It’s Shakespearean: Sound and fury signifying nothing.
The fast-approaching end of the New York State Legislature’s 2018 session is subsumed in chaotic activity meant to produce … not much.
It’s true across the board, especially regarding the ethics reform that is desperately needed in one of the country’s most corrupt state governments.
Nevertheless, and unsurprisingly, legislators seem content with foot-dragging, do-nothing, unproductive, time-wasting activity that is designed to get them out the door and back to their districts. Some officials, including the governor, have already escaped the Capitol before the session ends on Wednesday.
True ethics reform, such as closing the infamous LLC loophole, has eluded Albany lawmakers, who seem determined not to have it. The LLC loophole allows well-heeled donors who want to influence state legislation to give as much money as they choose to their favored candidates. That’s because of a disastrous 1996 ruling by the Board of Elections that these LLCs are actually “individuals.”
Businesses can donate only $5,000 in any year but for individuals, that amount soars to $109,600. What’s worse, there is no limit on the number of LLCs an individual can create and therefore no limit on contributions. It amounts to legalized bribery. It needs to end. The Senate is sitting firmly on its hands on this one.
Assembly Democrats, incredibly, had no specific priorities to pursue. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have several ideas, but with no specifics. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office offered a cascade of proposals which, at least to some extent, are colored by the fact that the governor is locked in a high-profile primary election.
Sports gambling remains a hot topic. Lobbyists who want it approved are on the prowl. Politicians, as noted in an analysis by Albany bureau chief Tom Precious, might want to drag this one out a bit while potentially huge pots of money flow in from sports gambling interests. But it would be too hasty to approve this now, without close scrutiny.
The New York State United Teachers union has at the top of its agenda a law decoupling test results from teacher evaluations that might be used in tenure decisions. Thankfully, that one has stalled in the Senate.
Bidding controversies on high-dollar projects in Buffalo and Syracuse have produced three measures that seem to be going nowhere. One would restore approval oversight for state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for certain state contracts. It was sponsored by Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, who for some reason didn’t push for it. This one should be passed.
Two other valuable bills were introduced by Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore. One would create a “database of deals” while the other would make the state’s Freedom of Information law apply to state-created private agencies that make spending decisions on behalf of the state. The Assembly shows no interest in either bill.
The lack of enthusiasm to re-engineer how things are done in Albany is disappointing, despite scandals that tell the tale on ethics in New York State government.
Voters should take note.