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ALBANY 'ZOO' BEST PLACE FOR OUR ANIMALS

The zoo is in trouble. It needs our help.

Porcupines and pythons are caught in the vise between the red budget and the green. Backed into their pens by politics, wildlife from big cats to small otters are prepping for moving day.

A red-budget red alert was sent by Buffalo Zoo head Donna Fernandes. County Executive Joel Giambra's proposed scorched-earth, worst-case county budget proposal takes $1.4 million out of their food dish. The four-legged creatures can't wait until the two-legged political animals settle their turf wars. A Noah's Ark of beasts may soon be departing.

Forget about sending the creatures to other zoos. Ship them instead to the biggest "zoo" in the state: Albany. Let them mark their territory where it will do some good, where every steaming pile sends a message.

The exotic animals are victims of Albany's failure to clean its cage. The budget crisis was spawned by huge hikes in Medicaid, health care for the poor. Its costs are set by the state but partly paid by the county. The chickens are coming home to roost. The state Capitol is the perfect nest.

The beasts can replace the bureaucrats. It costs $1 million a year for the care and feeding of a single state lawmaker. In return, an all-but-powerless human herd follows their party leader. Replace them with a real herd. It would cost us less and deliver more.

The prowling tigers and loping giraffes would make state government suitable for family viewing. No longer would we have to shield the eyes of impressionable children from the horrific spectacle of unrepresentative government. It would be like a day at the zoo.

Instead of numerous staffers catering to each lawmaker, a single keeper could maintain a dozen beasts. The chimps and gorillas could perform all the functions of state legislators: Sit erect, scratch themselves and emit an occasional grunt or screech.

Like human lawmakers, the animals needn't be present to have their votes counted -- thus sparing them the trouble of interrupting feeding time to raise an assenting paw. They are more likely than their two-legged counterparts to get the state budget in on time, lest deliberations interfere with mating season.

The charade of do-nothing committees would be replaced by the symbolism of big cats snoozing in the sun. Instead of do-little lawmakers feeding on perks and paychecks like pigs at the trough, there would actually be pigs at the trough. Lawmakers wouldn't have to carve themselves competition-free districts stuffed with friendly voters; the bucks and hyenas would simply mark and dominate turf.

Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, a Town of Tonawanda Democrat, has said people in his district are so loyally Democratic they will "vote for a monkey." Now they'll get the chance.

The arrival of the menagerie might awaken the three-men-in-a-room who run the state. Democratic boss Shelly Silver would better understand the mess we're in when he steps in a pile of buffalo chips in the legislative parking lot. The sight of mountain goats procreating in Empire State Plaza might prompt Republican honcho Joe Bruno to reach for the Medicaid scalpel. Gov. George E. Pataki might stop nibbling at the Medicaid edges when a llama wanders into the executive lunchroom and grazes on his salad.

Best of all, the replacement creatures wouldn't knock on your door come campaign time pretending that they actually do something. Instead of dropping off a pamphlet, they would leave a dropping of a different sort, a pithy reminder of the odoriferous nature of Albany politics.

A herd is a herd, whether it's the two-legged variety or the four-legged. If we have to clear the cages, we ought to send the animals to the proper zoo.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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