Time is running out for an on-time New York State budget to be passed, and there is still no agreement on the $140 billion spending plan. Zack Fink filed the following report.
ALBANY - Ethics reform has been the one element this year Governor Andrew Cuomo says he can't live without in the state budget. Getting to an agreement on what that reform will look like, however, has been difficult.
"We're very close on ethics. I don't see any reason why that can't be introduced today," said state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.
Republicans in the state Senate objected to the governor's proposal calling for greater disclosure of lawmakers' outside income. Many senators work as attorneys and worry about having to disclose their clients.
"Our ultimate goal is no outside income. But if we're going to have outside income, we want to see the broadest possible disclosure," said Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York. "It's up to them to negotiate."
Some say any ethics reform that doesn't include a ban on all outside income is merely window dressing. They say only an outright ban would help stem the tide of corruption witnessed in Albany the last few years, including the arrest earlier this year of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is accused of using his office to illegally gain outside income.
"I think potentially, any income could pose a conflict," said Jeff Klein, the leader of the state Senate's Independent Democratic Conference. "And I think if we're going to be really serious about ethics reform, the ban of outside income has to happen, and it has to happen quickly."
Cuomo, though, says state leaders are not yet prepared to make the legislature a full-time job and ban all outside employment.
"That is a very big departure from what the constitution envisioned, frankly. Because the constitution talked about a citizen legislature," Cuomo said Tuesday.
Critics say the problem with passing ethics and disclosure laws piecemeal is that it's a constant work in progress. Lawmakers need to come back each year and pass new laws to crack down if they continue to stop short of an outright ban on outside income.