In the midst of the Sheldon Silver corruption case, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited NYU Law on Feb. 2 to address corruption and policy ethics in government.
Cuomo started his speech by addressing recent headlines about corrupt Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver. He said corruption cases have lead to distrust from the public.
“This has been a difficult month for the state of New York, the headlines have been ugly,” Cuomo said. “Only seeing is believing when it comes to trusting government.”
Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director for the Alliance for Quality Education, stood outside of NYU Law during Cuomo’s speech to protest Cuomo’s affiliation with charter schools, which have contributed to his campaign in the past.
“It is ironic that he is here giving an ethics conversation,” Ansari said. “Why do we have Governor Cuomo here when all he is doing is spewing the words and the conversation and the agenda of his hedge-fund, billionaire campaign donors?”
Legislators’ stagnant salary was a topic of discussion, and Cuomo noted the 16-year legislator salary cap of $79,500. Cuomo said legislators’ relatively low salary has lead to their private employment, which has the potential to lead to corruption.
“In New York, most outside employment for legislators is as lawyers at law firms,” Cuomo said. “That said, most legislators are not wealthy. Assemblyman Sheldon Silver was the exception.”
The governor’s goal in policy reform is to restore public faith in New York government. Cuomo said we need to either eliminate legislators’ outside income or make their income more transparent.
“If people are going to believe that government is part of the solution, we will have to prove that the government has the capacity to confidently perform and that it can be trusted ethically,” Cuomo said. “The concept of part-time employment as a legislator is problematic in modern society.”
Private employment has created a conflict of interest for legislators.
“The constant question is whether clients are seeking influence in which clients are paying privately for the actions of a public official,” Cuomo said. “Who does the legislator really represent at the end of the day, is it his or her constituents, or some undisclosed client interest?”
Cuomo’s solution to the inherent problem is to use the budget as a platform for discussion. He said he will not pass the budget unless it includes legislation to control outside influence on government.
“If we want to resolve it once and for all we need to end outside income entirely or thoroughly disclose it — there is no middle ground,” Cuomo said. “I will not sign a budget that does not have an ethics plan as outlined in my proposal that addresses the current problems in the system.”
Michael DeLuca, secretary of the College Democrats and CAS sophomore, said Cuomo’s decision to delay the budget would cater to public’s need for government transparency.
“The Governor put the ball in the legislators’ court with this strategic move,” DeLuca said. “He knows the public wants transparency, and now any response from legislators which isn’t full compliance will only add to the public’s distrust.”
This upcoming budget proposal would be the fifth budget passed by the deadline, which has not happened for over 40 years. Cuomo said this measure is necessary to see real change in government transparency.
“It is more important to me to prove that we have corrected the problem and restored trust than just check the box and get another budget done on time,” Cuomo said.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 3 print edition. Email Alanna Bayarin at [email protected]