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A very small step

Give Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Albany’s legislative leaders a little credit. In the last days of the legislative session, fewer and fewer people thought they would take action on ethics reform, yet they did.

But please, no more than a little credit. After all, the legislation did not emerge from behind closed doors until after midnight on the session’s final day. Once it became public, all could see the package represents a very small step forward.

Yes, the move to strip pensions from public officials found guilty of corruption is long overdue. It’s bad enough that elected representatives such as former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos abused their authority; allowing them to pocket tens of thousands of dollars in pension benefits is a slap in the face to taxpayers.

Because it requires a constitutional change, the pension bill must pass the next Legislature and then win the approval of voters statewide. It should clear those hurdles easily. Whether stripping convicted officials’ pensions will prove to be an effective deterrent is a separate question.

We’d be more optimistic had this measure been accompanied by a cap on lawmakers’ outside income. And what about the bill to close the so-called LLC loophole? Current election law is like a spigot that’s always on; it allows limited liability companies to donate up to $150,000 a year to candidates and political committees combined. Since a single contributor can create multiple LLCs, there really isn’t any limit. Mr. Cuomo voiced support for closing the loophole but didn’t push hard for it, and the bill ran aground.

The five-point reform package that won approval does not change this fact: The best defense currently against corruption in Albany is U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s willingness to prosecute those who break existing laws.

If, as a recent Siena Research Institute poll showed, 96 percent of New Yorkers think ethics reform is a priority, they could make Mr. Bharara’s job easier by sending that message the next time they go to the polls.

6/24/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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