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Four steps to reform Albany

The state Capitol building in Albany.

The state Capitol building in Albany. Photo Credit: Bloomberg News / Ron Antonelli

One hundred and four days after state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested by federal authorities, the metal bracelets were placed on Dean Skelos, the leader of the State Senate. Those who anticipated that the arrest of Silver on corruption charges in January would lead to real reform -- as Albany leaders promised -- should be disappointed to see yet another one of the "Three Amigos" controlling our state capital accused of serving his own interests instead of ours.

Disappointed but not surprised. This has become a common theme for those who walk the halls of power in the Empire State. Yet despite the failings of the parade of corrupt public officials, it is our fault for letting the extraordinary abuse of authority become the ordinary.

The recent proposal to limit certain outside employment on certain lawmakers, the cornerstone of the unimaginative plan for reform out of Albany, was low-hanging fruit that should have been easily achievable. Other, more substantive, reforms have been ignored by legislators out of fear that changes might actually accomplish the goal of reigning in their power and making them accountable.

Here are just four of the reforms Albany should consider:

1. Term limits: In every poll taken on the issue and every time the idea has been put on the ballot, New Yorkers overwhelmingly support term limits for politicians. The culture of corruption has been cultivated by those who believe the seat they occupy in our state capital is theirs instead of ours. With a 97 percent re-election rate in the legislature, we have played a role in leading them to believe this. Term limits will remind them -- and us -- that their tenure is limited.

2. Open elections: Term limits without ballot access is like changing the body and keeping the disease. While our state prides itself on being inclusive in so many ways, participating in the political process remains a closed and disenfranchising labyrinth. Why would the process be so difficult to navigate for someone seeking to serve the public? The answer is transparent: It is designed to discourage people from challenging those that already have power.

3. Propositions by the people: If laws that provide common-sense limits on our legislators are difficult to pass through the legislature, we should consider ways to pass these laws without needing their approval. Twenty-four states provide citizens with the ability to place proposed laws directly on the ballot to be considered by voters. New York is not one of them.

4. Pension Reform: Allowing public servants to obtain a taxpayer-paid pension while acting illegally in the performance of their occupation violates common sense. But it doesn't violate the law. A state constitutional amendment that would strip an ill-gotten pension from those who abuse their position of authority should be part of the discussion.

The opportunity to create real and meaningful reform in our state capital is now. As the governor and others in Albany continue to lecture us about what they say is achievable in ethics or procedural reform -- all the while ridiculously advocating for a pay raise -- it is our job to tell them that the list they are considering exhaustive falls far too short.

And if those that we chose to put in power can't give us, the citizens of the Empire State, what we need to have an effective and ethical government, maybe we should consider sending others to Albany that can.

James Coll, an adjunct professor of American and constitutional history at Nassau Community College, is the founder of


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