While some state lawmakers are quick to cite the accomplishments of the 2017 Legislature, which adjourned June 21, there are valid reasons to recall major matters which they tended to ignore. Most prominent, of course, is the light-hearted way they dealt with a problem that has plagued Capitol Hill for years — ethics reform.
The need for an increased awareness of ethics in the way state government operates was brought into even sharper focus this year, when nine former associates of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo were arrested and charged with bribery and bid rigging in connection with contracts awarded through the state’s economic development program, especially upstate. The principal figures in the scandal that rocked the Cuomo administration are scheduled to go on trial as early as the fall.
Cuomo, who said at the start of his second term in office, that “ethics reform” was a priority on his agenda, conceded he is disappointed the lawmakers didn’t approve the measure before they opted to adjourn. However, he is now suggesting that a new inspector general could work under the Governor’s Office to root out the corruption at the Capitol.
Meanwhile Ron Deutsch, director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, said it best as the Legislature wrapped up its business as though complacent with their record of the past six months. “It’s another sad day in Albany,” Deutch told a reporter, “We have the largest bid-rigging scandal in state history, and we virtually ignored it.”
Deutch also thinks the governor’s proposal is ridiculous and compared it to the fox-guarding-the-henhouse sort of approach. The plan simply would not work, he added.
To refresh our memories, it was only little more than a year ago that Gov. Cuomo had called for another Moreland Commission to investigate corruption in state government, particularly in the extent to which lawmakers are involved with outside income and what links they might have to developers and other people do business with the state government.
The commission functioned for only a short time before Cuomo disbanded it with little explanation. Some veteran Albany observers speculated that the temporary commission’s probing had ventured too close to the governor’s office.
Karen DeWitt, Capitol Bureau chief for the Public Broadcasting System in New York, notes in a recent report that while the lawmakers apparently lacked the time to craft an ethics reform package or to address some other items that were on their agenda this year, including extending mayoral control of the New York City schools, or even extending the sales tax authorization for the counties across the state, they did seem to have the time to party. According to the New York Public Interest Research Group, which delved into the numbers, a total of 183 fundraising events were held near the Capitol during the 2017 legislative session.