Editorial: Gridlock we can believe in?

When Barack Obama campaigned for president in 2008 he promised “change we can believe in.” Little did he — or we — know that the midterm elections would bring change he’s got to contend with.
Two years ago the pendulum swung to the left. On Tuesday, it doubled back to the right. The pundits were right this time in predicting a GOP takeover of the House of Representatives. We’re glad to see that East End Congressman Tim Bishop appears to have survived the onslaught, barely, and that Democrats still control the Senate, barely. The president no longer has the votes to pass major legislation without Republican support, but the Republicans don’t have to vote to overturn Mr. Obama’s health care or Wall Street reforms.
We’re in for two years of bipartisan cooperation or deadlock. With both parties already looking ahead to the 2012 presidential race, the smart money is on deadlock.
On the state level, Election Night results have Assemblyman Marc Alessi behind challenger Dan Losquadro by a mere 40 votes, with 2,500 absentee ballots yet to be counted. Regardless of the outcome, the Assembly remains solidly Democratic.
In the state Senate elections, veteran Republican Ken LaValle cruised to another easy victory, but Democrats lost the seat captured by Brian Foley of Brookhaven just two years ago. On Wednesday, control of the Senate was very much in doubt, with both parties claiming they’ll control the chamber come January. There’s even the potential for an even split, with 31 seats per party in the 62-member body. Those election results, more than any of the others, will most directly affect our wallets and quality of life here.
For decades, the GOP controlled the Senate, largely on the strength of the party’s downstate suburban delegation. Democrats secured the majority in 2008, ushering in an era of one-party rule in Albany. With that, the interests of Suffolk and Nassau County residents — who already send some $1 billion more to Albany than we get back in aid or services — were tossed aside for those of New York City, the Democratic power base.
The most glaring example of that came in February 2009, when the Senate approved the Metropolitan Transit Authority payroll tax. That’s a tax on businesses, governments and nonprofit groups — any entity that pays one or more employees — in 12 counties, with the proceeds going directly to the MTA. Never mind that this region is barely served by the transit system.
Why was this tax imposed? To stave off fare hikes in NYC subways and keep toll booths off otherwise free NYC bridges, while helping to fill a massive and still-growing MTA budget gap.
How did this happen? Then-freshman Senator Foley, the former Brookhaven Town supervisor, cast the deciding vote in favor of the move. He caved to party pressure and sold out his constituents. That’s not leadership — and it cost Mr. Foley his Senate career.
But it can also be argued that the free-spending Republicans are to blame for the bloated state of the MTA. Whoever’s in control next year, the wild spending has to stop. A complete overhaul of the agency is something the new Senate should tackle as soon as it convenes. Meanwhile, the senators must champion ways to create jobs here and throughout the state while also working to restore New York’s financial health and close an $8 billion budget gap.
Maybe a little gridlock’s not such a bad thing — that is, if it prevents lawmakers from pitting the interests of one region against another.