The fate of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed ethics reforms for state legislators depends on how hard he’s willing to push for them in negotiations with legislative leaders, reform advocates said Thursday.
Despite the top two legislative leaders being convicted on federal corruption charges last month, a good-government group and a legislative leader said Cuomo gave the topic scant attention in Wednesday’s State of the State speech.
Cuomo laid out his proposals, which included capping outside income for lawmakers and closing a loophole that allows unlimited contributions from corporate subsidiaries, more than six minutes toward the end of his 90-minute speech.
“Where in the speech it was and the amount of time given was not commensurate with the dire need for strong leadership on the ethics issue,” said Sean Coffey, a board member of nonprofit advocacy group Common Cause. “It was akin to checking the box, like, ‘I have to say something. Here it is.’”
Cuomo called for capping outside incomes for lawmakers — who are considered part-time — at 15 percent of their base annual salary of $79,500. He proposed stripping those convicted of corruption of their pensions, closing a loophole that allowed companies to funnel contributions through subsidiaries to avoid donation limits and making the legislature subject to freedom of information law requests.
New York Public Interest Research Group’s Blair Horner said he wasn’t troubled that Cuomo didn’t focus on the convictions or his proposed ethics reform, but said it was up to Cuomo and legislative leaders to pass bills to make the changes.
“The governor wants to offer a positive vision. He doesn’t want to talk about the dark side of Albany,” he said.
Horner called the ethics proposals “a soup to nuts package of reform, appropriate to the scale of the state’s ethical problems. He’s put the bills in. We’ll see if he can deliver.”
Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, said, “The governor laid out his agenda for the year yesterday and is fighting to enact all of it. As he said: ‘Public trust is essential for government to function at the level we need’ and his comprehensive ethics reform plan will help achieve that.”
Cuomo, in an interview with NY1 on Thursday, was asked if his father, the late former Gov. Mario Cuomo, would be concerned about the corruption in Albany. “There’s always been some corruption in Albany. It’s been worse. It’s been highlighted,” he said. He said his father would be more concerned about terrorism, climate change and partisan divisions at the national level.
Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua) said, “Have I seen any evidence of significant change in the two majorities or the governor [on the issue]? Obviously, the answer is no, I haven’t.”.
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said Wednesday he opposed the cap on outside income. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) was noncommittal about the proposals on Wednesday.
Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said she hoped that the proposed reforms, including not allowing companies to use limited liability companies to circumvent spending limits, would finally pass.
“We have scandals and things that have been in the public eye again and again. We can’t continue to bury our heads in the sand like nothing is wrong,” she said.