Gov. Andrew Cuomo is absolutely right in demanding wholesale reform of the way in which the Legislature does business. If you are a legislator or an elected public servant and you are convicted of a crime, he wants to take your pension away. To that end, he is proposing a constitutional amendment that would have to be passed in two successive legislative sessions. Even as we speak, more than a few convicted legislators are sitting in prisons and actually collecting their taxpayer-provided pensions.
I am here to tell you that the members of the Legislature are not happy about this one at all. They cry out, “But what about our spouses and families? Who will take care of them?” Most of New York state’s citizens think that divesting these crooks of their pensions is an excellent idea. People theorize that if they were so worried about their wives and children, then maybe, just maybe, they should have considered the consequences before committing the crime. In fact, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara isn’t even waiting for a constitutional amendment. He figures that it’s just as easy to fine them heavily and grab their pensions that way.
Now the legislators are beginning to get nervous. They claim that not everyone is a crook, there are just a few bad apples. Even the governor says that. Our legislators don’t like some of the other provisions being offered by Cuomo including one insisting that they let us know exactly who is paying them money for any so-called jobs they may have on the outside. That’s one that I’ve been calling for since the beginning of time. People tend to give legislators money to have their way with them and anyone who doesn’t understand that is not playing with a full deck.
But I have a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. What if Andrew Cuomo is calling for these worthy reforms but doesn’t really mean it? We all remember — or should remember — the ill-fated Moreland Act Commission that Cuomo set up to ferret out the legislative crooks. Just as the commission was making headway, he called a halt, saying that it was his commission and he could. We later learn that Cuomo traded it out for a legislative victory. He got publically beaten up for that screw up and he deserved it. People ranging from me to Preet Bharara didn’t like it and he really hasn’t recovered from that faux pas.
Then there were those less-than-effective ethics watchdog commissions that he set up that really haven’t worked out.
Andrew has been vehement that all this horse-trading is just part of the legislative process and it’s how you get things done. But some of us believe that he gives too much up in the trading and gets too little in return. If, as he says, he really means it this time, how can we be so sure? In fact, he has already told us that he often trades away his good ideas for a few legislative crumbs. Has he cried wolf once too often?
This is a moment in time when there really could be wholesale, substantive change in the sometimes corrupt and venal system that has plagued New York for too long. Cuomo holds the cards. If he is willing to trade away strong restrictions on the Legislature, it can only mean that he really doesn’t want what he says he wants. What’s more, the voters just may be getting wise to the fixed game. Remember when Cuomo said that he wouldn’t sign a self-serving reapportionment bill that allowed the majority parties to design their own districts? He caved on that one, too. So it really is possible that the guy is full of baloney and is just playing the same old, same old, game. As Preet Bharara says, “Stay tuned.”
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 2/23/15