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Lawmakers: Cuomo calls ethics his top priority

A file photo shows New York Gov. Andrew

A file photo shows New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaking during a cabinet meeting at the Capitol, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015, in Albany. Photo Credit: AP / Mike Groll

ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo told lawmakers at a private reception that ethics is his No. 1 priority this year and other contentious issues -- school aid, teacher evaluations and regional infrastructure projects -- are negotiable, several legislators said.

The governor, a Democrat, has drawn a hard line on many high-profile topics this year. But at a recent meeting with legislators at the executive mansion, Cuomo made it clear that enacting new ethics requirements stood above all else, with other issues not quite as contentious, according to lawmakers who attended. Cuomo wants to clamp down on lawmakers' outside incomes in the aftermath of the arrest of ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

"It's absolutely his number one priority," said one legislator. "He said we can negotiate everything else."

A Cuomo aide declined to comment.

Federal prosecutors indicted Silver (D-Manhattan), a lawyer, saying he allegedly received $4 million in bribes, disguised as legal fees, in exchange for steering state grants and legislation. He has pleaded not guilty, resigning his title as speaker but retaining his Assembly seat.

The indictment was announced by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has criticized Cuomo's shutdown of a special state commission to investigate corruption.

Cuomo has proposed either outlawing or severely limiting outside income. The former would require changing legislators' status from part time to full time. He has also advocated more complete disclosure of outside sources of income and pension forfeiture of convicted lawmakers.

He's also sparring with lawmakers and activists on changing the teacher evaluation process, allocating school aid, raising the minimum wage and divvying up New York's $5 billion share of a national banking settlement.

Cuomo has been hosting New York's 213 state legislators in batches for informal events at the executive mansion, a few blocks from the State Capitol, as he has every year since taking office in 2011. Legislators said the discussions have been cordial, but frank.

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