New York Senate GOP talks ethics with Cuomo; top senator quits law job as reform gains steam

Government And Institutions Associated Press

Republicans in the New York state Senate are in talks with Gov. Andrew Cuomo about legislative ethics reforms as demands for changes mount after the recent arrest of the former Assembly speaker.

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Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos of Long Island said Tuesday that the goal of the negotiations with Cuomo is "full transparency and strong ethics laws" modeled on effective laws in other states.

The debate hinges on possible limits on the income lawmakers can make from outside jobs — an idea popular with Democrats but opposed by Republicans.

The leader of the Senate's Independent Democratic Conference called for a total prohibition on outside income — something no other state does — to restore public trust in the Legislature. As a sign of his willingness, IDC Leader Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, said Tuesday he is stepping away from his private law practice.

"Someone should lead by example," he told The Associated Press. "I will not take any outside income or salary, no longer handle cases or seek clients. Drastic measures are needed."

Ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, faces charges that he took nearly $4 million in payoffs and kickbacks. Silver resigned his post as speaker last week but is keeping his Assembly seat and has said he expects to be exonerated.

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His successor, Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, supports limits on outside income. Heastie is a former budget analyst with the New York City Comptroller's office who recently has reported a small income from an adjunct position at a local college. He vowed to forego any outside income once he became speaker.

On Monday the Senate's mainline Democrats announced their proposal: Limit outside income to $12,000 a year and prohibit any income from legal work or financial advising.

Senate Republicans oppose a ban on outside income. Sen. John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, noted that people with backgrounds besides government bring other perspectives to the Legislature. He said he favors stronger income reporting rules that would require lawmakers to disclose more about any private employment.

"Finally, the overarching point is what kind of disclosure do you have and what type of transparency," said Flanagan, a lawyer. "I think that's what the leader's focus is going to be on."

Heastie is involved in the negotiations between Cuomo and the Senate Republicans, a spokesman for Skelos said.

Cuomo has proposed total disclosure of legislators' outside income and banning personal use of campaign funds. He has said he will not sign a state budget unless lawmakers pass ethics reform legislation.

Lawmakers now make a base salary of $79,500 — a figure that hasn't changed in 15 years. Many supporters of reform say an ethics overhaul should be accompanied by an increase in compensation.