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Election year gives voters an opportunity to demand better from state legislators

Well, it wasn’t as though New Yorkers did not already know this, but it’s helpful – if not exactly good – to see it spelled out in irrefutable terms: New York State government is the nation’s most corrupt.

We’re worse than Louisiana, worse than Illinois, worse than Pennsylvania and New Jersey. New York is a living testimonial on how not to run a state. The reason is uncertain, but it’s less important than the fact and the potential solutions, which Albany dutifully and furiously ignores, year after year after year. Voters have an opportunity this fall to start doing something about that.

It’s possible to speculate on the causes of New York’s rampant corruption. The strings surely trace back to Tammany Hall, the crooked political organization that all but ran New York City under William M. “Boss” Tweed. The organization’s tentacles reached Albany, and although Tammany Hall, itself, expired in 1967, its influence lingers, pervading state government.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s case charging nine people with participating in a huge pay-to-play scheme is just the latest headline-grabber.

It wasn’t public corruption that brought down former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, but his cavorting with prostitutes betrayed the same sense of entitlement that brought down other state leaders, including former Comptroller Alan Hevesi, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

And these men prove the adage that the fish stinks from the head down. Other members of the Assembly and Senate have been driven from office because of corruption. Two researchers from the University of Missouri have compiled a database of corruption. It identifies 28 corruption cases dealing with New York state officials between 2006 and 2015. And by extending the search back another year, to 2005, the number of cases rises to 30.

It’s the worst record among the states. Pennsylvania comes closest, with 24 cases filed over the past decade, and New Jersey ranks third with a comparatively paltry 12 corruption cases.

The question of New York’s corruption came up (again) as part of an election campaign for a vacant State Senate seat in Long Island. Republican candidate Elaine Phillips is making public corruption a centerpiece of her campaign. She based her contention of the state’s nation-leading level of corruption on a New York Times story. The Buffalo News, through its affiliation with PolitiFact, a fact-checking organization begun by the Tampa Bay Times, confirmed what most New Yorkers already knew: This state is the worst. It’s stink is pervasive.

But an election is coming. Voters who want to do something to improve the state’s political climate have a role to play. They can grill their candidates about issues such as limits on campaign contributions, outside sources of income and full disclosure of both. They can check to see if their candidates even think public corruption is an issue worthy of their close attention. Not all of them do.

But no one – not candidates, not voters – can claim that New York doesn’t have a problem. And it carries consequences beyond embarrassment and the public costs of prosecuting criminals in high places.

In addition to New York’s status as America’s most corrupt state government, it is also the state with the highest cumulative tax burden. It’s no surprise. We already know that prostitutes have a higher rate of sexually transmitted diseases. The disease that corrupt politicians carry into their deal-making strikes New York taxpayers in their wallets.

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