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Assembly passes ethics reform, Senate passes tax cap

The State Assembly has passed legislation that would strip taxpayer-funded pensions from public officers convicted of corruption, as well as a resolution aimed at preventing conflicts of interest with regard to legislators' outside income. Lancaster Democrat Monica Wallace said, although there is much more to do, passage represents important ethics reform and now allows allows the pension bill to be placed on the ballot this November. If voters approve the measure, it will become an amendment to the state constitution.

Lockport Republican Mike Norris also voted for the measure.

“The people of our state have been paying for the pensions of corrupt public officials for too long," Norris said. "Pension forfeiture is necessary and long overdue and I am very pleased to have voted in support of the measure so that it can now go before voters this fall for their final approval.”

He encouraged additional reforms, including term limits.

The outside income measure requires legislators to seek a ruling from the independent Legislative Ethics Commission on more than $5,000 in outside earnings to confirm the income does not conflict with their legislative duties. Wallace said the resolution takes effect immediately and current lawmakers will have 30 days to disclose information to the LEC.

Assemblymember Steve Hawley also praised the pension bill, saying it is "an important step toward breaking down Albany’s culture of corruption and malfeasance.”

The Batavia Republican also proposed a measure on the Assembly floor Monday that would require a two-thirds vote of the house for Messages of Necessity to be accepted when issued by the governor.

Hawley said legislation is usually subject to an “aging” period of three days before it can be voted on, but Messages of Necessity are issued by the governor "to forgo this process and rush a vote on important or controversial legislation, as was done with the SAFE Act."

He said the maneuver should only be used in extreme circumstances.

"All legislation should be subject to proper vetting and examination instead of being irresponsibly rushed through the legislative process,” Hawley said.

If the bill passes the Senate this year, it must be approved by voters as a statewide referendum before becoming law. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced Monday their intent to pass similar legislation regarding pensions and outside income.

Meanwhile, the State Senate has passed legislation to make New York's property tax cap permanent. According to Flanagan, who sponsored the bill, the cap has been successful in stopping uncontrolled local spending and unsustainable tax increases, and now needs to be permanent.

The property tax cap was first enacted in 2011 and included a commitment to increase support to school districts. Flanagan's measure limits annual growth of property taxes levied by local governments and school districts to two percent or the rate of inflation - whichever is less. He said growth in property taxes skyrocketed by over 73 percent for New York school districts between 2001 and 2011 and 53 percent in counties.

The bill has been sent to the Assembly.

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