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As corruption grips Albany, leaders ignore ethics reform

Barbara Bartoletti twitter feed

A busy legislative session in Albany has failed to produce any agreements on ethics reform, even though Albany is in the midst of a corruption crime wave. WBFO Albany Correspondent Karen DeWitt spoke to long-time League of Women Voters lobbyist Barbara Bartoletti about the lack of action.

Local Assemblymember Ray Walter (R-Amherst) weighed in on the lack of ethics reform action in this year's legislative session with the following statement: 

“As we reflect on the accomplishments of another eventful legislative session, I remain disappointed in the Assembly Majority’s unwillingness to address any meaningful ethics reform measures this year. Despite our conference’s push for accountability and transparency in the funding of Gov. Cuomo’s economic development programs, the final days of debate have come and gone with no effort from our colleagues across the aisle to address this glaring omission. Now, as investigations into the corruption that has surrounded many of the governor’s initiatives continue, it is a mystery that nothing has been done to amend this clearly flawed and unethical process.

“New York’s residents deserve to know exactly how the government is spending hundreds of millions of their hard-earned tax dollars and I will remain committed to this cause until it is finally addressed once and for all. Whether it is procurement reform, accountability in the Start-Up NY program or a searchable database of economic development deals, changes need to be made to protect our tax dollars. Moving forward, I will continue to push for legislation that encourages responsible and ethical conduct from our state’s leaders, and will do everything in my power to eliminate the crooked dealings that have become synonymous with Gov. Cuomo’s economic development programs.” 

The session also adjourned Wednesday evening without any deals on extending control of the New York City Mayor’s authority over the public school system, or the continuation of sales taxes in Upstate and Long Island counties. Assembly Democrats tied the two issues together in one bill and Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle late Wednesday afternoon said they did not have any intention of de-linking the two items.

“It’s pretty basic,” said Morelle. “If you’re going to say you really believe in local control, then local control extends to the largest municipality in the state, which is the City of New York.”

Republicans in the State Senate, along with the Governor, wanted continuation of mayoral control to be linked to strengthening charter schools, something Assembly Democrats have adamantly rejected. Senators wanted the extension of the county sales tax de-coupled from mayoral control, saying the deadlock is holding counties outside New York hostage.

Earlier in the day, legislative leaders said they hoped for a “grand bargain” that would include the mayoral control extension, the sales tax continuation and some provisions to help charter schools. However, lawmakers ended the session without a deal, blaming each other for the failure.

"It is unconscionable that the Senate departed, leaving our local governments with so much uncertainty," said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. "The Assembly acted responsibly by extending mayoral control for New York City schools as well providing the certainty that our local governments so desperately need in order to function properly. Unfortunately, the Senate Republicans did not. Our school children, families, and local officials deserve better. Our state government deserves better."

"We would have preferred to have tied everything up with a nice neat bow and returned to our districts with nothing at all left on our plate, but under the circumstances, that just wasn’t possible," said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. "The Senate has approved three different bills to extend mayoral control. Unlike the Assembly, our bills dealt wholly with education in the City of New York and would give Mayor de Blasio new tools to ensure every child has a shot at a first-class education. The Assembly needlessly tied renewal of mayoral control to dozens of unrelated local tax extenders requested by counties to fund important services for their residents."

They have not ruled out returning later in the year to address the unfinished business. A bill that would extend the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse also was left on the table.

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.