When the 55 delegates from the 13 states met in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787, they envisioned three separate branches of government — the legislature, executive, and judicial — each empowered to check and balance the others, a form of government in which sovereignty resides with the people, who elect agents to represent them in the political decision-making process.
Where does sovereignty really reside? According to the late Nobel Prize winner Dr. James M. Buchanan, with politicians and government officials who are motivated by self-interest. He further postulated the pursuit of self-interest by modern politicians has led to harmful public results, often courting voters at election time by approving tax cuts and spending increases for projects and entitlements favored by the electorate. This combination leads to ever-rising deficits, public burdens and increasingly large governments to conduct the public’s business.
Since he won the Nobel, much of what he predicted has played out on almost all level of government. The City of Detroit has served as the poster child for what Professor Buchanan envisioned. Over 40 years of economic, fiscal and social turmoil witnessed (if not in part orchestrated) by administrators and self-serving (if not corrupt) politicians who feasted on what was left of the largesse of this once-great city at the expense of its residents, debt holders and workers.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has also mastered the art of fulfilling his responsibilities with self-interest in play. Last July, he activated a Moreland Commission to investigate and prosecute wrongdoing in New York State politics. He disbanded said commission on April 24 as part of a political deal with lawmakers to enact new corruption laws, which they did unsuccessfully back in 2011. In doing so, he caved on the need to require legislators to report income primarily earned from their law practices, and according to a commission member, put aside the likely prosecution of yet another dozen state lawmakers. When asked why, he responded, “it’s my commission. My subpoena power, I can appoint it, I can disband it as I see fit.” So much for representative government!
On the Legislative level, consider the following. Three bills were approved that would amend the state constitution. One limits the amount of money the governor would spend in any given fiscal year, the second requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature in order to increase any state taxes or fees, and the last denies pension rights or retirement benefits upon conviction of a felony related to public employment. End of story. Bi-partisan support hardly mattered, intent was lost in the abyss of legal and other considerations without any further explanation by those involved and no one seems the least bit concerned. I am! You should be! We are being gamed and we have no idea why. So much for what the founding fathers had in mind.
To learn more about the specific state constitution amendments’ cited, please review posting titled “Lost in transition.”