Good government groups are frequently frustrated with Albany, but this year they may be more so because they expected new Gov. Kathy Hochul to usher in a new wave of transparency. Instead, at least one group, Reinvent Albany, is sharing the same litany of grievances it did last year when Andrew Cuomo was still governor. 

“The big priority for government watch dog groups like ours is creating a new ethics commission that’s independently appointed,” John Kaehny, of Reinvent Albany, told Capital Tonight. “And, as The Times Union editorialized Friday, that seems to be dead in the water at the moment.”

Gov. Hochul included a remake of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) in her executive budget proposal. She floated having law school deans from across the state appoint the commission – lawmakers shot down the idea saying that the deans are too close to the executive.

“We’re part of a coalition of groups calling on the Legislature and governor to get this done this session, given the massive scandals involving the Cuomo administration, and proof, again, that JCOPE, the state’s current ethics commission, is just dysfunctional by design,” Kaehny said. 

Under the former governor, staffers were asked to work on a $5 million book after the ethics commission told Cuomo he couldn’t use the state workforce; 11 women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment; and the number of COVID-19 nursing home deaths was manipulated to make it appear that New York’s death toll was not as steep as it was in other states.. 

Hochul has been publicly silent about her proposal to replace JCOPE. While the legislative leaders have panned her idea, neither of the one-house budgets provides an alternative proposal. 

Reinvent Albany, along with other budget watchdogs, is also panning the gas tax holiday which is currently being discussed within the confines of the state budget. According a press release, the groups say, the strategy “takes revenue away from needed road and transit investments and completely contradicts New York’s climate goals.” 

Other groups that signed onto the press release include the Community Service Society of New York, Earthjustice and New York State Council of Churches.

One issue that Kaehny lauds is the inclusion of a so-called “database of deals” in both one-house budget proposals. 

“It means they want it to happen now. All that has to happen is Gov. Hochul simply says ‘yes’ and a database of deals would shine a light on the state’s $5 billion in annual business subsidies. It would become a real thing,” Kaehny said.

Another important change that lawmakers are supporting is the restoration of the state comptroller’s pre-audit powers to review state contracts, which were scaled back during the tenure of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“We think that’s super important reform,” he said. “We don’t see any real opposition to that.”