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Cuomo addresses ethics lapses in final State of the State speech

Governor Cuomo's office

Governor Andrew Cuomo saved his ethics proposals for the last stop of his State of the State tour in Albany, where he released a 10-point plan to address rampant corruption that has reached his own administration.

The proposals come after a corruption wave at the Capitol that’s led to prison sentences for both former legislative leaders, jail time for a former state comptroller and federal charges, including bribery and bid-rigging, against nine Cuomo associates. One of the associates is former top aide Joe Percoco, whom Cuomo’s father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, referred to as a “third son.”

“Unfortunately in Albany there have been a series of breaches of the trust,” Cuomo said. “It’s happened in my own office.”

Cuomo wants to pass two constitutional amendments. One would ban outside income for legislators; another would impose term limits. He also wants to close a campaign finance loophole that allows donors to form limited liability companies to get around contribution limits, and enact public campaign financing.

The governor also is seeking remedies for corruption in his own administration. He would create a special inspector general to look at economic development and other contracts processed by the State and City University systems.

The former head of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, Alain Kaloyeros, who oversaw many of the governor’s upstate economic development projects, is under indictment on bid-rigging and other charges.

Cuomo also wants to ban campaign contributions from contractors who are vying for state contracts. The timing of some contributions from developers to the governor coincided with the developers’ winning state contracts, although no one has been accused of wrongdoing in the case.

Government reform group representatives who have seen previous reform measures stall say the governor has to actively campaign for the proposals if he really wants them to become law.

Blair Horner with the New York Public Interest Research Group said Cuomo needs to “galvanize public support.”

“Similar to what he did on the $15 minimum wage,” Horner said.

Cuomo toured the state on a bus to promote the minimum wage increase, which the state Legislature agreed to in last year’s budget.

Horner said he’d like to see a proposal to create more independent ethics oversight that is not controlled by the governor or the Legislature.

Barbara Bartoletti with the League of Women Voters, who attended the speech, agreed that Cuomo will have to make an extra effort to get the proposals through the Senate and Assembly, but she said the constitutional amendments are likely “dead on arrival in the Legislature.”

But she said if lawmakers agreed to close campaign finance loopholes, it would go a long way to cleaning up corruption.

The head of the state’s Republican Party, Ed Cox, said Cuomo has a poor track record when it comes to ethics reform. He said the governor opened a special Moreland Act commission and then shuttered it when members started to investigate Cuomo’s office.

“He didn’t want to be examined himself,” Cox said. “Now he’s being examined through the corruption of his closest associates, nine of them. Including his quote-unquote third brother.”

Percoco, Kaloyeros and six others go on trial for corruption late this year.

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.