State lawmakers are asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment on Election Day that would give them a stranglehold over New York's budget and push the governor to the sidelines. It's a terrible idea. And making matters worse, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver did a terrible job drafting the gobbledegook you'll find in the voting booth.
There are so many reasons to say no to Proposal 1, we're counting down the top 10. In Reason No. 10, we pointed out that Bruno and Silver have hoarded power while mismanaging the Legislature for years. Today, we have Reason No. 9: Prop 1 is a full-employment act for lawyers, who will use its gaps and inconsistencies to tie state government up in knots of litigation.
For example, the amendment would have a contingency budget kick in when lawmakers miss the annual deadline to approve a spending plan. But who figures out the details of this stopgap budget, and when? Does it need approval from the governor, the Legislature or both? Who implements the across-the-board cuts that are supposed to happen when tax revenues come up short? No one can say for sure.
These are not academic questions. The Assembly and Senate have been late with the budget 20 of the last 21 years. With Bruno and Silver in charge, they're bound to blow it again. Proposal 1 will give them an incentive to stall, since they can throw out the governor's draft and write their own as soon as the deadline passes. And if Bruno and Silver can't agree with Gov. Pataki on a real budget, no way will they be on the same page on a contingency budget full of painful cuts.
So New Yorkers will do what New Yorkers do when they disagree: Sue the pants off each other. The governor will sue the Legislature. The Legislature will sue the governor. Every special interest with gored oxen, and they'll be plentiful, will sue the governor and the Legislature. It will take years, if not generations, for the courts to sort it out. And government will sink to new depths of gridlock.
New York just got through six years of litigation between Pataki and the Legislature over budgetary powers. In December, the Court of Appeals upheld the time-honored principle that the governor should play the dominant role in budgeting. This spring, for the first time since the Reagan administration, the budget arrived more or less on time. And, not coincidentally, Silver, Bruno and their members redoubled their effort to reverse the ruling and weaken Pataki's authority - hoping voters wouldn't notice the gaping holes in their plan.
Don't let this hunk of Swiss cheese see the light of day. Vote no on Prop 1.