- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - A new call to restrict outside pay for lawmakers and ban the use of campaign funds on personal expenses was offered Monday by Senate Democrats, the latest suggestion for how to clean up Albany following the arrest of the former Assembly speaker.

Monday’s proposal would allow lawmakers to make up to $12,000 from private employment outside the legislature. That amount, based on a similar limit imposed on Congress, would increase whenever the legislative base salary of $79,500 goes up.

In addition, lawmakers would be prohibited from taking money for work as attorneys or investment advisers, and would have to report whatever income they do make.

Outside income has become a pivotal part of the debate surrounding legislative ethics in Albany following public corruption charges against longtime Speaker Sheldon Silver. The Manhattan Democrat is accused of taking nearly $4 million in kickbacks and payoffs; he resigned as speaker last week but has said he expects to be exonerated.

“We are all here to serve the public, and that must be our No. 1 goal,” said Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers. “It’s very, very hard to serve two masters, and it’s time to put an end to it.”

The $12,000 limit is intended to allow lawmakers to pursue part-time work - teaching local college courses, for example - that doesn’t interfere with their legislative duties.

Other reforms introduced by Senate Democrats on Monday include stronger income disclosure rules, new campaign contribution limits of $1,000 for corporations and limited liability corporations, and a prohibition on the use of campaign money for unrelated expenses and legal defense.

Many of the proposals have been introduced before to no avail. Scott Reif, a spokesman for the Senate’s Republican majority, was dismissive of Democrats’ proposals and said GOP lawmakers would suggest their own ideas.

“Rather than issue press releases and grandstand, Senate Republicans are working with the Governor and the Assembly to get real results and real reforms that improve our state’s ethics and disclosure laws,” he said in a statement.

Other legislative issues Monday:

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TRANSPORTATION FUNDING

Hundreds of construction workers gathered at the Capitol on Monday to call on lawmakers to direct the state’s $5 billion windfall from recent financial settlements to bridges, roads and other infrastructure projects.

The event was sponsored by Rebuild NY Now, a coalition that includes contractors, labor groups and others that want the money spent on big-ticket transportation and civil engineering projects.

The windfall is the result of several large legal settlements with financial institutions. Several other suggestions have been suggested for its use, including economic development investments and the expansion of broadband internet access.

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PORT AUTHORITY

Also on Monday, the Senate passed legislation to make the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey subject to the state’s open records law.

The legislation, which passed the Senate on a 61-0 vote, now heads to the Assembly, where similar legislation already has been introduced.

Related legislation that would have increased accountability of the often-troubled agency passed the legislatures of both New York and New Jersey last year but was vetoed by both states’ governors. The measure would have required regular audits and created a new inspector general. Lawmakers have reintroduced the bill again this year.

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PROPERTY TAX CAP

New York tax officials say 84 percent of municipal governments and 97 percent of school districts have maintained the 2 percent property tax cap that entitles residents to state tax credits.

Testifying Monday at a budget hearing, Executive Deputy Tax Commissioner Nonie Manion said the state is now finishing the distribution of $200 million in credits to 2.5 million homeowners, with the last checks going out now.

The Cuomo administration has proposed another property tax credit that Manion says when fully phased in would provide another $1.7 billion in credits to 1.3 million taxpayers with household incomes below $250,000 and whose taxes exceed 6 percent of that.


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