This year’s New York State legislative session already started out with an unexpected $4 billion plus deficit that needs attention.
Now this will be a huge task to cope with, considering state government’s inability to manage finances in a common-sense and efficient manner.
I don’t mean to be cynical, but history does tell a story, but I will tell you more about this in future columns.
But today, I want to talk about something equally important, with as much negative impact on our state’s economy and quality of life as the financial mismanagement, that being the ethical crisis happening in state government today.
No, it is not new, and all states and many cities have ethics issues to deal with from time to time.
What makes New York State unique is the long history of this problem and the size and scope of the issues.
Every year at this time (it is not a seasonal problem, but if it is to be addressed this is the time to do it), this matter comes up, followed by a great deal of pontification by our legislators, only to be slowly pushed to the back burner so when the session closes in June … OOPS … we didn’t have time to make the positive changes that may bring back the public confidence in state government.
As I said earlier, the problem is not unique to New York State; it just seems to be so much bigger and prevalent, and growing here every year.
In New York, over the past dozen years, the instances and accusations of sexual harassment in our state capital have been growing, and the revelation that a number of accusers have been paid off with taxpayer money is absolutely unconscionable.
I’m happy to hear that the Governor has put forth legislation to prevent that from happening.
This year will be an unusually embarrassing year for our state in that not only are the trials of top Cuomo aide Joe Percoco, now in progress, and former SUNY Polytechnic Institute head Alain Kaloyeros scheduled for May, both for schemes involving all sorts of corruption and bribery from kickbacks to bid rigging.
And to add more insult, the trial of former state Senator George Maziarz and the high profile retrials of former legislative leaders Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver will be starting this spring.
This means that every month from January through June there will be sensationally negative media attention regarding our state government.
With more than 20 state legislators having been convicted of various felonies over the past 14 years, one might think that everyone would think it’s time to embrace some sort of ethics reform.
Do the math — there are 213 individuals serving as state legislators with the number of convictions representing 10 percent of the total.
In a little more than a decade, 10 percent of our legislature has engaged in some form of illegal activity. I find that both incredible and disheartening.
Why do they do it? I guess for self-gain, there is an opportunity, it’s easy, maybe they feel a sense of immunity, or quite simply, because they can.
In all fairness, in spite of the fact that this activity does occur too often and does dominate the headlines, by and large, the majority of our elected officials are honest and dedicated public servants who do the best they can to represent their constituency and the state as a whole.
The few who do grab opportunities to enrich themselves give Albany the appearance of being a nest of corruption, which does not go unnoticed nationally.
Frankly, as a citizen of the State of New York, I am ashamed of this image, as I am sure are so many others.
We cannot continue to place ethics reform on the back burner and this is the year for action.
Call, email, or write your state representatives and tell them you want to see the change that will make New York Sate a better place to live and grow your lives.
For contact information for your state representatives, you can visit the Chamber website, www.fultonmontgomeryny.org..
Mark Kilmer is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce