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Editorial: Continued GOP control of State Senate provides a brake on downstate influence

Whatever anyone in Western New York thinks about the results of the presidential election – Donald Trump won in Niagara County, but lost to Hillary Clinton in Erie County – all area voters have cause to be thankful that the New York State Senate appears to have remained in Republican control.

That’s not to say that Republicans are blameless for the problems of New York State; their fingerprints are all over the state’s high taxes and the unfunded mandates that bedevil local governments and school districts. But when Democrats briefly controlled the chamber in 2009, they largely turned their backs on upstate, directing the majority of discretionary funds to the New York City area. Upstate didn’t much matter.

In a left-leaning state, Republican control of the Senate is chronically tenuous. Every two years, Republicans face the possibility of being consigned to minority status, yet except for what is, so far, the anomaly of the 2008 elections, they have retained control. This year, it was at least in part due to Trump’s popularity outside of New York City.

Interestingly, the state teachers union had little impact, despite heavy spending in some districts. Its money helped reshape the Buffalo School Board this year and in 2014 drove the election of Democrat Marc Panepinto in the 60th Senate District in Erie County, ousting Republican Mark Grisanti.
Panepinto chose not to seek re-election. On Tuesday, Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs won the seat back for Republicans, helping the party to retain control of the Senate.

Democrats, who are contesting two races on Long Island, have not acknowledged that Republicans will continue to hold the Senate majority. But GOP dominance has been preserved or augmented in recent years by the Independent Democratic Conference, now composed of seven Democrats who caucus with Republicans.

Although the IDC’s continued alliance with Republicans could change, Majority Leader John J. Flanagan, R-Huntington, said he is “very, very, very comfortable” that an arrangement between them will continue.

That’s good news for upstate, which needs an ability to apply a brake on the spendthrift inclinations of the downstate-dominated Assembly, which Democrats have long controlled. With a Republican Senate, upstate taxpayers have at least the possibility of some greater influence over the direction of state government.

Republicans haven’t always been good at that, frequently caving in to special interest pressures. They led the push for significant increases in school funding this year, for example, ignoring the fact that New Yorkers already pay the nation’s highest per-student education costs. That extra spending is popular with teachers unions – and voters – even if it discourages the necessary re-engineering of education in New York.

Nevertheless, Western New Yorkers are better off with Republicans in control of the State Senate. Even for residents disappointed in other aspects of Tuesday’s elections, this outcome counts as a relief.

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