The Associated Press
Niagara Gazette — ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo, already haunted by his campaign promise to conduct the most transparent administration in history, now says even legislative bills get in the way of legislating in Albany.
Last week's comment was an extraordinary admission of strategy.
To some, it showed Albany was sinking far deeper into the secretive government and closed-door dealing that protects politicians while keeping New Yorkers in the dark until a bill is law. For Cuomo, it's the way to get the biggest things done, like the rushed, closed-door process for two of his biggest measures, legalization of gay marriage in 2011 and a sweeping gun control law this year.
"Normally when we release bill language before an agreement, the probability of that bill passing is very, very low," Cuomo chuckled in telling reporters Tuesday. "Bill language to put forth specifics, when you don't have an agreement, in my experience polarizes the parties. It makes it harder to come to agreement because you push people into their respective corners."
He said agreement in Albany "means every person has to feel that they were part of the solution and part of the win. When you start quantifying and polarizing, it works against that."
A day after the comments, which many saw as violating good-government precepts enshrined in such disparate places as the constitution and TV's "School House Rock," Cuomo said he was only joking.
"I should have known better than to try to have fun," Cuomo told "The Capitol Pressroom" public radio program. "Some bills ... are just posturing. That was the point I was trying to make."
Yet, Cuomo still won't release his bills.
On April 9, Cuomo proposed an anti-corruption measure in a press conference, releasing only a press release. After The Associated Press noted that, again, Cuomo didn't release his bill publicly, an aide promised the governor would release the bill by the end of that week. It never came.
Cuomo's spokesmen declined to comment for this story.
Withholding the specifics of bills works for politicians, who can later claim they supported popular aspects of the law and opposed unpopular ones, without revealing provisions that could have made for a better health program, school directive or government ethics reform. It also makes it easier to carry out the notorious horse trading of unrelated issues.
Voters won't know the truth because of a bond by governors and Senate and Assembly leaders not to divulge the closed-door negotiations.
"It's the kind of thing a benevolent dictator would prefer," said good-government advocate Michael Benjamin, a former Democratic assemblyman from the Bronx. "Yes, we will criticize (a bill), but that's the process. Government isn't playing poker. ... This is the kind of thing that leads to backroom dealing."
Others say Cuomo simply spoke the truth of Albany today, despite all the politicians' assertions that dysfunction is a thing of the past.
"It's too much of a truth for him to be joking," said professor Doug Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College.
"Democracy is slow, sloppy and sometimes totally ineffective," Muzzio, with a nod to Albany's former and infamous dysfunction and Washington's current gridlock. "If you want to be effective, you have to work within the democratic restrictions, but you have to push it."
"Prior to Cuomo, you had both process and product dysfunction," Muzzio said. "Now at least you provide product."
Cuomo also hasn't released his bill on promised election reform that may or may not include the public financing of campaigns he has promised Democratic supporters.
Also unseen is a bill on a centerpiece of his Jan. 9 State of the State speech, which most political observers said was a liberal turn to position himself for a 2016 presidential run. In the speech, he appeared to call for expansion of abortion with a rallying cry repeated three times: "Because it's her body, it's her choice!"
But days later, as critical Senate Republican opposition became clear, Cuomo insisted he simply wanted to codify existing abortion protections under the Roe v. Wade federal court decision. In Wednesday's "Capitol Pressroom" interview, he didn't mention abortion rights in referencing his women's rights proposal.
Although he blamed stubborn legislators as the reason for keeping his bills private, legislators have been clamoring for many of these bills so they can get something done.
"What did we do for the budget?" said Assembly Republican leader Brian Kolb. He noted the governor released his budget bills, the majority and minority conferences in both houses later publicly released their budget resolutions, and a budget was passed on time.
"That worked," Kolb said. "It's about stimulating discussion and ideas."