Reformers Decry Albany's Failure To Respond To Its 'Watergate Moment'
With budget negotiations down to the final days before the April 1st deadline, state government watchdogs in Albany say the process has been too opaque — especially after high-profile corruption convictions of the legislature’s former leaders.
A coalition of government reform organizations are demanding openness in the aftermath of a series of scandals involving state lawmakers.
Speaking at the capitol on Monday, New York Public Interest Research Group executive director Blair Horner says he is stunned by "the incredible secrecy around the state budget." "There's roughly 150 billion dollars of taxpayer dollars being spent, and yet the budget process is shrouded in secrecy."
Horner says Albany is failing to appreciate its "Watergate moment" after the former Assembly Speaker and former Senate Majority Leader were both convicted on corruption charges. "Nothing is happening in terms of dealing with the problems, the sort of political crime wave that we've seen at the state capitol over the last few years."
Reformers are frustrated, claiming everything about the budget is cloaked in secrecy. The good-government groups are calling for any lump sum budget appropriations to be itemized and publicly disclosed. They also want the sponsor identified, along with disclosure of methods by which all state funds are awarded and the identities of the recipients of those funds.
Arguing public trust is at stake, the groups are incredulous that ethics reforms are apparently not part of the ethics talks. They rue what they call a "complete lack of openness" to the budget process, with no way to find out what is and what isn't in the package, until the three leaders announce an agreement.
The groups cited a recent poll showing nearly 90 percent of New Yorkers believe unethical behavior is a serious problem in state government, and argued that the governor and legislative leaders have an obligation to voters to come to a "significant" agreement on ethic reform.
Dick Dadey is executive director of Citizens Union. "The governor has barnstormed the state in support of the $15 minimum wage. Let's remember what he did last year on ethics. All he did was walk to the Assembly chamber and to the Senate chamber, and he got some ethics reform. He hasn't even done that this year."
Cuomo spokesman John Kelly responded to a request for comment by email, which says in part, “This year, it is the voters who will provide the best leverage. As the governor has previously said, we cannot imagine a scenario where legislators will be able ?to face their constituents without taking significant action on ethics reform."