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INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY
In co-operation with the state department of efficiency and economy, the Bureau of Municipal Research prepared and published for the constitutional convention a volume entitled "Government of the State of New York-Organization and Functions." This work, with the exception of a brief prefatory note written by the commissioner, was purely descriptive in character. The report was designed to present an accurate picture of each department, office and commission of the state government as it existed January 1, 1915. One reason for making this report entirely descriptive was to avoid controversy and misunderstanding as to the facts. Another reason was that each of the agencies co-operating in preparation of the fact-report might draw different critical and constructive conclusions.
On the publication of this volume, the Bureau of Municipal Research was requested to make available to the convention an appraisal of the system of government described in the fact-report. In the chapters which follow are the conclusions reached. Detailed constructive recommendations are not included for the reason that the constitutional convention.commission was of the opinion that such of these as the Bureau inight wish to propose should be submitted directly to committees.
In preparing this appraisal of the existing constitution and government the Bureau does not presume to speak merely on its own authority. For this reason it is thought desirable at the beginning to state frankly and fully what standards were used as a basis for judgment. The first chapter following this introduction contains such a statement. The standards given have not been selected from abstract considerations, but are thought to be those generally accepted by managers of enterprises, public and private, on the strength of experience and observation. They represent, so far as can be judged, rules of appraisement founded on common sense in the conduct of business enterprises and the experience of this and other countries in their efforts to develop democratic and efficient government. In so far as they are not to be accepted as a basis for criticism, they are open to attack, and are separately stated for this reason. Briefly characterizing the assumptions which are used as a basis for criticism, it is held: that proper machinery must be set up so that the opinions of the people may be brought to bear immediately and directly on the agents of government through action at elections; that machinery must also be set up for making executive officers responsible and responsive to public opinion; that the only way which has been
found for doing this as a matter of experience is to provide for responsible leadership, i. e., to make it the duty of the executive definitely to formulate plans and proposals for legislative action, and not to permit him to dodge responsibility by submitting a general lecture on political principles or public morals; that by requiring the executive to take the initiative in matters which vitally affect administration, refusal to grant his requests, and in the form submitted, will raise a clear-cut issue that the people can understand; that such leadership is essential to responsible government, and such definition of issues is essential to democracy itself—the only alternative being irresponsible government and domination by a "political boss."
Starting from these general assumptions or principles, it is urged that the activities of the legislature should be directed primarily to the determination of large state-wide policies and scrutiny of administration, rather than to the initiation of everything large and small-doing its business largely in committee rooms behind closed doors, and accomplishing its ends through methods of "log-rolling." Nothing could be more helpless than a democracy with a representative government without any kind of a leader. It has been due to the fact that the "boss" has rendered just this kind of a service that he has been developed. He is the product of the American way of handling public affairs.
In application of these standards to a critical appreciation of the government of New York, the following points are developed:
1. That American state government, in its essential principles, was not originally designed for efficient, constructive public work, but was the product of temporary and peculiar conditions growing out of the revolt against Great Britain. In their natural antipathy to leadership by a royal agent, the revolutionists rejected leadership altogether. In their fear of the British crown and the royal governor they came to fear all power, even if exercised by their own agents. Instead of making the executive authority responsible, therefore, they shackled it. Knowing that royal agents could not be entrusted with authority, they came to the conclusion that no one could be entrusted with authority. Their ideal of government was a negative one and in seeking after a government powerless to do harm they set up one weak in power for good. This principle of negation, of preventing evil by dividing the powers of government into numerous parts is the chief source of the wastefulness, irresponsibility, and inefficiency which characterize the present system of government.
2. In considering the organization of the electorate, the view is here taken that the effective function of the electorate is the approval or rejection of policies relative to things done by the government or proposed to be done by the government; that leadership is essential to the formulation of issues; and that such leadership can only be responsible
when it is made official and vested in those who are or may be charged with the actual conduct of public business. The provisions relative to an electorate are therefore not complete unless they surround it with conditions favorable to the effective exercise of its natural functions.
3. In the search for responsiveness and a means of locating and enforcing responsibility in the government, innumerable expedients, checks and counterweights, have been devised, most of which throw upon the electorate an increasing burden and fail to reduce the waste and confusion in the government. They are negative and not positive in their operation. Except in cities, nearly every new device is a plan to prevent some one from doing evil, not an institution for vesting in designated authorities powers for good equal to their responsibility for good, supplemented by the well known methods for enforcing this responsibility.
4. In the establishment of the conditions surrounding the election, appointment, promotion, remuneration, and removal of public officers, the same principle of negation has largely obtained. The so-called merit system of civil-service reform originated in a laudable effort to abolish "the spoils system," and the problem of the proper conditions of public employment from the point of view of efficient service to the state and justice to the employees has never received the serious consideration of any constitution or law making body.
5. In organizing the legislative body the principle of the representation of geographical districts, which was equitable enough in a time when rural communities and towns were fairly equal in population and possessed of substantially identical interests, has obtained to-day to vitiate the very essence of representation, namely, the accurate reflection of the will of all important groups of people in a highly complex society. The results are localism in politics-not the representation of state-wide interests which overleap county and city boundaries—and the persistent use of the gerrymander to destroy accurate representation wherever possible. Thus it happens that legislators are burdened with petty trading in local favors, the chief negotiator-the state "boss" receiving the highest. rewards.
6. Originally the legislature of two chambers represented divergent class interests. Now it does not. Question is raised as to whether the dual arrangement now serves any other than a negative purposewhether its chief justification is not the lack of provision for leadership and for locating and enforcing responsiveness and responsibility against representative, as well as executive, officers; whether it does not operate to intensify friction, waste and confusion of responsibility in the government. It is pointedly urged that the two chamber legislature has been abandoned in nearly all of the greatest cities of the country in the name of efficiency and democracy; and that it is destined to disap
pear from the state governments just so soon as the problem of constitution making has been approached by the people with enough seriousness. of purpose to demand that the representative branch be used as a means of establishing and enforcing responsibility instead of confusing it and compelling the people to look to an irresponsible "boss" for protection.
7. The constitutional relations now established between the executive and the legislature have been successful in producing innumerable, fruitless conflicts, with an occasional good result as an accidental byproduct. They are not of such a character as to enable either branch of the government to bring any issue to a positive outcome. The executive has large negative responsibilities in finances, but no positive authority commensurate with them. The legislature on the other hand can constantly interfere with the minutest details of administration without assuming any open responsibility for its success. The two departments may wrangle for months over the highly important question of which one has the support of the people without any chance being given to the voters to decide what only they can decide. In this tangle of contradictions all consistency and harmony would entirely disappear if it were not for the unofficial leader who holds the disjoined machine together by methods all his own.
8. [The chaos that characterizes the general structure of the government runs through the executive department and all of its ramifications. The governor is given the executive power in name only, for many important executive divisions are entirely out of his control or at best only partly under it. In the first place, there is a number of executive officers who are elected by popular vote and are entirely independent in the exercise of powers that are not independent in their nature. In determining what officers should be elected and what appointed, the constitution shows no consistency or adherence to principle. In the second place, where appointment is the method of selection fixed by law, there are usually such variations in the exercise of the appointive power that it is beyond the ability of anyone to find or define responsibility for administration in its entirety. The legislature has completed the confusion introduced by the constitution by the creation of a tangle of boards, commissions, and independent and practically irremovable officers, so that the governor is in fact stripped of real executive control over those who are regarded by popular opinion as his subordinates. In the third place, the administrative system, while depriving the governor of many of the powers essential to genuine leadership and responsibility, heaps upon him innumerable petty duties in relation to minor officers and divisions, which consume in trivialities the time that should be given to supervision of really important matters. In the fourth place, there is no grouping of the activities and functions of government, with a view to bringing under common executive consideration interrelated questions and problems of