Budget negotiations combine the best and the worst of our government system. Representatives with different philosophies and budget priorities -- and different ambitions -- must face each other and search for a deal.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have been hard at it this week, working behind closed doors in a state capitol meeting room to divvy up more than $137 billion on programs that will touch all 20 million New Yorkers.
It's an odd scene. The Capitol is eerily quiet, the halls mostly empty of legislators and staff. Word occasionally goes out by Twitter and text that the leaders are gathering for a meeting with the governor on the second floor; the news sends the Albany press corps flying out of their 3rd floor offices and down the "Million Dollar Staircase" for a vigil outside the meeting room door. Advocates for different issues, including me, join the scrum. The veterans among us stand around and joke about negotiations past and ponder where we can find good, cheap restaurants in Albany.
When the door opens - the reporters spring forward, recorders outstretched. The TV lights click on, and then off as everyone sees it's just a staffer with a bunch of papers. A few minutes later, the Republican Leader of the Senate emerges; the reporters crowd around, asking questions the leader answers vaguely, if at all. The scene repeats itself for each of the three legislative leaders. I hang around to be seen, to remind the players of the importance that Common Cause -- and hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers weary of politics-as-usual -- places on Fair Elections.
Fair Elections coalition advocates gather in the Governor's anteroom, known as the War Room. We pound out email alerts out to our members, field press calls, watch Twitter feeds, and sometimes take calls from legislators or staffers providing updates on the discussions. Occasionally, one of us will head off for a TV or radio interview or to meet with a member. It's an intense, focused time, with a large dose of "hurry up and wait". But in the sausage making that is the negotiation of the final budget, we've made it clear to the leaders that we're fighting the long fight. We're available for discussions, negotiations, help with drafting language -- anything to help keep the Fair Elections campaign finance plan alive.
So far at least, our efforts seem to be paying off. All indications are that Fair Elections is still part of the discussions, still being negotiated. We've never been this close to success on this issue in New York.
So we stay up in the Capitol, all day and into the night, because being discussed is not enough. We need a workable Fair Elections plan to be adopted for all offices in the budget. And being present is the best way to help that along.
Call Governor Cuomo at 518-474-8390 and Senator Klein at 581-455-3595 and demand that they keep their promises on public financing of elections!