as well. These are people who understand the value of money and of constancy. They are New Yorkers who do not accept that a system so obviously broken should go unrepaired for two decades. Like most normal people -- that is, those who are not New York State legislators -- they see it as prima facie evidence of institutional dysfunction.

Schroeder is no legislative lightweight. Although he has served only two terms in the County Legislature, he has acquired a reputation for seeking answers to difficult problems. He has demonstrated a willingness to work across party lines and, most important, a commitment to achieving important goals.

Like all freshmen lawmakers, he will have to prove himself, and it's hard to believe he doesn't understand that or the difficult nature of the fight he has taken on. Nevertheless, he is a serious man who wants to reconcile his goals with the needs of his own leaders.

Residents of the district should keep close watch on the level of respect Assembly leaders accord the man they elected. In the treatment of Schroeder, they can fairly read just what state Democrats think of them and the issues they hold important.

If the new member from Western New York is given a hallway closet for office space and told to use the janitorial crew for staff, it won't be a good sign. This is going to be worth watching.