12 March 2012

How state government works

Perhaps an analogy to the making of sausage or processed meat would be relevant here - you might not want to know.  From an article in the May 2010 issue of Harper's Magazine:
Among America’s state legislatures, it has been said (and it is largely true) that New York’s is the least efficient in passing laws, the most profligate in its operations, the least open in rules of participation, the least deliberative, the least democratic. One can look in almost any direction in Albany and find a problem: there are the lobbyists who infest the legislature... or the campaign-finance laws... or the tortured shapes of the gerrymandered districts... or that in 2007, 89 percent of legislation passed with no debate; or that transcripts of the few debates that do occur can be accessed in nearly all cases only via the Freedom of Information Law; or that the Legislative Ethics Commission, empowered to oversee the conduct of its own membership, has in its twenty-three years of operation brought not a single case against a legislator...

Another benefit of this arrangement is that if only those bills the leadership supports can possibly pass, members are free to propose legislation they know never will. In so doing, they can at least appear to be interested in satisfying the policy demands of their constituents, even if they can’t or don’t want to. This surfeit of hopeless legislation clogs the system: New York State lawmakers during 2008 proposed a record 18,000 bills—7,000 more than the U.S. Congress and more than any other state legislature. Only 9 percent passed...

Bills the leadership wants passed still get passed, mind you, only now with no review by the membership. During an overnight session last June, for example, the assembly passed 202 bills—about one every 3.9 minutes—many of them introduced that day. In March 2009, the state budget was negotiated by the three men in the legendary backroom, presented to the membership at a length of 3,000 pages on March 30, approved by the assembly one day later, and then by the senate, with few changes, four days after that. Not a single committee had reviewed it.  
Lots more at the Harper's source.


  1. There are no words to describe the sadness for our country that articles like this produce in my heart. I honestly don't know if it's possible for our nation to recover when this is the status of our legislative bodies. I appreciate your posting this, though.

  2. "Sorry—the full text of this item is only available to Harper's Magazine subscribers. Subscribe today for as little as $16.97 per year!"

    1. I guess I overlooked that because I'm a subscriber to the print edition. But you should be able to get back issues from your local library.


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