WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Assemblyman David Buchwald reflects on gaining Gov. Andrew Cuomo's support on stripping pensions from corrupt officials.
When I was first elected to the New York State Assembly in 2012, I promised my constituents I would work to restore the people’s faith in our government and root out public corruption. Recently, those efforts took a substantial step forward.
Some might think that’s a reference to Sheldon Silver having stepped down as speaker of the state Assembly. That is part of the story. As the Wall Street Journal reported, I was one of only a handful of members to immediately speak up in the Democratic conference and question the initial rush to support Speaker Silver.
More importantly, I have consistently been focused on the long-term changes we need to have a lasting impact on government ethics in our state. It is on that front that we are now seeing real progress.
I welcome Gov. Cuomo’s call for a five-point ethics platform, and in particular the component of that plan that would reform a broken and nonsensical aspect of the state pension system.
For two years, I have served as the lead Assembly sponsor of a bill that seeks the identical result as Governor Cuomo’s proposal – a state constitutional amendment to strip state pension benefits from public officials convicted of felonies that involve a breach of the public’s trust. This year the bill number for this idea is A.377.
When I first introduced the bill, I was told this concept did not have a chance to pass the legislature. Yet cynicism isn’t something that I care to give into so I pushed forward and began building bipartisan support for my bill in the Assembly.
By the time I held a press conference in Albany on this issue last year, the bill had gained 60 Assembly co-sponsors and it then passed the Assembly Governmental Operations Committee, marking the first time a state constitutional amendment on this topic had received a favorable committee vote.
I’m pleased to announce this legislation has 93 assembly co-sponsors from both parties, and the idea of stripping state pensions from corrupt officials has now received its biggest endorsement. Cuomo’s ethics proposal has put the issue front and center.
In 2011, the assembly passed the Public Integrity Reform Act, which was a step in the right direction. This law strips pensions for officials who abuse their power; however, it only applies to those who entered into the state pension system after the law’s enactment and therefore it covers only a very small percentage of today’s public officials.
Ultimately, as with any state constitutional amendment, this proposal will have to go before the people of New York in a referendum. I sincerely hope New Yorkers will demand their representatives in Albany will give the public the opportunity to cast that vote.
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