In his State of the State speech, Gov. Andrew Cuomo once again called for a reform package to address corruption in the legislature. Last year, bills to crack down on bribery and enact public campaign financing were never passed.
The legislature failed in 2013 to act on any of the governor’s reform proposals, despite several arrests, indictments and imprisonment of lawmakers.
Cuomo appointed a Moreland Act Commission to essentially investigate the legislature and those probes are ongoing, setting up a potential conflict between the governor, the Senate and Assembly as 2014 begins.
But in his speech, Cuomo tried to appeal to lawmakers’ better natures. He began by referencing the latest sexual harassment scandal in the Assembly, where several women are accusing Buffalo-area Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak of inappropriate behavior.
“There’s been a string of bad acts almost on a daily basis,” Cuomo said. “And it reflects badly on all of us."
Cuomo says the public doesn’t always make a distinction between honest and corrupt politicians.
He also tried to diffuse tension over his Moreland Act Commission probes, saying he’s not against the legislature.
“I do believe in the legislature,” Cuomo said.
Last year, the governor highlighted public financing of campaigns, but the measure died due to opposition from Republicans who lead the state Senate in a power sharing coalition.
This year, the governor downplayed the issue, listing it with a number of other steps he wants to take, including stricter penalties against bribery, creating an independent agency to police campaign filing violations and greater disclosure by lawmakers of their private law clients who have business before the state.
The make up of the state Senate has not changed from last year, and the GOP still opposes public financing of campaigns, calling it a waste of the taxpayer’s money. Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos seemed much more pleased with this year’s speech in general, saying he liked the governor's tone.
“There’s a spirit of bipartisanship, and that’s what folks are looking for,” Skelos said.
Advocates of public campaign finance are not giving up, though. Karen Scharff with Citizen Action, says at least the governor mentioned the issue in the speech.
“Government can’t succeed and can’t really work for ordinary New Yorkers until we do restore the public trust,” said Scharff, who believes that can only happen if there’s less reliance on big money donors and more on small donors.
Susan Lerner, with Common Cause, says she was encouraged by the tact the governor took in the speech, staying positive instead of trying to shame them into agreeing to his proposals.
“Here he really was saying, help me help you,” said Lerner. “That’s a different approach and I hope one that they are ready to hear.”
Legislative leaders are fighting the governor in court over the scope of the Moreland Act Commission probes. The next court date is mid-March, just when an agreement on the state budget is due. So it’s possible that an agreement on both a state spending plan and an anti-corruption package could happen then.