Sunday, February 04, 2007

Why is Gov. Spitzer spoiling for small-potatoes fights?

Jay Gallagher The Journal News

Maybe because Eliot wants to let everyone know "business as usual" is no longer acceptable and New York needs to change it's ways???? New York Voters demanded change and reform this past election.....Spitzer is just delivering the goods....andy

The title of Gov. Eliot Spitzer's biography, "Spoiling for a Fight," has proved to be an apt description of the state of mind of New York's combative new governor a month into his term.
Among those he is taking on:
- Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, by wading into the middle of a Senate special election slated for Tuesday that could break the GOP's monopoly on the nine Long Island Senate seats and reduce the Republican Senate majority to a mere four seats.
- Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, by urging lawmakers not to elect one of their own as a successor to Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who quit in disgrace right before Christmas.
- The health-care establishment and its union allies, by cutting the normal growth in spending by $1.2 billion.
- Suburban lawmakers, by trying to direct the bulk of new aid to schools to urban districts and minimizing a new property-tax break for wealthy people.
All of these fights, of course, are not of equal importance. The most significant ones are over health-care funding and the direction of education aid that he put forward in his $120.6 billion budget plan last week.
Agree with him or not, both proposals would result in a fundamental change in the way the state does business. On health care, he says the money needs to more closely follow the needs of patients, and not of the institutions that provide care. The institutions, not surprisingly, see the cuts as damaging their ability to provide care to those that need it. The fight will be the central debate of budget negotiations that are likely to continue into the spring.
School aid will be less contentious, because he has proposed such a huge increase ($1.4 billion more next year, $7 billion more a year in four years) that there is likely enough money to make everyone happy. And again, a fundamental principle is at stake: his belief that poorly performing urban schools can do a better job educating children if they are given more money and held to strict accountability standards.
But the stakes in the other fights seem far lower. If Spitzer's candidate, Democrat Craig Johnson, wins the Long Island Senate race, it will whittle the GOP edge to 33-29, but not change the balance of power in the Senate. Why has Spitzer gotten so involved in the race?
Brooke Masters, the author of the Spitzer biography, "Spoiling for a Fight," suggested last week that when Bruno told Spitzer publicly he should stay out of the race, it all but guaranteed the aggressive governor, would jump in with both feet.
Spitzer could likely win there, but he's facing stiffer odds in trying to have some influence over whom the Legislature will pick as the next comptroller.
When a comptroller leaves office before his (there has never been a female comptroller) is over, the constitution calls for the Legislature to elect a successor.
That in effect means that it's Silver's call, since he is the leader of the 107 Assembly Democrats, a bare majority of the total of 212 members (with two current vacancies) of the Assembly and Senate.
Spitzer decided early that someone with a background in finance and administration would be best for the job. He got Silver to agree to a three-member panel to pick up to five finalists for the position, with the assumption being that the lawmakers would pick the winner from among that group. But then Silver felt double-crossed when the panel chose only three finalists - and not one of the five Assembly Democrats who applied.
What the Assembly ultimately does is still unclear, but at the end of the week some Democrats were saying they were inclined to ignore the panel's recommendations and elect one of their own. That leaves Silver with the unenviable choice of angering Spitzer for what could be seen as reneging on a deal, or incurring the wrath of at least some of the other Assembly Democrats (to whom he owes his job) by allowing a vote on only the finalists.
The comptroller fight doesn't do Spitzer any good at this point. And what is at stake? There have been previous comptrollers, including those who sat on the selection panel, who had limited financial and managerial experience.
Spitzer probably feels strong enough at this point to take on all comers. But most fights in the end take a toll.

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