It's pretty sad when you have to bribe legislators in order to get ethics reform.
But that's exactly the reason New York state lawmakers should agree to include the passage of ethics reform legislation in talks over the new state budget.
Government is an exercise in compromise, in give and take. State legislative leaders use budget items as negotiating tools to extract compromise from the opposing side. For instance, Gov. Cuomo might get an increase in the state's minimum wage in exchange for agreeing to an increase in school aid.
The same thing could very well go for ethics. But in the budget presentations submitted to Gov. Cuomo as the starting point for negotiations on the spending plan, neither the Senate nor the Assembly leaders included much of anything in the way of ethics reform.
Yes, the Assembly's Democratic leadership did propose limiting lawmakers' outside income to around $70,000, far above the limit proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. It also includes limits on the political campaign contributions of limited liability corporations (LLCs). The ethics proposal from the Senate Republican majority includes no cap on outside spending limits, but would restrict the terms of legislative leadership posts to eight years.
None of the proposals are serious enough to make a dent in state government's ethics problems, and neither side's proposal contains enough similarities where compromise might be reached.
While its true that taxes, education spending and establishing a minimum wage are important issues to be debated, the governor and lawmakers have essentially agreed to relegate ethics reform to a post-budget, back-door issue.
If ethics reform is not part of the budget talks, it's not going to be used as leverage by one side or the other. And once the budget is passed, there will be nothing left for either side of the ethics debate to give or take when it comes time to adopt some kind of ethics legislation.
Both sides will probably agree to take up the ethics debate after the budget is passed. But it's already clear they'll be so far apart that neither will agree on anything. And we'll go another year without any meaningful change.
The Legislature and the governor need a change of plans. They need to agree to include serious ethics reform as part of the state budget negotiations. And they need to do so in public so the citizens can see what compromises have been made.
Of course, they're going to do neither. They'll give lip service to ethics reform and they'll mock anyone who demands that budget negotiations take place in full view of the general public.
The only threat they have to act is you, the voters. Call or email your local legislators and give them something to fear for -- their jobs.
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