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Gaughan has State Legislature in his sights ; Seeks to downsize Senate, Assembly

Calling it the "most dysfunctional state legislature" in the country, attorney Kevin P. Gaughan is kicking off a campaign to downsize the Assembly and State Senate.

And he claims to have a powerful ally in Sen. George D. Maziarz -- though the Newfane Republican says many questions still must be answered.

"He said he would vote for it," Gaughan said of the Republican leader. "It's certainly my hope that he will."

Maziarz said Sunday that he supports Gaughan's concept but is not yet ready to sponsor a downsizing bill without studying specifics.

"I'm generally supportive, but right now I would have to see what the plan is," he said.

The senator added he is concerned about inequities that could result from population growth downstate and population decline upstate. He also pointed to potential problems surrounding population minimums and maximums when drawing lines for Senate districts.

"I want to see some protections, and I would be very concerned about that," he said.

If he eventually does back the downsizing effort, Maziarz would be the first state lawmaker to publicly side with Gaughan.

After successful efforts to downsize several local town boards, Gaughan is turning his attention to the State Legislature and, more immediately, the 62-member Senate.

Under his proposal, which still lacks a sponsor, the Senate would be reduced to 50 members.

Gaughan said the downsizing would streamline the Senate and save $12 million at a time when New York is threatening to lay off thousands of state employees.

"Before we start eliminating full-time state workers, we should eliminate part-time state politicians," he told The Buffalo News.

His ultimate goal is to downsize both houses of the Legislature -- he wants to reduce the Assembly from 150 members to 125 -- but his initial focus is on the Senate because there are fewer obstacles in his path.

He said downsizing the Senate, unlike the Assembly, would not require an amendment to the State Constitution. All it would take is passage by the Senate and approval by the state's voters.

Last year, when Gaughan first floated the idea, Canisius College political science professor Peter J. Galie, an expert on the State Constitution, noted that the Constitution sets the size of the Assembly at 150 members. The Senate, on the other hand, has provisions to add to its membership and has done so in past, thus making downsizing at least theoretically possible without a constitutional amendment.

Gaughan's goal is to get the issue on this year's general election ballot.

"We're saddled with the country's most dysfunctional state legislature," Gaughan said. "And it's not a broken system, it's an obsolete system."

Gaughan plans to announce his initiative today and then begin a grass-roots campaign to organize public support for downsizing. He claims to have volunteer coordinators in 18 counties across the state.

News Political Reporter Robert J. McCarthy contributed to this report.

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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