State Should Write Own Laws, Not Rely On Commissions

When New York’s elected officials don’t want to deal with a difficult issue, they create a special commission to decide the issue for them.

The last such commission — Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Committee on Legislative and Executive Compensation — has now had two court decisions declare major parts of its work invalid because the commission exceeded its statutory authority. Thank goodness the commission’s authorizing legislation was poorly written, or New Yorkers would be stuck with its shoddy work. The end result of the pay commission has been time and money wasted in court dickering over details that should have been hashed out publicly on the floor of the state Legislature. Not only were legislators unhappy with the commission’s work, many members of the electorate were upset too.

Why should New Yorkers expect anything different from the special commission Cuomo created to rewrite New York’s election laws?

The Public Campaign Financing Commission will operate much the same way as the pay commission — spend a few months working on changes to the state’s election law and forward its recommendations to the state Legislature in December. If there are no changes by the end of the year, then the recommendations become law. It is likely many legislators will be unhappy with the commission’s work, but unless legislative leadership decides to call a special December session, rank-and-file members of the Assembly and Senate will be left no option to have a say in election law changes other than to file lawsuits. At the very least, any special commission should be charged with forwarding recommendations to the state Legislature and governor for action during the next legislative session so that all of the public’s representatives have a chance to have a say.

It’s a poor way to do business. Changing election law can mean everything from creating publicly financed campaigns, ending fusion voting and essentially silencing the state’s smaller political parties. That work should be done publicly, in open session of the state Legislature. It should not be foisted upon the public by a group handpicked by the political machines with its outcome already largely decided before the group meets.

Reliance on special commissions is feckless and weak. The governor and members of the state Senate and Assembly were elected to take on tough decisions, not create special commissions to do the dirty work of governance so that our elected officials can feign disbelief and helplessness when the final results are unveiled.

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