Welcome to another edition of State of the Race for the Albany County State Senate seat. Incumbent Senator Neil Breslin and his challenger Luke Martland are both in the fight of the thier lives as Breslin seeks to defend his seat of 14 years and Martland looks to turn years of public service experience into his first elected position. It has evolved from a safe-bet for the Senator to an outside chance that Albany County might just get a new State Senator.
The Times Union's Jordan Carleo-Evangelist profiled the race for newspaper readers at the one-week-to-go mark. If you missed the previous editions of the State of the Race or are just tuning in as many voters may be, this article is a great summary of how things look and how we got here. Everything is covered, from Breslin's place as one of three ruling brothers in Albany County to his widely publicized gaffe on prior-approval to Martland's crticisms of his insurance lobby bankroll and even a testament to just how well Martland is doing with voters. It is highly recommended reading for those hoping to catch up in the last few days before the primary.
For regular readers, welcome back! And get ready for the biggest update yet, in the shortest time frame since our
previous edition, as we head into the home stretch in the most important Democratic primary in the Capital Region this year...
(Cross-Posted on The Albany Project)
"Take Albany Back"
The biggest development for Martland's campaign was the release of his second television advertisement, this one entitled Good Question, Mr. Breslin:
The ad once again attempts to turn this now infamous footage of the Senator's flub into a haymaker, and I can't fault Martland for it at all. The fact that Senator Breslin was caught on camera not knowing the actual contents of a bill he sponsored in his committee in what is supposed to be his area of expertise after months of talking it up for months would have been a godsend to any challenger. The fact that Martland is the first Democratic primary challenger to Sen. Breslin in his 14 years to have the funds to re-broadcast what was already the most damaging new story in his career is another reason the Senator is pulling out all the stops (and the full contents of his substantial war chest) to defend Martland's spirited first run for office.
Funding for avertising campaigns was a topic explored in the TU Local Politics report on the ad. It reveals that Breslin is has spent over $120,000 in broadcast advertising for last month alone...for a primary race. The funding advantage averages out to about ten to one in Breslin's favor, but today, Martland pointed out that the amount of money Breslin is pouring into this thing is just ridiculous:
Martland Accuses Incumbent Neil Breslin of Trying to Buy the September 14th primaryTimes Union says Breslin spent $184,449 in July and August MARTLAND
(September 9, 2010, Albany) State Senate candidate Luke Martland today accused 14-year-incumbent Neil Breslin of trying to buy the September 14th primary election by spending $184,449 between July 12 and September 3, 2010.
“Neil Breslin can’t run on his record so he is trying to buy the election,” said Martland who has campaigned door to door for 90 days to win the primary on September 14th.
“I don’t have a huge campaign war chest funded by insurance companies, lobbyists and special interests,” added Martland. “Instead, I have knocked on doors and spoken to voters everywhere in Albany County from Albany to Altamont, from Colonie to Coeymans, from Watervliet to Westerlo and every place in between."
Martland's campaign claims he has spent the past 90 straight days campaigning door-to-door. This is an impressive feat, and no doubt Martland's advantage in that department is increased physical endurance thanks to his time spent serving in the Marines. But he's been fighting with words, too, and yesterday he unveiled an extensive list of state problems he'd combat as State Senator. His press release and press conference yesterday was a policy wonk's dream and should leave no doubt whatsoever as to where Martland stands on economic issues. The entire platform is included below in full:
Martland Unveils Plan to Revitalize New York’s Economy
((September 8, 2010. Albany) – State Senate candidate Luke Martland today unveiled his plan to revitalize New York’s economy by reforming the budget process, cutting taxes, spending and borrowing, freezing the growth of state government, remaking government and reducing mandates.
“New York’s Government is broken and is failing New Yorkers,” said Martland. “Budgets are late every year, taxes keep going up, jobs are fleeing Albany Co. Now we know one of the reasons why – our Senator, Assistant Majority Leader Neil Breslin can’t even be bothered to read or understand the bills he votes on.”
“If elected, I will propose the following plan to get New York’s budget and fiscal house in order. These five steps will provide the foundation to address our State’s chronic budget problems,” said Martland.
STEP ONE – REFOM THE BUDGET PROCESS
New York’s budget, when the legislature bothers to pass one, is riddled with accounting gimmicks and untrue revenue projections intended to mask the budget’s true cost. For example, the 2010-11 budget has been described as “…riddled with cheating and basic math errors,” and relying on “… at least $5 billion in gimmicks and dubious assumptions.” Over the last few years the legislature has consistently counted revenue projections that are clearly false.
If we want to ensure that the State budget is truly balanced, then we must change the budget process so that is transparent, accurate and free of the accounting gimmicks of the past. I will push for the following changes:
Creation of an independent budget office which will produce an independent analysis of any legislation and its true cost to the taxpayers. If legislation has a cost, the sponsor of that legislation must delineate specifically how that cost will be paid for.
Adoption of Generally Acceptable Accounting Principles (GAPP) in preparing the budget.
Adoption of a five year financial plan to better plan budget decisions.
End to sweeps where funds collected for one purpose are taken to pay for general government operating expenses.
The debt of public authorities should be reported as a financial obligation of the state and incorporated into the budget process.
Consider a certification requirement so that the independent Budget Office, or Comptroller’s Office must certify that a budget is truly balanced.
These reforms will help ensure that the budget is accurate, transparent and that legislators can no longer use gimmicks, “… cheating and basic math errors …” to hide their irresponsible borrowing and spending.
STEP TWO – CUT AND LEAD BY EXAMPLE
In a time of crisis, true leaders lead by example. New York’s elected officials must step up and set an example by making sacrifices and curbing some of the most egregious examples of governmental waste. As State Senator, I will propose a series of steps, including:
An immediate 10% cut in salary for all legislators. I will propose this, and even if it is not adopted I will take a 10% cut myself.
Sharply reduce salaries for political appointees throughout the government. New York Government is rife with political appointees who are paid excessive salaries. The Authorities Budget Office recently released a report detailing some of the inflated salaries at State Authorities. For example, some of the examined authorities were paying top earners between $230,000 and $580,000 in salary. A large proportion of staff of some authorities are paid over $100,000 a year. And, at least $6.6 million in bonuses were paid out to public authorities across the State according to the same report.
I will propose legislation that no one who works for the State government, no matter what the position or title can make more then the Governor in total compensation.
Force dramatic reduction of pork and member items: I will push for a 50% reduction in member items for the 2011 – 12 fiscal year. In addition, all member items should be included in the regular budget and voted on as part of the regular budget process.
These measurers can produce substantial savings, especially going forward. Even more important, these measures will show leadership by example and help eliminate the most notorious misuses of taxpayer money.
STEP THREE - TOP TO BOTTOM GOVERNMENT REORGANIZATION
Everyone agrees that New York’s government is inefficient and bloated. To truly shrink and rationalize State government and help balance the budget, we need a fast and complete reorganization. This reorganization must encompass not only agencies, but also public authorities – in other words all parts of New York’s sprawling governmental apparatus.
I will propose legislation establishing a two-step process that will revolutionize State government within two years:
First, I will propose legislation authorizing an independent top-to-bottom review of the structure of state operations, agencies, authorities and other entities. This review, to be conducted by outside efficiency and business experts primarily of the Governor’s choosing, will focus on how to deliver government services more efficiently and at less cost, and how to streamline and rationalize State government. Specifically, the study should recommend:
Major restructuring, including merging and eliminating agencies, authorities and other entities to shrink the size of State government.
Rationalizing how government works, for example, by consolidating support functions to eliminate redundancies and by bringing New York’s government into the 21st Century.
How to sharply reduce the number of public authorities (there are currently 500), fold their operations into agencies in order to eliminate redundancies and reduce the role of the “shadow government”.
Using performance and cost / benefit measures in accessing use of state funds and which projects will continue to be funded, and how to quickly adopt existing technology to save taxpayer money.
The study should be completed in six to nine months, and its findings will be used to inform the Governor’s decisions to restructure government.
Second, I will propose a law giving the incoming Governor broad authority to carry out the suggested reorganization. Under this legislation, the Governor will have authority to order, without legislative approval, the merger, restructuring or elimination of any agency, authority, office, board, commission or other entity. The governor’s emergency powers will end in two years.
The goal of this two-step process is to quickly provide an overall blue print on how to shrink and improve State Government and then give the Governor emergency authority to carry out this fundamental change. If successful, within two years, New York’s government will have been restructured to be smaller, more efficient, less costly and to provide better services.
STEP FOUR - FREEZE THE GROWTH OF STATE GOVERNMENT
The next step to restoring New York to health is to freeze government to create a breathing period until the broad restructuring plan is in place. Starting in January 2011, I will propose a temporary, but total hiring freeze, lasting approximately six months. This hiring freeze will cover all State positions, including consultants, so called “essential” positions and public authorities, and the only exceptions would be for the new Governor to bring on his immediate staff and new agency leadership. There should be a similar freeze on any new projects and the issuance of new debt.
This hiring, contract and debt freeze is intended to bring the seeming never ending growth in New York’s government and debt to a stop and allow the new administration time to develop and implement the re-organization plan discussed in Step III. Once the reorganization plan is in place, the freeze can be lifted as the plan is implemented.
STEP FIVE - SWEEPING MANDATE RELIEF
New York State’s ever growing bureaucracy has resulted in more and more regulation that stifles businesses and opportunity. Local taxes, including school taxes, have been driven higher by unfunded state-imposed mandates that increase local costs. I will introduce legislation to establish a two step process to lessen this regulatory burden.
I will propose legislation to establish the temporary Office of Mandate Relief and give the head of that office - the “Repealer” - authority to repeal and invalidate any existing regulation or rule. This office will be in existence for two years and will be headed by a gubernatorial appointee and staffed with personnel drawn from existing State agencies on temporary assignment. The head of this office - the Repealer -will have authority to strike down any regulation and rule imposed by a State agency, authority or office without the necessity of going through the normal process and without the consent or approval of the agency or the Governor’s Office of Regulatory Reform (GORR).
The actions of the Repealer should complement the process of restructuring State government and within two years the Repealer should be able to dramatically cut down the thicket of State regulations and rules, at which point the office will cease to exist.
The most important step in solving our budget crisis is something intangible – competence.
Writing a bill, negotiating a bill, and complying with the law is what legislators do. It is their job. We now know that Neil Breslin – Assistant Majority Leader, 14 year incumbent and one leaders of Senate – doesn’t care enough to do his job. He cannot be bothered to read or understand the bills that come out of his committee and that bear his name, bills that he boasts about. That was his decision – a decision to not do his job because he did not care if what he said was true or not.
The same holds true for why the budget was late. It’s not that Neil Breslin and his colleagues couldn’t pass a budget on time. They are required to by law and that is why they serve in the government. It’s that they decided to not even try. They ignored the law, did not schedule committee hearing or negotiating sessions, refused to put forth proposals and made no attempt to meet the April 1st deadline. Then they did nothing for four months, only worked 3 days a week, take long weekends off and took weeks of vacation time. Our legislators – especially our Senators – intentionally refused to do their most basic job because they are incompetent and lack the back bone to make any tough decisions.
We have yet to see anything so substantive or specific from the Breslin campaign. Speaking of which...
"For All The Right Reasons."
Breslin has gone from being a sure-bet for re-election in the last cycle to a very vulnerable long-time incumbent in a rapid period of time. The general air of anti-incumbency across the country combined with the recent negative media spotlight cast upon him has cause Breslin to become one of the biggest primary spenders this cycle. In fact, according to this report, Breslin is protecting his seat more vigorously than Pedro Espada:
An analysis by the New York Public Interest Research Group found that 10 of the state's 30 costliest legislative primaries since 2000 are taking place this year, with candidates rapidly spending six-figure sums to fight challengers or take on incumbents.
"They are shaping up to be the most expensive," said Bill Mahoney, NYPIRG's legislative operations and research coordinator. He analyzed financial documents that detailed spending from July 12 through Sept. 3.
For example, state Sen. Neil Breslin, a Delmar Democrat, has spent more in this time period -- $184,449 -- against challenger Luke Martland than he did in all of the 2008 election cycle. Martland has spent $33,773 so far.
In the Bronx, Pedro Espada, who has been shunned by many fellow Senate Democrats due to last year's coup in which he briefly joined the Republicans, has spent $130,978 while his primary challenger Gustavo Rivera has spent $91,875.
Emphasis mine - SP
Those numbers present Sen. Breslin's greatest advantage over his upstart opponent. For years, Breslin has been the largest recipient of contributions from lobbyists for the insurance and banking industry. My conventional wisdom tells me that he's been saving it up for a raining day, and if he's spending this amount of money then somebody must be making it rain. I can recall Breslin's war chest exceeding $400,000 and edging towards half a million in the several terms I've been watching him. Never once has he had to drop this much in so short a time. Nor did I ever expect he'd be running a campaign that will go down in history as one of the top twenty most expensive primaries in State Senate history.
If there were any naysayers in the Breslin camp that insisted their candidate would win with a 75% margin and virtually no campaigning like in 2008, the Senator's actions in the past few weeks of 2010 should have them hard pressed to admit that the Senator has never felt as threatened in his political life and that he is, in fact, fighting for his political life.
For all of the talk of money influencing politics, a situation like this presents a problem to the well-funded incumbent: you aren't going to get as much bang for your buck against your upstart challenger. There's only so much pro-incumbent sentiment going around in an anti-incumbent year. You're going need as many political endorsements and cross-constituencies as possible.
But Breslin hasn't bagged any good news like that recently. Just today, CBS6 News added another bruising tale to their archives of Breslin revelations: Rep. Scott Murphy will not endorse the Senator in the race. Of course, he's not endorsing Martland either, but he does note that the 46th State Senate district and his own 20th Congressional District don't actually overlap. Still, politicians from nearby districts are typically brought in to make critical endorsements when things get tight.
The fact that Murphy is witholding any involvement in the race will probably speak to Martland's advantage, even though he doesn't throw in a good word for Martland either. Why? Because even though Murphy's office represents area outside Albany County, he is still a well-known and popular local leader. Thanks to his Murphy's own amazing ascendacy to Congress being a national political story last year itself, he's also probably a better-known and recognized commodity that the area's own Congressman, NY-21's own Paul Tonko. So what we have here may not be as inconsequential as this cute little news piece looks. It may be a revealing indicator that support for Breslin isn't only eroding door-to-door, but office-to-office in the halls of government. In other words, the smart sailors don't board sinking ships.
Is Breslin's ship truly sinking, though?
In all seriousness, we'll know the answer in five days....and counting. Thanks for voting, thanks for reading, and stay tuned...the next State of the Race update is coming soon.