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Talks stall in Albany over pension forfeiture legislation

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, is followed by

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, is followed by a press aide, left, and reporters after leaving a meeting in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office in Albany on Wednesday, June 15, 2016. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

ALBANY — State lawmakers moved closer Wednesday to agreeing to rescind the public pensions of officials convicted of corruption, but hit a wall over whether to bundle it with other issues in a round of 11th-hour negotiations.

On the second-to-last scheduled day of the legislative session, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) emerged from a closed-door meeting with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Nortport) saying “it’s our intention” to pass the pension forfeiture bill.

But negotiations continued on several additonal late-session issues — including mayoral control of New York City schools, development tax credits and campaign-finance laws, officials and legislators said.

“I’m very optimistic that the Assembly is going to pass,” said Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), leader of the Independent Democratic Conference.

The ethics issue scores high in public opinion polls. The Senate already has approved the bill, which lawmakers agreed to last year but failed to enact. A member of the Senate’s Republican majority on Wednesday said the GOP was sticking to the 2015 agreement.

The agreement would would set in motion the process to amend the state constitution, which now guarantees public pensions to all public-sector workers. Voters statewide could rule on a proposed amendment as soon as 2017.

If approved, any future pensions of convicted officials could be rescinded once the constitutional amendment takes effect.

Heastie had agreed to the measure last year, but then withdrew from an agreement after public worker unions complained that it would apply to a public workers, not just elected politicians, who were the target of the ethics measure.

The agreement marks the lone ethics measure for the 2016 session following the conviction of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) on federal corruption charges.

Good-government groups this week said that if that’s all that is accomplished on ethics after 30 officials were convicted in the last decade, then Albany has failed to adequately address its “Watergate moment.”

“Much more has to be done,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

“That’s a very low bar,” said Dick Dadey of the Citizens Union of New York good-government group.

The current bill would change a constitutional protection for public workers that their pension “shall not be diminished or impaired.” The proposal would apply to any public official in a public pension system “convicted of a crime related to public service,” according to the bill.

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