New York’s Coalition Government

Almost a month after November’s election, the leadership of New York’s state Senate has finally been decided. The method for the decision was decidedly unusual.

The Independent Democratic Conference, a now-permanent caucus of breakaway Democrats, will share power with the Republicans in the Senate. In a move that will require rewriting the Senate’s rules, the position of Senate president will alternate biweekly between IDC head Jeff Klein and Republican conference leader Dean Skelos. Klein and Skelos will share authority over the daily Senate agenda, the budget, and the appointment of committee and leadership positions.

How well this new arrangement will work in practice remains to be seen. Reactions outside the Senate have been mixed. Steven Greenberg, a pollster for Siena College, told Bloomberg, “It’s easy to craft a press release. It’s much harder to actually implement.” Bruce Gyory, a Democratic consultant and political science professor, noted that there is no precedent for this sort of power sharing, though that doesn’t mean it can’t work. Another Democratic consultant, Michael Tobman, said, “Creativity is the foundation of innovative governing. Let’s see how this works.”

It should be an interesting show. This arrangement will be an experiment in coalition government, almost akin to a parliamentary system. Republicans will rely on votes from the breakaway Democrats in order to maintain control of the Senate, meaning Republicans will have to accept some Democratic priorities they may not much like. But they will not be entirely hostage to their partners in the IDC either, because these Democrats now have no way out. If they go back to their own caucus, they are likely to spend the rest of their Albany careers in a political wilderness as punishment for their perceived betrayal. If they abandon their Republican allies, after all, there are only five of them.

In any case, New York Republicans are a comparatively moderate breed. And Governor Andrew Cuomo is trying to keep to a centrist path, given his national ambitions. It probably serves his purposes to continue to demonstrate that he can govern along with a legislature under divided partisan control. The current occupant of the White House, who Cuomo may hope to succeed, has shown little talent in this area.

The real test of Cuomo’s ability to lead under these conditions will come next spring: whether he and the legislature can again deliver an on-time budget, which was as rare in Albany as a unicorn sighting before Cuomo took office. A repeat performance would be a solid demonstration of the long-term feasibility of the Senate’s new leadership-by-coalition, as well as a solid political win for the governor.

Whether or not the experiment works, there will be some who remain unhappy with this outcome.

Mainstream Senate Democrats and their allies lost no time playing the race card, complaining to The New York Times last week that the defectors’ alliance with the GOP deprives minority politicians of the spoils they believe are rightfully theirs. The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has never held elective office (though not for lack of trying, with aborted runs for president, New York City mayor and three races for the U.S. Senate), called for a rally against the legislative coalition.

Apart from Senate Democrats, the biggest losers in this coalition may be Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his fellow Assembly Democrats, who are of a much more orthodox liberal bent than their counterparts. They are likely to find themselves, once again, constrained by a Senate effectively under Republican control.

An interesting footnote to the New York story came earlier this week, when two Democrats in Washington’s state Senate defected to the Republican Party, giving the GOP a 25-24 edge in that chamber, according to The Washington Post. One of the defecting senators, Rodney Tom, extracted a pledge from Republicans to make him their party’s majority leader, which will require changing Senate rules when the legislature convenes.

Compared to the surprise in Olympia, or even the New York Senate’s own sordid recent history, the new alliance between the rebel Democrats and the Albany Republicans seems as straightforward as a high school civics class. I hope it works out that way. New York is a state that could use a hefty dose of good government.

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About Larry M. Elkin 564 Articles

Affiliation: Palisades Hudson Financial Group

Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFP®, has provided personal financial and tax counseling to a sophisticated client base since 1986. After six years with Arthur Andersen, where he was a senior manager for personal financial planning and family wealth planning, he founded his own firm in Hastings on Hudson, New York in 1992. That firm grew steadily and became the Palisades Hudson organization, which moved to Scarsdale, New York in 2002. The firm expanded to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2005, and to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2008.

Larry received his B.A. in journalism from the University of Montana in 1978, and his M.B.A. in accounting from New York University in 1986. Larry was a reporter and editor for The Associated Press from 1978 to 1986. He covered government, business and legal affairs for the wire service, with assignments in Helena, Montana; Albany, New York; Washington, D.C.; and New York City’s federal courts in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Larry established the organization’s investment advisory business, which now manages more than $800 million, in 1997. As president of Palisades Hudson, Larry maintains individual professional relationships with many of the firm’s clients, who reside in more than 25 states from Maine to California as well as in several foreign countries. He is the author of Financial Self-Defense for Unmarried Couples (Currency Doubleday, 1995), which was the first comprehensive financial planning guide for unmarried couples. He also is the editor and publisher of Sentinel, a quarterly newsletter on personal financial planning.

Larry has written many Sentinel articles, including several that anticipated future events. In “The Economic Case Against Tobacco Stocks” (February 1995), he forecast that litigation losses would eventually undermine cigarette manufacturers’ financial position. He concluded in “Is This the Beginning Of The End?” (May 1998) that there was a better-than-even chance that estate taxes would be repealed by 2010, three years before Congress enacted legislation to repeal the tax in 2010. In “IRS Takes A Shot At Split-Dollar Life” (June 1996), Larry predicted that the IRS would be able to treat split dollar arrangements as below-market loans, which came to pass with new rules issued by the Service in 2001 and 2002.

More recently, Larry has addressed the causes and consequences of the “Panic of 2008″ in his Sentinel articles. In “Have We Learned Our Lending Lesson At Last” (October 2007) and “Mortgage Lending Lessons Remain Unlearned” (October 2008), Larry questioned whether or not America has learned any lessons from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. In addition, he offered some practical changes that should have been made to amend the situation. In “Take Advantage Of The Panic Of 2008” (January 2009), Larry offered ways to capitalize on the wealth of opportunity that the panic presented.

Larry served as president of the Estate Planning Council of New York City, Inc., in 2005-2006. In 2009 the Council presented Larry with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award, citing his service to the organization and “his tireless efforts in promoting our industry by word and by personal example as a consummate estate planning professional.” He is regularly interviewed by national and regional publications, and has made nearly 100 radio and television appearances.

Visit: Palisades Hudson

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