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Cuomo: New York State budget won't pass without ethics reforms

The state will not pass a budget on time this year unless lawmakers include ethics reGetty Images

The state will not pass a budget on time this year unless lawmakers include ethics reform, warned Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday.

Cuomo made the announcement in a speech in lower Manhattan hours before one of his fellowthree men in the room left for good amid accusations of bribery and extortion.

Manhattan Assemblyman Shelly Silver officiated over his last session as speaker at the statehouse before he ended his 21-year tenure at 11:59 p.m. Monday.

Silver, 70, was reelected to the seat two weeks before federal authorities handcuffed and escorted him to a lower Manhattan federal court for allegedly using his office to pocket almost $4 million in kickbacks.

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As Silver was on his way out, Cuomo vowed that any budget lawmakers hope to pass must include ethics reforms, including total disclosure of outside income and the forfeiture of taxpayer-funded pensions for lawmakers convicted of corruption.

Cuomo's renewed commitment to ethics reforms comes after NBC New York reported on Thursday that federal authorities were investigating state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Skelos' office repeatedly denied any knowledge of an investigation.

"The past has shown that this problem will reoccur unless we have total disclosure that leaves no question unanswered and brings sunlight to the ethical shadows," Cuomo said Monday in Manhattan while he committed to reform even if it meant missing the April 1 budget deadline.

Assembly members scrambled last week when Silver announced his resignation and the list of his potential replacements narrowed down to leading candidate Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie.

Heastie, who is expected to be the Assembly's first black speaker as early as Tuesday, spent last week consolidating support from his peers and local lawmakers who want to make sure the Assembly is still led by a member in the five boroughs.

Described by observers as a quiet, numbers man who has focused on bringing results to his own district, Heastie also serves as the Bronx Democratic Party boss.

Heastie's own potential ethics concerns began to bubble as he inched closer to the speakership, as various outletsreported his office used thousands of dollars from his campaign coffers on credit cards and unspecifiedexpenses.

The defunct anti-corruption Moreland Commission subpoenaed his records, butCuomo shut the commission down in 2014 after striking a deal with the Legislature.

Heastie since denied any wrongdoing and said he complied fully with the campaign finance rules. The presumed new speaker promised to fulfill Cuomo's challenge for reform, creating an Office of Ethics and Compliance for wayward legislators.

"I believe we must seize this opportunity for reform, and enact the type of lasting change that will make the Assembly more open, transparent and accountable to the voters," Heastie said in a statement.

"One question is he clean enough," said Gerald Benjamin, a political science professor at SUNY New Paltz. "It appears his colleagues seem to think he is."

 
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