I read an Editorial in last week’s Daily News with interest.  I found it to be compelling, and unfortunately quite accurate.  Here is a portion of what was written:

“…The bankruptcies extend to the usefulness of the governor and the legislative bosses. Albany is fresh out of leadership by Paterson and fresh out of vision and courage on the parts of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Democratic Conference chief John Sampson and Senate Republican Minority Leader Dean Skelos.

Having overspent for years, having gotten through by borrowing and gimmickry, they shrink from the hard decisions that have been thrust upon them by an economic downturn that has irreparably cut the pins out from under New York.  Most outrageously, they won’t consider adopting honest accounting and slashing expenses that are unaffordable in Albany and in local governments…”

Image courtesy of the Empire Center’s Blueprint for A Better Budget

So what are some of those unaffordable expenses?  Lawrence Mone, president of the Manhattan Institute for Public Policy framed them nicely in a New York Post article from today:

“Are New York’s schools 65 percent better than the national average? Are our hospitals 73 percent better or our prisons 63 percent better? For that matter, is our Legislature 161 percent better than the average state’s? Because, on average, we spend more than the other states.”  For instance,  Mone writes, we spend:

  • $15,987 per pupil on K-12 education, more than any other state.
  • $7,927 per Medicaid enrollee, second highest in the nation, 73 percent above the national average.
  • $36,835 per prison inmate, fifth among the 50 states.
  • $989,892 per member of the Legislature on the budgets for the state Assembly and Senate.

So it comes as no surprise to us that we have a leadership void in this state and as a result, our spending is out of control.  But the articles got me thinking…what does it mean to be a leader?  What defines a leader?  What makes them different from every other person?  And why is leadership so difficult when it comes to politics?

According to Webster’s dictionary, the basic definition of leadership is the capacity to establish direction and to influence and align others toward a common goal, motivating and committing them to action and making them responsible for their performance.  From that perspective, someone like Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is a leader.  He has a goal, he motivates his members to agree with him by keeping a firm grip on the money and who gets it and as a result their action supports his goal.  That’s a leader right?  The same can be said for many political leaders across generations.  And as we have seen, political affiliation doesn’t matter.

But let’s focus on some real leaders.  People who took on unpopular positions, knowing there would be fallout, yet forged ahead to fix something that was so clearly broken.  Here in New York, we can point to our own Susan B. Anthony and her work on women’s right to vote.  Nationally, we think of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.  Those are people who took on the status quo because they knew it was wrong.  They put their personal safety aside and stood tall in the face of adversity.  Those are true leaders.

Some are going to say that those are social issues and politics is different.  But are they really all that different?  I’d say they are not. There are winners and losers in both.  You make friends and enemies regardless of what you do.  And yet, in the end, things can and will get done when a leader stands up and demands that things be changed.

What New York needs now, more than anything else, is a leader.  Someone who is willing to tell their “leadership” that more spending, more taxes, and more debt is wrong and they won’t support it.  Someone who understands we have suffered a crushing tax burden for decades and that it needs to be lowered.  Someone that will do what New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is doing – acting in a way that demonstrates that  the status quo is no longer allowed by addressing systemic failure now.

Everyone is watching to see where the Legislature will take us.  Will it be known as the elected body that finally got state spending under control? Or will it continue us on the current path of reckless spending and high taxes?  Are there leaders out there willing to stand up for you, me and every other taxpaying citizen that has said enough is enough?  Who will be our Chris Christie?