New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo is two-thirds of the way to fulfilling a three-part agenda he urged voters to support during a statewide tour in May.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos announced an agreement with Cuomo yesterday on an ethics law for public officials. The governor and lawmakers also concurred on a proposed property-tax cap last week, leaving only a same-sex marriage bill to be crafted and passed before the June 20 end of the legislative session.
Cuomo, 53, took office in January after he was elected with more than 60 percent of the vote. Three months later, lawmakers approved his $132.5 billion budget, the first since 2006 passed before the April 1 start of the fiscal year. Giving the governor clout with lawmakers is the 61 percent backing of voters from both parties in a Quinnipiac University survey last month.
“A lot of politicians want to make sure they’re on his right side,” Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Hamden, Connecticut, said by telephone. They’ve “figured out that Andrew Cuomo is a governor for whom there are a lot of advantages to working with rather than against.”
The proposed ethics law obligates public officials to name their business associates and outside income. It requires lawyers such as Silver to reveal their clients and would take away pensions of public officials convicted of a felony.
The legislation creates a 14-member Joint Public Ethics Commission, replacing the existing Public Integrity Commission with a bipartisan panel. Six members would be appointed by the governor and lieutenant governor, of which three must be from a political party other than the governor’s. Eight would be named by leaders of each house of the Legislature, split between the two major parties.
“This bill is the tough and aggressive approach we need,” Cuomo said in a statement. “It provides for disclosure of outside income by lawmakers, creates a true independent monitor to investigate corruption, and spells out tough, new rules that lobbyists must follow.”
The ethics rules fulfill campaign promises that included spending cuts. Cuomo reduced outlays 2 percent to help close a $10 billion projected deficit in his budget. He’s threatened to fire 9,800 state workers unless they agree to $450 million of savings included in the fiscal plan.
Serving in the Legislature is a part-time job, meaning members receive outside income, which prompted Cuomo to call for more disclosure on pay. He signed an executive order his second day in office requiring executive staff, agency commissioners and other officials to undergo ethics training.
Since 2008, federal or state prosecutors have arrested at least 10 state lawmakers on corruption charges. They include former Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, 82, convicted of federal charges of mail and wire fraud in 2009. Former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr., 57, was indicted on federal embezzlement charges in 2010.
The existing ethics commission hasn’t uncovered or reported wrongdoing by lawmakers while they were in office.
Dick Dadey, executive director of the Citizens Union, a government watchdog, called yesterday’s ethics agreement “an important and much-needed achievement.”
“It brings about several historic actions such as the first-ever client and rainmaker disclosure by legislators, narrower bands of income disclosure, publicly available financial disclosure statements” and creation of a revamped and independent state ethics panel, Dadey said in a statement.
Silver, who’s affiliated with the New York personal-injury law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg, had opposed requiring attorneys in public service to disclose their clients. He also resisted Cuomo’s property-tax cap, saying it may reduce funds for school districts, before accepting a compromise bill.
“I am proud to sign on to today’s agreement because I believe that transparency and accountability are the pillars of good government,” Silver said yesterday of the ethics measure.
On May 24, Silver proposed a limit on property-tax increases of 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. The plan was similar to one the Republican-controlled Senate passed in January with Cuomo’s backing, leading Skelos to say a three-way agreement had been reached.
Skelos praised the ethics accord yesterday.
“After passing an on-time, fiscally responsible budget and reaching an agreement on a property-tax cap, this ethics agreement signals that we’ve taken another step in restoring the public’s trust in their government,” he said.