Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Albany Times-Union on Skelos: 'Mr. Skelos' wrong war'

Memo to the state Senate Republicans:
Charles O'Byrne is gone. He's out, he's done. He's finished as perhaps the closest and most influential adviser to Governor Paterson. He's no longer on the state payroll, at what had been a $178,000 a year job.

Mr. O'Byrne is through, and the Senate Republicans really need to move on as well. Instead, they're using Mr. O'Byrne's departure, under the disgraceful circumstances of having gone five years without paying state or federal income taxes, as an occasion for an encore of Troopergate.

No sooner had Mr. O'Byrne's resignation become public knowledge last Friday than Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos was trying to exploit a scandal that's better put to rest.

"Questions remain about exactly when the governor knew about O'Byrne's failure to pay his taxes, and why he chose to do nothing about the matter until it became public this week.'' Mr. Skelos said in a statement.

Questions remain as well about why the Republicans can't focus more on what does matter in the Paterson administration, namely just how the governor is going to deal with a budget deficit that he now estimates will hit $10 billion next year.

The state's fiscal crisis continues, even as Mr. O'Byrne departs.

"There is no question that taxes in New York are too high and Senate Republicans are working to reduce taxes, but it is still every New Yorker's responsibility to pay them," Mr. Skelos' statement also says.

We'll leave aside for the moment the dicey matter of cutting taxes, especially the $63 billion in various state taxes that New York relies upon so heavily for a $120 billion state budget. The most pressing question of all is whether the Senate Republicans are more interested in the state's finances, or in a belabored investigation of the transgressions of a former gubernatorial adviser.

Mr. O'Byrne is no more relevant to the immediate and future challenges of state government than former Governor Spitzer or, to be bipartisan about it, former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.

If only the Senate Republicans could see the irony that might well make their campaign to maintain their narrow majority all the more daunting. Mr. O'Byrne has left the Paterson administration because his utter disregard for the tax laws had become both a distraction and an embarrassment to a governor confronting such an economic mess. Mr. O'Byrne said as much on his way out.

Yet as long as the Senate Republicans can't seem to put the O'Byrne matter in the past, voters may well wonder who's distracted now.

The Issue:
Senate Republicans aren't satisfied with the resignation of a top gubernatorial aide.

The Stakes:
More pressing state business gets ignored.

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