Good Evening
Good Evening

Senate GOP is blocking reform

Assemblyman Sheldon Silver sits in his new seat

Assemblyman Sheldon Silver sits in his new seat for the vote of his replacement as Speaker of the Assembly Tuesday afternoon Feb. 3, 2015 at the Capitol in Albany. Credit: Albany Times Union / Skip Dickstein

A decade of scandals stinking up Albany, including the stunning dethroning of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, should be motivation to fix the rules so elected officials avoid the temptation to line their pockets to the detriment of their constituents.

But the Senate doesn't seem interested, some members just appalled even by the suggestion.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who was heavily criticized for failing to deliver on significant ethics reform last year, and Carl Heastie, the new speaker who pledged to make a fresh start in replacing Silver, yesterday announced an agreement on a solid set of reforms striking at the heart of Albany's pay-to-play culture. It's not enough, but there are no magic wands that can transform Albany overnight.

Some of the proposals are so fundamental to good government, it's hard to understand why they're not already law.

Here are the key reforms:

No lawmaker, staff member or state official can accept compensation "directly or indirectly" related to a pending bill.

The source of any outside income of more than $1,000 must be disclosed.

All public officials who receive at least $5,000 for representing a client or a customer must disclose the client's name and the actual work performed, and state whether the work was related to government business.

Legislators who bring clients or customers to professional firms or businesses -- known as a "rainmakers" -- but who don't actually provide any services would have to disclose that activity and the compensation for it.

An official convicted of public corruption will forfeit his or her pension -- a process that requires amending the state constitution.

Disturbingly, the Senate's majority Republican conference, including majority leader Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre, John Flanagan of East Northport and Kemp Hannon of Garden City, who are attorneys, are balking at the disclosure requirement. They prefer business as usual, arguing their behavior is proper and that we should take their word for it. But in a fair game, a player can't also be the referee.

Cuomo's full court press on the Senate became public yesterday. A vulnerable Assembly is following his playbook because Silver, who has blocked disclosure, is no longer in the leadership. And newly elected reformers such as Todd Kaminsky of Long Beach, a former U.S. attorney who prosecuted public corruption cases, are demanding new standards of behavior.

Our first preference would be a full-time and higher-paid legislature in return for a ban on all outside income. These proposed laws, however, will hold all state officials more accountable and shouldn't deprive anyone from earning an honest day's pay in their other part-time job. If there are no conflicts of interest, if lawmakers are not getting paid because of their influence but for their legal or business expertise on nongovernment matters, then what's there to hide?

If there's no quid pro quo, it's all legit. Just give the public and the prosecutors the necessary information to make sure it stays that way.