Now that New York has a reformist governor, he should stick to his guns when it comes to redistricting proposals.
Western New York and, specifically, Erie County lost big in the latest census -- the county's population decreased by 3.3 percent or 31,225 people to 919,040 in 2010. Niagara County went down 1.53 percent or 3,377 people to 216,469. The City of Buffalo dropped by 31,338, or 10.7 percent, and Niagara Falls was right behind.
There's lots of blame to go around, but most of it centers on Albany. State policies on taxes, regulation, labor and other issues have driven out jobs and population, leaving fewer and fewer taxpayers to support their governments and schools.
Fixing that problem will require many approaches, but a critical one is in political redistricting. The historical process in New York is for lawmakers to draw districts that protect them from angry voters, and it has worked well. What is needed is independent redistricting, in which boundaries are drawn without respect to the political affiliations of voters within.
In his campaign for governor, Andrew M. Cuomo pledged to veto any politically motivated plan. Recently, he proposed legislation to restrict the power of the Legislature in the upcoming redistricting process to redraw congressional and state legislative district boundaries.
The proposal calls for creation of a panel, selected by the governor and legislative leaders, that would draw new boundary lines based on the 2010 U.S. Census. It's a far cry better than the current method in which the Democratic majority in the Assembly and current Republicans who control the Senate make up their own district lines, in addition to Congress. Governors can either veto or approve the lines.
These are, of course, political lines in the sand. And while the Cuomo proposal isn't perfect, it's a start, but one that will have to be backed up by the threat of veto, given that Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos has backed away from his 2010 pledge to support independent redistricting.
Meanwhile, we share Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown's general disgust over how Albany's poor decision-making has affected Western New York. Brown is right. There's "clear dysfunction" in Albany that has caused many cities and counties to see continued decline in population.
It's a problem Albany ought to be focused squarely on, from the governor to the Legislature. This year's tentative budget agreement offers a glimmer of hope for responsibility, but that's a change in one year's budget. What New Yorkers are looking for is a change in culture. That's a steeper hill to climb. It will take much longer to know if anything like that is occurring.
Unless it does, though, there's going to be continued economic and population decline. We can't afford to wait for the next census to find out nothing has changed.