BY MICHAEL RICONDA
I am not normally one to knock memorializing resolutions. They’re short, snappy little things designed primarily to puff up their legislative sponsors and make nice news pieces while expending little if any taxpayer money.
Likewise, I usually do not begrudge an executive, be it a county executive, governor, or president, for signing off on such legislation. Unless there is needless ceremony around a relatively minor feel-good bill, it is not particularly troublesome. With a handful of exceptions such as the protest resolutions against Governor Cuomo’s NY SAFE Act, memorializing resolutions are not worth much hoopla.
Apparently, the New York State Legislature disagrees. Last week Governor Cuomo ended a particularly embarrassing footnote in the State Legislature’s history by signing a bill to make yogurt the official state snack. You can begrudge Cuomo for a great many things from either side of the aisle, but a memorializing resolution about yogurt will probably slide by most critics.
No big deal, right? Nah, apparently it is a big deal.
The signature harkens back to a monumentally awkward debate in the State Senate in May when the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer (R-Williamsville), was forced to defend his bill against the scrutiny of other senators who probably forgot they had a whole government to help run. Everything began when Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx) expressed concern over the definition of a snack, to which Ranzenhofer replied with subtle wit.
“I think it’s self-explanatory,” Ranzenhofer said. “I mean, you have breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and then you have snacks.”
The debate did not end there. Rivera continued to press for alternatives such as chips, pretzels, cheesecake, cashews and raisins. Other legislators such as Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) raised concerns that the designation would alienate those who are lactose intolerant, as if normal people care about (or even know) what food has earned the moniker of “state snack.”
Eventually, a kabash was placed on the whole debate and the bill passed 52-8. It cleared the Assembly with less controversy, earning an 85-1 vote. Granted that I would have probably voted for pizza bagels, but that is irrelevant. This was a tiny little thing in a great big, odorous swamp of New York politics. I don’t have time to worry about what other people like to eat and neither do they.
Having witnessed a great many memorializing resolutions on the county level, I can say with relief that this is not the norm. Occasionally a fair amount of debate is held on a particularly contentious point or legislators speak to show their constituents they have something to say about a particularly important matter, but the tone is generally cordial. Everybody knows-or should know-these matters are miniscule compared to much larger legislative issues.
Alas, sometimes lawmakers get heated and build momentum in the wrong direction. Formal debate is normal and healthy in a governing body, but it can also be misplaced and inappropriately grandiose. Government is supposed to work, not overwork, and when a lawmaker finds him or herself debating the merits of yogurt, it is probably time to step back and consider whether this is truly the best use of the people’s time.