Are some afraid we have too much democracy in Albany County?
To the Editor:
In recent years, there has been talk of reducing the size of the Albany County Legislature. The Albany County Charter Review Commission issued a skimpy report in January, recommending a reduction from 39 to 25 members. The proposal is touted to improve accountability, increase bi-partisanship, and save money for taxpayers.
I do not know if the 39-to-25 reduction could or would improve accountability or bipartisanship but the money saved would be minuscule.
The commission estimated the proposed shrinkage would save county taxpayers $400,000 annually — less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the county's annual budget. The projected savings is equivalent to telling a person with a $60,000 annual income that if she or he avoids a $40 expense once a year, doing so will make some real difference in his or her quality of life.
I think some proponents of the smaller legislature may have a hidden agenda. A smaller legislature may be less racially diverse, rural residents would have even fewer representatives than now, it will be more difficult for candidates with limited financial resources or fund-raising capacities to be elected, the power of party bosses and elites will be increased, and it would reduce the number of legislators available to serve on standing and ad-hoc committees.
Many county legislators are already busy with their workload. Government and society are becoming more complicated with each passing year. Technology is rapidly evolving, creating both new dangers and opportunities. Thirty-nine legislators can think better than 25, thirty-nine can bring far more expertise to discussions and deliberations than 25, and 39 are far more representative of the county's diverse citizenry than 25.
Reducing the legislature's size may not save money because the remaining legislators would be in a stronger position to substantially increase their salaries due to their increased workload.
Redistricting is always a highly political process but it would be especially so if one-third of the legislature were to be eliminated.
Are some afraid we have too much democracy in Albany County? If some county in New York is to have the largest legislature, let it be Albany.
I am certain most readers can easily develop a list of ways the county can save $400,000 each year. Cutting the size of the legislature should not be on it. Retaining the larger legislature is money well spent.