By wisdom or dumb luck, the Chautauqua County Legislature made the right decision the other night in refusing to change the rules to require a vote of two-thirds of lawmakers in order to spend money from the county's savings account. They left in place the ability of legislators to spend that extra money by a simple majority vote.
Legislators arguing for the amendment to the county charter said it just has been too easy this year to spend extra money from the fund balance when only a simple majority of 13 votes is needed. They cite the continuing introduction of legislation to spend even more than they already have this year.
The savings - the fund balance, as they call it - should only be spent in an emergency, they said, and a supermajority of 17 legislators should be required to do that.
It would be a way to protect legislators from themselves.
But both sides missed a point.
It simply is never a good idea to change a basic governing system that has worked very well for years just because at the moment we have a body of legislators who can't keep their fingers out of the cookie jar. The remedy is to elect people next time who can.
Besides, it is all too obvious that government by supermajority is not a good idea.
Lee Hamilton, who served 34 years in the House of Representatives, explains in an essay on today's Opinion page how the United States Senate can be - and frequently is - stopped dead in its tracks by a minority of senators even when the majority of everyone else wants to go forward.
This is because instead of a simple majority vote of 51 senators having the power to end a filibuster on a particular piece of legislation, the Senate requires a three-fifths majority of 60 votes.
The situation has become so unwieldy that the mere threat of a filibuster is enough to stop vital legislation from even coming up for a vote.
The late Alice Sturges, the godmother of parliamentary procedure, explained it this way:
"Some people have mistakenly assumed that the higher the vote required to take an action, the greater the protection of the members. Instead the opposite is true. Whenever a vote of more than a majority is required to take an action, control is taken from the majority and given to the minority. ... The higher the vote required, the smaller the minority to which control passes."
Yes, some things should require a vote of two-thirds of the legislature- changing the way the county is governed, for example, or borrowing money. But not the rest.
In the end, we elect county legislators to govern. And so while we have deep-seated objections to the way legislators propose spending the county's savings account, we object even more strenuously to hindering the ability of a majority of them to decide to do so.