Ethics Reform In Albany, New York

The New York State Capitol in AlbanyThe recent indictment of former New York State Senator Joseph A. Bruno on federal corruption charges has once again brought attention to the need for ethics reform in New York state government.

Albany has been the capital of New York state since 1797. That is 212 years. I think that is enough time to come up with a strong, meaningful ethics law for its lawmakers.

I have some commonsense suggestions.

Senate and Assembly “jobs” should be considered full time. We are paying them $79,500 a year for a job they consider “part time.” That is more than the full time pay of most New Yorkers who work 40 hours a week for the entire year. The legislature meets from January to mid-June, several days a week. While they have part time hours, they get full time pay. What are they doing the rest of the year? They should be representing the people of New York at all times.

Let’s tell our 62 Senators and 150 Assembly Members that their job is now considered full time. They are not allowed to receive one dime more than their legislative salary in compensation from any other employment or “consultant” source. If they don’t like it, they can go back to whatever they were doing before they got elected. That should weed out some of the ones that are in it for the money and the power.

Senators and Assembly Members should also be limited to three, two year terms. Six years is enough. These should not be lifetime career positions. This would also insure a turnover in the ranks. You wouldn’t have people hanging around for 30 years for the power trip and the what’s in it for me attitude. If we had average citizens in the legislature instead of “professional” politicians, a lot more meaningful work would get done. If you doubt that, let’s try it and see.

I read in a letter to the editor that rank and file state workers are prohibited from outside employment with, or financial gain from, companies that do business with state government. Why doesn’t this apply to the legislature? It’s ridiculous. Senators and Assembly Members should not be able to leave the legislature and go to work for a company that does business with the state for at least 5 years. Period. What is so difficult about that?

According to the Albany Times Union, New York’s rules for public officials are widely viewed as among the weakest of any large state. What does the physical size of the state or the size of the population have to do with ethics? The same rules should apply to Alaska that apply to Rhode Island. This is not rocket science. It is commonsense and it’s about time.

It should take Albany about an hour to create and pass a meaningful ethics law, but I’ll give them an entire day. It should be written so that a fifth grader can read it and understand it in less than 20 minutes.

If they don’t want to take my suggestions, Common Cause has a list called, “Ten Steps Lawmakers Can Take to Reform Albany.” Step 6 says: The Governor and legislators should agree to ban gifts from lobbyists and create an independent ethics commission. Well, I guess that would be a start. If they mean an actual commission that will watch over the shenanigans of the legislature after a strong ethics bill is in force, that would be fine. After 212 years, I think we need to put a strong ethics law together quickly. Isn’t there a state somewhere in this country that has an honest, straightforward, commonsense ethics law with teeth, to govern their lawmakers? Can’t we just copy that?

Step 1 of Common Cause’s 10 Steps is about redistricting. It says: “Support the creation of an independent redistricting commission based on the state of Iowa’s successful model.”

The way that the state of New York’s districts were made is just another form of unethical behavior. Commonsense, logic and fairness were completely absent when the legislative districts were created. The Senate Republicans and the Assembly Democrats are allowed to draw the district lines for their respective house. That is just unbelievable. Who thought that one up?

Read what Common Cause says about redistricting reform. Common Cause says that incumbent state legislative candidates are re-elected at a staggering rate. In over 2500 general election races in the past 24 years, a challenger has beaten an incumbent only 34 times. Holy cow. That is ridiculous.

A lot of people that I talk to seem to accept that New York and Albany have been dysfunctional and corrupt for years and that it will always be that way. What can you do? That’s just the way it is.

There must be something that can be done. There must be a way for New Yorkers to get an honest, functional government in Albany that works for the citizens instead of special interests.

Why can’t the citizens of New York get their representatives to create and pass a serious ethics law? That would be a good first step.

5 Responses to “Ethics Reform In Albany, New York”

  1. Dave Roberts says:

    Hi John, Here’s another idea. Lets consider mandating that they only meet “part-time” as in New Hampshire. The legislative session would take place between January and the end of March when the budget would be passed or the Governor’s plan adopted by default. Then they could all go home and STAY THERE. They could then work at their “full-time” jobs mingling with their constituents instead of hanging around in Albany all year with the special interests at whose troughs they feed, passing their ever-increasing web of legislation further complicating our lives. Dave

  2. Lawrence White says:

    The reason these ideas have not been actuated in NY Stated is in your last sentence John. Why would a group of lawyers (most legislators are) create new ethics rules for themselves when they profit so greatly as it is now?

    The irony is that I do not believe lower pay or a change in status will make the difference you wish. The only way that it can happen is when the people of the state get active enough to DEMAND IT. As it is now many are content to simply accept corruption and sense of lawlessness because they personally benefit from it.

    You can see the same thing in Schuylerville where there are those we all know who are dead set against reform because they “like it as it is.” This includes democrats as well as republicans although republicans have controlled the village for years.

    For instance the recent local laws, regulations and oversight surrounding building inspections in Schuylerville were ridiculously lax. Frankly I was shocked at the negative response from some very high profile locals who were dead set against reform of the building inspection system particularly those buildings that were being rehabbed and then reopened for public access.

    It would seem to be common sense that there would be a focus on this sort of inspection process as it effects public safety. Yet this simply was not the case. To me mandatory inspections and cortication of occupancy are just the sort of regulations that are good for a village on the rebound. Public safety is essential for civic growth. It signals that a village is serious about it’s future. However there are those in positions of local authority and considerable personal respect who fought against reform tooth and nail.

    Fortunately Schuylerville did reform anyway. The new rules, zoning board and a full time inspector are now in place. Sure it is a bit more difficult for owners to open their buildings again, but in the end the safety factor benefits owners as well as it ensures they will not be sued for leasing a building that is actually dangerous and is condemned AFTER IT IS LEASED AND OPENED TO THE PUBLIC. This sort of negative nonsense stunts a village’s growth and reaffirms a corrupt profile that only drags it down.

    Albany can reform as well but it will take serious action by citizens – like us – if it is to happen. Citizen action is what brought reform to Schuylerville. Citizen action can bring reform to our state government as well but we have to be prepared to stand up to some pretty powerful interests if we are to see it in our lifetimes.

    The real question is – are WE willing to do so.

  3. Whybother says:

    Random thoughts;

    Common Cause is a great starting point for the reform discussion.

    Unless there is specific language within the Law or the State Consitution that says otherwise I would think it to be quite difficult to tell Senators and Assembly members that they can’t have a 2nd job when every other free American can hold down 2 or more jobs – (of course those people can be fired from their various jobs if they aren’t performing while the elected officials are pretty much teflon…which is another problem altogether…but I digress…).

    I believe that a number of states draw up their districts in a similar manner. It’s just plain stupid.

    I’d be cool with 4 terms of two years. Give you a little carry over when a new Governor is elected…

  4. It’s beyond Wake Up time!
    Candidates for New York State Assembly and Senate must be found! That would mean approaching individuals, you know, trust and admire and asking if they would consider running for one of these offices! The “Part Time” salaries ($79 thousands +++)in addition to the Tax Free per diem (better
    understood as Beer Money) of
    say $140.00 paid each day their respective houses are in session, *plus offices to operate their business (both
    Ours and their own) at either
    the Capitol or the Legislative Office Building as well as a office or offices back home in the District are simply not being earned, meaning we are being
    Citizen Legislatures are comprised of intelligent and aware people temporarily putting aside their avocation or interests for a measured amount of time and focussing
    on the Common Good! Then returning to their own private life. This is not a Lifetime Position which inevitably is assumed by unfortunately both parties, the politican and the voters!

    There in lies the root of the Mess we are all in, the elected elects all the benefits befitting his or her opinion of their self-worth, according to their own ego!

    It ain’t a Toss Up Question
    It where We find ourselves and We have to Do something about it!

  5. John Tedder says:

    Thanks for commenting Daniel. I didn’t know about the $140 per day, tax free “beer money.” Wow. How do we get from what we have to what you describe?

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