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Albany corruption points out need for the right reforms

— While not all, much of the corruption has been related to legislative member items. Member items are state grants that are directed to entities, usually not-for-profits, by legislators. In the past, some legislators were able to direct millions of dollars to not-for-profits and the not-for-profit would then, in return, either employ that legislator, or a family member or a staff member, thereby, indirectly enriching the legislative member. In the most egregious cases, the legislators would seek direct kick-backs from the entity receiving the grant.

In the past two budgets, there have been no new member items. However, pots of money, most from prior appropriated member items that were never paid out, still exist and have been used for other legislative directed grants. The legislature should stop this practice once and for all and such money should be returned to the State's general fund. At the very least, we should enact reforms that would prohibit member items from being appropriated when a conflict of interest exists and bring transparency to the system.

Further, why not increase the penalties for those convicted of corruption. At the very least, those convicted of corruption should lose their state pensions. To that end, I support legislation that would amend the State's constitution so that a person who is convicted of felony directly related to his or her assigned duties while serving as an elected official would lose their state pension and retirement benefits.

In the coming weeks, I am sure there will be many other pieces of legislation aimed at trying to prevent future corruption. All legislation should be vetted carefully. Already various interest groups, under the auspices of good government, are pushing legislation that ultimately will have little to do with limiting corruption and improving government (e.g., public financing of campaigns). But rather, these proposals will limit democracy and further entrench those already in office. One thing we all need to agree on is the culture of corruption in Albany has to stop or we in state government risk losing any legitimacy that we have with the citizens of New York State.

Assemblyman Will Barclay represents residents of Assembly District 120, which includes Lysander. He can be reached by mail at 200 North Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at barclaw@assembly.state.ny.us or by phone (598-5185).

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