Ethics Reform Lays The Foundation For A Better State Government

Legislative Column from Assemblyman Mark Johns (R,C-Webster)
June 3, 2011

We’ve passed an on-time budget, we’re closer to a property tax cap, and - as session is winding down - we cannot forget ethics reform. Albany has been a place of dysfunction, and for any real reform to take place, New York State needs a firm foundation of ethics before any effective rebuilding of state government. I am not alone in this thinking. A recent Quinnipiac Poll shows more than 80 percent of New Yorkers say ethics reform is a top priority.

Items like full outside income disclosure will help show where possible conflicts of interest may exist and will help to keep unethical politicians out of the back pockets of special interest. Changes that will end the practice of omitting dollar amounts should end. Currently, there is too much leeway in disclosing potential conflicts of interest. As an elected official, my first obligation is to the property taxpayer, and in order to ensure this, a lawmaker’s private business needs to be an open book.

Building an independent bipartisan ethics oversight entity is crucial. Currently, the ethics committee is controlled by the Majority Conference in each legislative body. Let’s give the independent ethics entity the ability to subpoena, investigate and enforce sanctions for rule violations.

These last few years, too many public officials have left office in scandal, disgrace or handcuffs, leaving New Yorkers disappointed. We all are tired of abuses of power, unseemly behavior and corruption in the public square. It can change. A tough, no-nonsense set of laws to shine a flood light of good government upon Albany lawmakers won’t end bad behavior, but it will go a long way in curbing misuse of public resources and enable us to spot badly behaved politicians much quicker.

The need to secure ethics reform by the end of the legislative session is critical. New Yorkers need to know and trust their government. Transparency will help heal old wounds and move our state government forward to better serve its citizens.