Sheldon Silver makes the case for government that is functional, not transparent

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Sheldon Silver. (Azi Paybarah.)
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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a practitioner and living symbol of Albany's "three men in a room" mode of operation, enunciated his theory of good governance last night, during a lengthy interview with NY1.

His theory essentially amounts to this: Demands for public scrutiny of the legislative process are met once the governor and all legislators have had the opportunity to weigh in. There is no need for public hearings along the way. And in fact the best time to hold oversight hearings is a year after a piece of legislation goes into effect. That way, its impact will be more measurable.

Silver laid out this position during an interview on NY1's "Inside City Hall" about the state's big tax-code overhaul, which was worked out between Governor Andrew Cuomo, State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Silver with no public scrutiny and presented, more or less fully formed and with the clock ticking on a tight deadline, for members to vote on.

"Although a bill was in fact passed, the process under which you got to it has come under some criticism," said Louis, who went on to read the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle's Dec. 7 editorial, entitled "A new tax plan crafted the old way—in secret."

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Silver said the public should assess pieces of legislation after they're passed.

"You know, people should judge, in effect, the end result," said Silver. "And we won't know the end result till a year from now."

"We won't know how many youths are employed," said Silver, referring to a tax-credit program included in the legislation that will provide incentives to employers to hire unemployed youth between 16 and 24 years in age during the first six months of 2012. "And that, honestly, that’s the time for hearings to see whether to continue the program, how to tweak the program, how to change the program. That’s the time when there ought to be public hearings, and see if businesses are taking advantage of..."

Louis cut him off to show him a clip from November 10, 2010, when then-governor-elect Cuomo promised to do things differently and, "lift the veil of secrecy that is now around Albany."

Louis went on to say he'd spoken with a number of Silver's members, who said they had no idea what they'd be voting on until the very last minute. (Nor, for that matter, did the Senate. As the Times Union's Casey Seiler reported, Senators had all of 34 minutes to read the dense 33-page tax overhaul bill before voting on it.)

Silver responded with his theory of an open legislative process.

"What happens is leadership does meet with the governor," he said. "I mean, I had conversations with the governor. We talked about this process. But I have communication with members, with committee chairs, on a constant basis, as to where we’re going and what we’re doing. And when I talk to them, they give me some ideas, I talk to the governor about it, he talks to me, he talks to Senator Skelos, and then we come back and try to form a package. We always go to conference. The conference then weighs in. It can be a three-, four-hour conference, which is usually the case, where 40 members make their point about any individual piece."

On another note, Silver also appeared to offer an if-he-did-it confirmation of Jimmy Vielkind's report that Cuomo told Assembly minority leader Brian Kolb that he would campaign against any members who voted against the legislation. Cuomo has since denied threatening Assembly members.

"You know, as to the Times Union article, whether it happened or not, I can tell you, it happened at 10 p.m. at night, if it happened, long after the Democrats were there in unison, ready to vote on the bill,"  said Silver, deliberately. "And all that did was create a delay until 2 o’clock in the morning until it was actually passed."