Here's a barometer on the severity of problems state government wreaks on New York: Even the Buffalo control board, which is a creature of the state, cites Albany among the significant problems confronting this city.
In its annual report, the board unanimously agreed that state policies are undermining its efforts to save the city. Specifically, the board mentions the Taylor Law, which tilts collective bargaining toward workers and away from taxpayers; the Triborough Amendment, which indefinitely extends the terms of expired public sector labor contracts; and the Wicks Law, whose requirements on public sector construction projects drives up taxpayers' costs.
With a bipartisan board membership that includes Democrats as prominent as former State Comptroller H. Carl McCall and as measured as former Dennis Gorski aide Richard Tobe, that is no small thing. It puts the lie to arguments that these state policies serve the broad public interest, even if, as Tobe says, they came into existence for good reasons. At this point, they are an economic drag on every New York municipality and a cumulative dead weight on a city as stressed as Buffalo.
There are other problems, to be sure, and board Chairman Thomas Baker is wise enough to understand that the city needs to put its own house in order before it can make a credible case to change state practices. But he also understands that a city fighting for its very survival may need at least a temporary exemption from laws that threaten to drag it down.
In the board's view, any city in such bad condition that it requires a control board to oversee its finances should, as a matter of course, be granted a waiver from such cost-raising mandates. The unions would howl, of course, but the imposition of a control board is, on its own, a deviation from democracy and an acknowledgment that the ordinary processes do not work.
There is no point in trying to be just a little bit pregnant. If conditions are so bad that they require the suspension of traditional democratic rules, then Albany should be willing to waive as many of them as may reasonably be necessary to get the job done. The temporary suspension of the cost-increasing aspects of the Taylor and Wicks laws and the Triborough Amendment is not an unreasonable idea for cities that have been formally designated as in financial crisis.
Baker said the board plans to lobby Albany to revise the law that created it, giving it these exemptions. Voters who want to gauge how wretched state government has become, or who just want some entertainment, should watch closely to see how state legislators respond.