While some state lawmakers are quick to cite the accomplishments of the 2017 Legislature, which adjourned on June 21, there are valid reasons to recall major matters that 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.
The need for increased awareness of ethics in the operation of state government was brought into 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. 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 a measure before they opted to adjourn. 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 content with its 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 thinks the governor’s proposal is ridiculous and compares it to the fox guarding the henhouse. The plan simply would not work, he asserts.
It was only about a year ago that Cuomo called for another Moreland Commission to investigate corruption in state government, particularly in the extent to which lawmakers have outside income and what links they might have to developers and other people who do business with the state government. The first commission functioned for only a brief time before Cuomo disbanded it with little explanation. Some veteran Albany observers speculated that the 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, noted in a recent report that while state lawmakers apparently lacked the time during their regular session to craft an ethics reform package or address some other items on their agenda, including extending mayoral control of the New York City schools and extending collection of the “Medicaid penny” of sales tax by 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.
Our state legislature just keeps earning that “most dysfunctional” distinction, doesn’t it?