The New York Daily News EDITORIAL - January 6, 2010
Paterson's State of the State address willl focus on state of finance mess
True to form, the Legislature is responding to Gov. Paterson's ethics reform proposals as if he were trying to infect lawmakers with swine flu. And, just as true to form, legislative leaders said publicly that they are open to considering Paterson's ideas or that they need more information before they can comment, while trashing his plan privately as political posturing by a governor seeking to repair his approval ratings. Only Senate Republican chief Dean Skelos had the courage to dismiss Paterson's rather sweeping package on the record. Give Skelos points for that, even if it was the height of folly for him to contend that voters are more concerned about fixing the state budget than about ethics - as if the Legislature can't do both at once. As the Legislature must. Ethics reform is not a matter of good government for good government's sake. Because only when Albany breaks the grip of special-interest money, only when Albany bars pay-to-play, only when Albany establishes competitive elections - only then will New Yorkers have a shot at a state government whose officials represent the interests of ordinary taxpayers rather than the wallets of the insiders. Paterson's proposals amount to the biggest, strongest fix-Albany plan ever rolled out by a governor - and easily outclass the weak notions floated by lawmakers looking to cover their butts after a flurry of scandals. Even so, the governor did not go all the way to urging the lawmakers to write strict criminal laws that would make it a felony to abuse and misuse their offices, as is now effectively permitted under New York statutes. Paterson will challenge the Legislature today in his State of the State address to put up or shut up on ethics. And the dodging and weaving will begin in earnest. He would cut off the obscene flow of special-interest cash by slashing the maximum campaign donation from $55,900 down to $1,000 - and introducing a public financing system of a kind that already exists in city elections. He would establish a single, streamlined, independent ethics panel that has the power to police both the executive and legislative branches, as well as to enforce campaign finance rules. No more internal coverups by the Legislature. No more see-no-evil laxity by the state Board of Elections. He would require lawmakers to come clean about their sources of outside income - even naming names of individual clients - to prevent a repeat of the Joe Bruno scandal. (Here, too, Paterson must go further by also requiring disclosure of income amounts.) He would abolish give-to-get scams that allowed ripoffs of the state pension fund under former Controller Alan Hevesi, as well as under some predecessors. And he would set term limits on all state officials - including an iron-clad 12-years-and-out rule for a Legislature that has become a sclerotic lifetime sinecure. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. If Paterson stands guilty of pandering, as the legislative snipes so smarmily accuse, then let him pander. Because this is mom-and-apple-pie stuff.