One of the most disappointing aspects of the new state budget is its failure to do something about the Wicks Law, that only-in-New-York regulation that needlessly drives up the cost of public construction projects.
Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer cited reform of that law as one of his goals during his 2006 election campaign, but state lawmakers managed, once again, to do nothing about a law that, by one estimate, costs New York taxpayers $400 million a year and provides them with no benefit whatsoever. Blame the Legislature.
The Wicks Law requires the hiring of four separate contractors for public construction projects worth more than $50,000, which is to say, virtually all of them. Its obvious and only purpose is to benefit construction unions, but it adds at least 10 percent to the cost of building schools and lengthens the time it takes, as well. Spitzer proposed a reform that was the very definition of modest, keeping the law in place but raising the $50,000 threshold to $1 million for upstate projects and $2 million for downstate. It would have been a worthwhile improvement, if not a great one.
But this is Albany we're talking about. It couldn't manage even that, and the only possible defense is that lawmakers and the governor were focused on the budget. Wicks Law reform can be handled separately from that and, indeed, Spitzer pledged last week to bring the matter back to the Legislature later in the session.
He should. The Wicks Law isn't the worst problem New Yorkers face, but it's bad enough and emblematic of everything that's wrong with the government of this state. Spitzer may or may not be able to persuade this worst-in-the-nation Legislature to do anything about it, but if he tries and fails, New Yorkers will at least know where to lay the blame.