Dear Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and all state legislators,
On behalf of your constituents, we’ve had it. We’re all fed up with corruption. We’ve weighed in time and time again — in public opinion polls, in emails and tweets to you, in editorials and letters to the editor. You’ve heard us many times before and paid us lip-service, but you haven’t done anything. We want action.
Last week, Siena College released a poll of registered voters in New York — the very people you legislators must answer to in November’s elections — and 97 percent of us believe it’s important that you pass ethics reforms in this session. Have you ever seen us so unanimous?
Is it any wonder? Look at the sorry spectacle we’ve had to watch. In the last few years, more than a dozen state lawmakers have been convicted or pleaded guilty to corruption charges, including former Speaker Sheldon Silver — your predecessor, Mr. Heastie — and former Majority Leader Dean Skelos — your predecessor, Mr. Flanagan. And yet, Mr. Heastie, you told reporters that Silver’s sentencing was “the end of a dark chapter for the Assembly.”
We know you want that to be true, but the end to this dark chapter can only come with real ethics reform. Because there is no end now to corruption investigations.
Gov. Cuomo, Mr. Heastie and Mr. Flanagan, tell us what reforms you want and debate that in public. No backroom deals. Two-thirds of voters say they doubt you will pass any real anti-corruption legislation this session. Prove us wrong. For once, do not to live down to our most cynical expectations. Show us that government can respond to the people, not the powerful few. Here’s what you need to do:
Take away pensions — Support a constitutional amendment that would strip the public pension from any public official convicted of a job-related felony.
Limit outside income — Either ban it or cap what you can earn outside the legislature. Gov. Cuomo has a good proposal — 15 percent of your public salary. It works for members of Congress, and it’d be good for you.
Constrain contributions — Put the same $5,000 limit on contributions from limited liability corporations that exists for regular corporations, require LLCs to identify owners, and cap donations to housekeeping and party accounts.
Limit terms — Too much time means too much power. Eight years for chamber leaders and committee chairs is enough. And terms for all lawmakers should be limited.
Our election laws also need changes. It’s too difficult to get properly registered or cast a ballot. And restricting access to the ballot keeps you incumbents in power, especially in New York, where primaries are everything. You must open up the process. We need:
More voters — Deadlines for registering and for switching parties must be closer to election dates, eligible voters should be automatically registered when they conduct business with various state agencies, and early voting is a must, perhaps starting the weekend before Election Day.
More candidates — Ban cross endorsements and simplify rules for getting on ballots. We need fresh faces.
Less confusion — Make ballots easier to read and use and consolidate New York’s array of primary dates.
That’s it. The legislative session ends June 16. You’re all on the clock. And all of us are watching.
The editorial board