As state budget season comes to a close in New York, the editors of the Auburn Citizen correctly observe that debate on many issues is hidden from public view (“Don't shut public out of New York state budget,” Mar. 29). All too often, common sense proposals get amended or left behind without any public discussion.
This year, Governor Cuomo’s executive budget proposed much-needed relief for municipalities in the form of a reduction in the interest rate on legal settlements and judgments. Current New York law requires defendants — including taxpayer-funded entities such as cities and transportation authorities — to pay a 9 percent interest rate on expected payouts while a ruling is appealed.
The governor suggested a simple solution to ease this burden: match the interest rate on judgments to the federal rate, which remains below 2 percent. And this move couldn’t come at a better time. Last year, Governing Magazine reported that New York City pays out more in legal costs than the next 19 cities surveyed combined.
Despite support from local governments across the state, this measure was unfortunately rejected by both the Senate and Assembly. But this comes as no surprise as popular measures often struggle in Albany. For example, lawmakers have continued to disagree on upstate ridesharing legislation — even with the support of 76 percent of voters.
A bill to allow Uber and Lyft to expand operations outside of New York City passed the Senate twice. The Assembly’s version of the bill was amended to contain higher insurance limits and ultimately led to gridlock. Soon after, the powerful trial lawyers’ lobby was revealed to have squashed the bill. Not surprisingly, the politically connect trial lawyers are also opposed to judgment interest rate reform.
True, Governor Cuomo has signaled that he and the Legislature have reached an agreement about allowing ridesharing to operate upstate, but few details have been revealed. Sunlight Week, an annual pro-government transparency event sponsored by the American Society of News Editors and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press was held earlier this month. New York’s elected officials would be wise to learn from the week’s message, as well as the writings of the Auburn Citizen editorial board.
Morey is public affairs manager of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York