How Gov. Cuomo May Tie Ethics Reform Plan to Budget

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ALBANY, N.Y. — Four years of on-time budgets is an accomplishment Governor Andrew Cuomo loves to mention, but this year could be different.

Cuomo is pushing lawmakers to adopt stringent ethics legislation as part of the budget agreement. If they don’t reach a deal by the April 1 deadline, a government shutdown is possible.

“Sometimes ugly is necessary,” said Gov. Cuomo, D-New York. “Change is disruptive and transformative change is highly disruptive.”

As to how that would really work, Cuomo said he won’t approve a state budget without agreements on disclosure of outside income and client information, as well as new campaign finance regulations.

Cuomo doesn’t actually sign the budget once lawmakers vote to approve it, so the real mechanics of what Cuomo is trying to do are a bit more complicated.

“His threat here about not to agree to a budget, what he’s really saying is, he’s going to hold all the other issues he cares about hostage to this issue,” said EJ McMahon, Empire Center For NYS Policy.

Governors do have the most leverage during the budget process, affirmed in a Court of Appeals ruling when George Pataki was in office and furthered under David Paterson included large components of the spending plan in emergency extenders, but including non-budget policy like ethics legislation in spending bills is trickier.

“The governor now would be really pushing the envelope if he tried to legislate a whole new ethics code through appropriation language,” McMahon said.

What’s more likely is Cuomo including the ethics measures in so-called Article Seven bills, which lawmakers have more leeway in altering.

“I don’t think he can literally force them to do anything. The question is how long he wants to hold up a budget that includes in large part things he wants,” said McMahon.

Cuomo has been criticized by good-government advocates for not pushing hard enough on ethics reform, despite getting two different packages passed during his first term. He’s been criticized, too, for shuttering the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.

“It’s going to be interesting. I don’t think it’s a constitutional collusion. I think it’s going to be a matter of political strategy and tactics on both sides,” McMahon said.

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