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NYSNYS NEWS: Cuomo reboots ethics plan, tying it to Budget2015 passage in tactic he admits could get ugly. Assembly schedules 11 a.m. Tuesday vote to install Heastie as successor to Speaker Silver.
NYSNYS NEWS: Cuomo reboots ethics plan, tying it to Budget2015 passage in tactic he admits could get ugly. Assembly schedules 11 a.m. Tuesday vote to install Heastie as successor to Speaker Silver.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (February 2) – Gov. Andrew Cuomo hit the reset button how he handles Albany scandals and investigations Monday, saying he won't sign off on a new state budget until legislators agree to another batch of ethical reforms.

"Sometimes ugly is necessary," Cuomo said in a speech delivered at New York University law school, comparing his plan to a government shutdown. "Change is disruptive and transformative change is highly disruptive and make no mistake, this will be highly disruptive."

"So, 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. I need to be able to look every New Yorker in the eye and say we have a system to deter, detect and punish, and that that system works."

Monday's announcement about tying ethics reform to the budget due April 1 was a follow-up to a plan Cuomo offered in 2014, which he dropped along with the Moreland investigation of corruption in the Legislature as part of a deal to adopt an on-time budget. As a result, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara opened an ongoing investigation into the circumstances surrounding the Moreland shutdown.

Cuomo's 2015 ethics reboot included these planks:

• OUTSIDE INCOME: "The most extensive disclosure of outside income in the United States," including forcing disclosure of all income, explanation of why they received the money, and whether the money has anything to do with government or their official duties.

• PENSION FORFEITURE: Forfeiture of public pensions for any officials convicted or corruption, a move that will require a constitutional amendment. The State Constitution has a clause that forbids any reduction in state pensions for any reasons.

• ASSEMBLY REFORM: Change in Assembly internal rules to remove the speaker's power to kill or shelve legislators and control virtually all other aspects of the house's operations, and stop the abuse of per diems.

• CAMPAIGN FUND RESTRICTION: Prohibit personal use of campaign funds.

• CAMPAIGN FUND DISCLOSURE: Stronger campaign finance disclosure rules.

As Cuomo spoke in a speech he had streamed live on the Internet, Assembly Democrats huddled behind closed and locked doors in Albany as they prepared to choose a successor to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who faces federal prosecution on charges of taking millions in bribes and kickbacks.

Assembly member Carl Heastie of the Bronx appears to have locked up the vote to succeed Silver, but Education Committee chair Cathy Nolan of Queens remained in the race. Assembly member Joseph Morelle was scheduled to assume the duties of acting speaker at midnight when Silver formally step down from the leadership post he has held since 1994.

"This has been a difficult month for the state of New York (and) the reputation of the state of New York," Cuomo said as he began his speech by joking about lawyers who cheat on their billable hours. "The headlines have been ugly."

But Cuomo characterized Albany's rampant corruption is "nothing new," terming the scandals that have rocked state government in recent years "old issues, unresolved." He also claimed that despite the parade of investigations, indictments and prison sentences for everything from stealing millions to hiring prostitutes, "it is clear that the government is working."

"But we have not yet proven the second challenge that Albany writ large can be trusted. If anything, recent headlines of scandal and corruption have actually fed the cynicism."

Cuomo did not release any details of his plan apart from the 29 minute speech, which he delivered without taking any questions from the audience.

Advocates for reform said his remarks were a good start.

NYPIRG's Blair Horner said the speech "is a welcome response to Albany's seemingly endless scandals. The governor promises to address the conflicts resulting from outside income, a more open legislative process -- including per diem and reimbursement reforms, new, tough restrictions on the personal use of campaign contributions, and new campaign finance changes."

"Yet the governor did not describe any significant changes in the oversight and enforcement structure. Without changes to the ethics and campaign finance systems, no real changes will occur. The best laws are only as good as their administration. New York cannot continue to rely on the U.S. Attorney’s office to walk the ethics and campaign finance 'beat' in Albany."

But there were also some skeptical comments from pundits and journalists on Twitter, include one nothing that Cuomo is currently spending campaign finance money on to hire a white collar crime lawyer to represent him in the Bharara Moreland probe.