New York is by far the most corrupt political system in the country (outside of Washington, DC). Not only is Sheldon Silver going to jail but so is his Republican counterpart, former state Senate leader Dean Skelos.
Dozens of other so-called public servants in Albany have been convicted, fined or implicated in crimes against the public trust.
To add to this disgusting spectacle, every one of these convicted felon politicians and their moneymen will keep their taxpayer-funded “gold watch” — generous state pensions. The disgraced speaker will take home almost $80,000 a year while Skelos will get over $95,000 even when he’s behind bars.
But the corruption, we now know, goes right to the feet of Gov. Cuomo and New York City Mayor de Blasio. In a true farce, Cuomo announced last week that he’ll investigate his own office for conflicts of interest and improper lobbying by his own staff.
Downstate, de Blasio is accused of criminal campaign-finance shenanigans — funneling cash to friendly candidates for state Senate.
Corruption is endemic. Career politician syndrome and its cousin, pay-to-play politics, are at the root of this.
And they must end. Here’s how.
First, we need citizen-legislators. That starts with commonsense reforms to enable those who seek to serve others, not enrich themselves, achieve high office.
Silver and Skelos held office for a combined 70 years. Reasonable term limits would shake things up.
Plus, the generous taxpayers of New York will be paying these criminals for their “service” with hefty pensions until the end of their natural lives, despite being behind bars. Holding elected office is an honor and a duty; it shouldn’t be a retirement plan.
No politician should receive a guaranteed pension. Convicted pols like Silver and Skelos should lose theirs. And for everyone else, like most private-sector employees, politicians and their staffs should have to contribute to their retirement and manage their investments in a 401(k).
In addition, politicians shouldn’t earn an average salary of $90,000 for six months of work, almost twice what the average New Yorker brings home. Pay should be slashed in half to make it less appealing to the otherwise unemployable who seem to fill the ranks of public office across the state.
The legislative session should be halved as well to make it possible for regular citizens to represent their constituents and maintain careers. Even though the Legislature sits for six months, most of the work is done over a few days, anyway.
The legislative process itself needs to be more transparent as well. This would include due notice of final bill text, full committee approval of all language and the right of all members to offer bill amendments directly on the floor so all members know what they are voting on and have the ability to make changes with the consent of the full house.
We also need to make it harder for politicians and their aides to push through the revolving door between lobbying and politics. There should be a lifetime ban on elected officials and staff working as lobbyists.
Public service shouldn’t be a training ground for the next generation of influence-peddlers.
We should also bar individuals and corporations seeking state contracts from contributing to candidates for public office. A simple fix would be to bar candidates from accepting any entity’s or individual’s contribution in the five years before a contract is awarded and in the five years after a contract’s conclusion.
Pay-to-play politics is rooted in the fact that companies give generously to career politicians both before and after contracting and budget allocations. It’s no wonder that the lobbyists and cronies who give the most to politicians land lucrative contracts and special carve-outs.
With the corrupt politicians still running the asylum, these simple reforms will take a taxpayer revolt to restore good government in the Empire State.
In the meantime, New Yorkers can only say: In Preet we trust.