Lawmakers, advocates say reform is not dead at state Capitol

Apr 26, 2017

State lawmakers and lobby groups say Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in error when he said that there was no political will to enact reforms in 2017.

Democratic lawmakers, along with the League of Women Voters, rallied outside the Senate chambers Tuesday for bills that would allow same-day voting and early voting by mail in New York state.

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said the most recent presidential election should serve as a “wake-up call” about the importance of voting and access to polling machines.

“We have an abysmal voting turnout record,” Stewart-Cousins said. “If people have more options, they will be able to get to the polls.”

Cuomo, who said in March he would “try like heck” to achieve voting reform, was more pessimistic about the chances for any types of reforms in mid-April.

“If we didn’t get it in done in the budget, it means you don’t have political will to get it done,” Cuomo said on April 15. “Ethics reform, for example. I don’t see that happening with this Legislature.”

Jennifer Wilson of the League of Women Voters strongly disagrees. Speaking in front of about 200 supporters, she said many members of the public are more eager for change than ever.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Wilson said. “Of course we care. We’re all here.”

The voter access bills moved through committee in the Assembly but are stalled in the state Senate.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, the Finance Committee voted to move on another reform bill that would add more oversight to the state’s economic development project contracting process.

Federal prosecutors charged nine former associates of Cuomo, including a former top aide, with corruption, including bribery and bid-rigging, in connection with the procurement of contracts for some of the governor’s largest economic development projects.

The bill’s sponsor, Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, said the measure would reinstate the power of the state comptroller to have oversight authority over the economic development projects.

DeFrancisco also disagreed with Cuomo’s assertion that the Legislature has no political will to do reform.

“There’s no will for reform in the executive branch,” DeFrancisco countered.

DeFrancisco said the bill is the “last thing” the governor wants because someone else would be looking over his shoulder on the contracts.

“That’s exactly why it’s necessary,” he said.

DeFrancisco admitted that he, along with most lawmakers, voted to cut the comptroller out of the review process in 2011, but he said he did not realize the implications of the change at the time.

“It was a mistaken vote if I voted for it,” DeFrancisco said. “And that’s why we’ve got to correct it.”

Cuomo at the time argued that the economic development projects would move faster without additional layers of oversight.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has feuded with Cuomo in the past.

The governor has proposed creating a new inspector general under his administration’s jurisdiction to review economic development contracts, but DeFrancisco said that’s a nonstarter.

The measure has a majority party sponsor in the Assembly, and DeFrancisco predicts it could be approved and sent to the governor’s desk before the session ends in June for Cuomo to sign or veto.