THE STAFF WILL HAVE THE POWER

By Angel Rodriguez

The chaos is coming. The same term limit law that will allow for an almost entirely new City government in 2002 will also be responsible for a temporary weakening of the City Council. Although I am a supporter of term limits, I believe the current law is deeply flawed and will have a terrible effect on the functioning of the government.

As it now stands, with at most fifteen members returning to office, the next Speaker will be forced to appoint some committee chairs who have never sat in on a committee hearing, have never been involved in a legislative or budget process and have not had the experience and expertise necessary to run a committee. With term limits, the people with the greatest institutional memory, the long time Council Members, will be swept from office all at once leaving the Council's central staff with the greatest experience and knowledge.

I also fear disarray in the budget process because the great majority of members will not know the Council's role in the process and will not have the experience of managing a nearly 40 billion dollar budget. A new Council will being to examine the Mayor's preliminary budget less than two months after taking office and I fear we will not have sufficient time to explain the intricacies of the process, let alone how to conduct oversight hearings.

In the short term, I believe we will see the unintended elevation of central staff members to create and drive the Council's agenda and committees because these will be the people with the years of government experience. This is the dark underside of term limits since it will increase the power of the people who were never elected because of the relative inexperience with the new Council. It is vital that the next Speaker has a clear agenda and a plan to bring his new members up to speed. Otherwise, the Speaker will also be at the mercy of central staff whims and green committee chairs.

The next Council must deal with many important issues that will have an enormous impact on eight million lives. The agenda set forth by the new Speaker must embrace the reality of a new economy and correct the inequities of the past. I believe that the most important issue facing the City is the annual imbalance in our budget that forces us into budgetary gimmicks that never correct the underlying problem. The imbalance, coupled with our constitutional requirements for a balanced budget, creates deficits in future budgets that must be dealt with each year. If our economy turns, these budget deficits will become enormous and extremely difficult to manage and may force cuts to important programs and/or tax increases. The next Speaker must make a commitment to paying down the City debt in order to put us in a better financial position and reduce our interest payments.

Other issues which I believe the next Council must address include: finding ways to increase our recycling rates and develop an equitable plan for the disposal of commercial trash; maintaining and increasing affordable housing stock, especially for our senior citizens; maximizing our waterfront to reflect a changing economy and the need for open space and recreation; targeted tax relief for low and middle-income people and businesses; and the Council must find ways to embrace the technological revolution now taking place and develop a plan for New York City to reap the enormous potential employment and financial benefits associated with new technologies.

Angel Rodriguez (D) represents the 38th district in Brooklyn, covering Boerum Hill, Red Hook, Gowanus, Wyckoff, Windsor Terrace, Bay Ridge, Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and Sunset Park

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