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Cuomo dealing with ethics reform, falling poll numbers

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Governor Cuomo and the Speaker of the Assembly say they hope the State Senate will sign on to their joint proposal for ethics reform, as a new poll finds the governor with dropping job approval numbers.

Governor Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie took the unusual step of calling their ethics measure a “deal”, even though they need the State Senate to agree to the plan in order for it to become law.

“This is a day of progress and good news,” Cuomo said.

The bill would require that state lawmakers disclose details of their sources of outside income, even law clients, and that they prove they were actually in Albany , using an electronic card swipe system, before they are entitled to per diem expense payments. The proposal would not place any limits on how as lawmaker could earn, as some reform groups have sought,  but would prohibit payments from entities doing business with the state.

Technically, the Assembly could adopt many of the measures on their own, without needing a law, and Speaker Carl Heastie says his house may take action independently on some of the measure.

“I believe that we will look to do this, particularly on the per diem reform,” Heastie said.

The state Assembly has some incentive to clean up it’s policies. Former speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested in late January and charged with running a multi million dollar fraud scheme that included payments from two private law firms. Silver was forced to resign his post.

But Cuomo says he still wants the Senate to agree to the plan and for it to be approved along with the state budget, and he said previously that he will make the budget late if there’s no three way deal on ethics, as well as other issues like education reform .

“We want to get a piece of legislation that does this, which means it would be binding on the Assembly and the Senate,” Cuomo said.  

The pact between Cuomo and the Assembly Democrats puts pressure on the Senate, which is led by Republicans,  to acquiesce to the deal.  GOP Senators discussed the proposal, as well as other aspects of the budget, in a private meeting. Senator John Bonacic, a Republican from the Hudson Valley, says Senators are open to ideas that increase transparency, but he says they don’t like being “jammed” on the issue.

“He’s doing whatever he can to try to get the things he wants, and get himself out of the box he’s put himself in,” said Bonacic, who says Cuomo has tried to link too many unrelated and “difficult” issues, including ethics and education changes, to the state spending plan.

“Which I thought was a very bad strategy,” Bonacic said.

The announcement on ethics comes as a new poll finds Governor Cuomo is at his lowest job approval rating since taking office, with 50% of voters thinking he’s doing a good or excellent job.

Quinnipiac University poll spokesman Mickey Carroll  says that’s a drop of eight points since last December , before the current session began and before the governor began a more public feud with the state’s teachers unions.

“The Quinnipiac numbers show him at a tepid 50 percent to 39 percent,” Carrol said. “It’s the schools that do it.”

The poll also asked who voters trusted more, the governor or the teachers union. 55 percent sided with the teachers, just 28 percent said they trusted Cuomo. Cuomo has called the teachers union and their allies part of bloated bureaucracy that needs to be broken, teachers have responded with mass rallies at the Capitol and around the state, as well as negative TV ads.

Cuomo shrugged off the poll’s findings, attributing them to tension over state budget negotiations.  And he took an indirect shot at the teachers’ unions.

“As you are stirring that pot and ginning up opposition, and everybody is doing rallies and sending nasty emails,”  Cuomo said. “It’s the nature of the beast.”

New York State United Teachers, in a statement, say they are pleased that the public is rejecting what they call the governors “false narrative” about problems with the state’s education system.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.