blair horner

Governor Cuomo recently unveiled a new effort to rein in independent expenditure “Super PACs.”  Independent expenditure “Super PACs” have run amok nationwide in the wake of the now infamous US Supreme Court case, Citizens United.  These Super PACs allow individuals and interest groups to spend as much as they want to help elect candidates or political parties, as long as they do not coordinate with the candidate or the political party. 

Blair Horner: Another Albany Pol Bites The Dust

May 16, 2016

Some of the big news in state politics last week was the sentencing of former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.  Skelos, like the former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, was convicted of corruption.  Skelos was sentenced for five years in prison for his activities in shaking down businesses for often no-show jobs for his son.  A couple of weeks earlier, Silver received 12 years for his corrupt schemes that enriched him by millions of dollars.

Another once powerful figure in New York state politics was sentenced to prison yesterday after a corruption conviction. A judge sentenced former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to five years in prison. Skelos will also be forced to pay $800,000 in restitution and fines. With former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver getting 12 years in prison on a corruption conviction earlier this month and former Senator John Sampson to be sentenced next week, good-government advocates say the time for reform is now. Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, spoke with WAMC’s Ian Pickus.

Blair Horner: And In Other News

May 9, 2016

As New York’s ethics problems continue to dominate headlines, other important issues are getting short shrift.   Just one such issue is the quality of drinking water supplies – particularly those found in New York’s schools.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
Office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

A spokesman for New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo says the governor still plans to pursue an ethics reform package during the remainder of the legislative session, after news of a federal probe into actions by Cuomo’s former top aide and the governor’s ongoing economic development programs.

Another week, another series of ethics controversies in New York.  The week began with the leak of a confidential report by the state’s elections enforcer that alleged that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had engaged in an illegal effort to circumvent campaign contribution limits in his 2014 push to bolster the re-election prospects of some sitting state Senate Democrats, who presumably would be more favorable to the democrat mayor’s city agenda in Albany.

Last week, the world’s leaders gathered on Earth Day to formally agree to the climate change deal hammered out last December.  While there are still lots of questions about how effective the global agreement will be in limiting the damage from planetary warming, one message is clear; the world has got to move away from relying on fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – to generate energy.

On this presidential primary day, the New York Attorney General’s office has already received a higher number of calls and complaints than for past elections. And the office expects more given the state’s closed primary system. As WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne reports, good government groups want to see the system changed.

For the first time in years, New York State’s Presidential primary is important in determining who will be the nominees from both the Republican and Democratic parties.  No one knew how this primary season would play out.  A year ago, the Democrats looked like they were lining up behind Hillary Clinton – now many voters are “feeling the Bern” as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders makes a spirited run.  On the Republican side, no one predicted the rise of Donald Trump as the leading candidate.

Despite the gloom over many upstate New York businesses, there has been one very bright light – its lobbying industry. For decades, New York’s lobbying industry has had an almost unbroken streak of growth – with almost each year setting a new spending record.

The big news last week was the new budget agreement.  As is increasingly the case, issues that had at best a tangential connection to the budget were part of the final agreement.  The issue that headlined the agreement included a hike in the state’s minimum wage.  The increase is phased in over a number of years and increases at different rates in different regions of the state.  The budget also included a requirement that employers offer paid family leave and lowered tax rates for New Yorkers making less than $300,000.

Recent events in Flint, Michigan and here in New York, the troubles in Hoosick Falls, Binghamton, Syracuse, Western New York, and Long Island, have focused public attention on the problems of keeping drinking water clean. 

When it comes to cleaning up Albany, last week’s events indicate that the broom has been put away for now.  Governor Cuomo announced that the ethics issue had fallen off the table of the budget deliberations.  He added that he would make sure it was a top priority in the post-budget session.


  Sunday marked the beginning of “Sunshine Week,” a week in which the nation focuses its attention on government openness.  The “Week” makes it clear that it is important to maintain an open government, in order to ensure the proper relationship between public officials and the citizens they are pledged to serve. 

Buried in Governor Cuomo’s $154 billion state budget plan is an appropriation of $1 million to establish a commission to consider the possibility of a state constitutional convention.  The governor’s commission, if approved, would be charged with developing a blueprint for the process of running a constitutional convention, if one is called by the voters in 2017.  

Blair Horner: Pushback Against Ethics Reform

Feb 29, 2016

A consistent theme in Albany’s unceasing parade of ethics scandals has been the abuse of power: Lawmakers using their public position to enrich themselves personally.  As U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara put it while commenting on his successful prosecutions of the former Assembly Speaker and former Senate Majority Leader, “Both of those cases, by the way, were awful and sad stories. No one says that those two men never did anything good for their state, but they threw it all away by forgetting that their jobs we’re not meant to be vehicles for massive personal profit.”

Blair Horner: The Next Phase Of The Ethics "Debate"

Feb 22, 2016

Lawmakers return to Albany this week to tackle an agreement on the upcoming budget.  The state’s fiscal year starts on April 1st.  As part of his budget, and in reaction to the political crime wave that has swept the Capitol, Governor Cuomo included ethics reforms.

Five years ago, Governor Cuomo and the Legislature approved annual tuition hikes for public colleges and universities.  At that time, the argument had two simple rationales to support the plan:

In his State of the Union address, President Obama designated Vice President Biden to lead the Administration’s “moon shot” to attack cancer.  Cancer touches the lives of all of us and is the second leading cause of death in America.  It is one term that covers a very wide range of diseases, including those of the lung, prostate, pancreas, breast and colon.

Blair Horner: The Governor Unveils His Reform Agenda

Jan 18, 2016

The staggering scandals and collapsing public confidence in state government created an opening for Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address.  Could he advance a comprehensive reform package that was commensurate with the unprecedented ethics, campaign finance and elections failings of the state?  His address was comprehensive:  The governor’s proposals – if enacted – offer significant remedies to those failings as well as to help restore the battered public confidence in Albany.

The 2016 legislative session kicked off quietly last week.  Typically, the governor unveils his legislative program on the first day.  His State of the State address serves as the legislative curtain raiser for the session.  This year, the governor has chosen to postpone his address for one week and has used that time to make daily announcements highlighting his upcoming initiatives. 

Blair Horner: Will Albany Open Up In 2016?

Jan 4, 2016

2015 was a bad year for openness at the state Capitol.  It ended with Governor Cuomo vetoing two bills which had been supported by the Committee on Open Government.  The Committee is a widely-respected state agency created in the 1970s to offer an independent judgment on New York’s Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Laws.

Blair Horner: New Year's Resolutions For 2016

Dec 28, 2015

As 2015 recedes into the rear view mirror, it’s time to take stock of the year; its achievements and failures.  And it’s a good time to look to the future.

In a year of much bad news – both in New York and across the world – something positive has happened.  In Paris, France 195 countries met to hammer out an agreement to commit to curbing global warming.

Blair Horner: Can Albany Fix Itself?

Dec 14, 2015

Another week, another conviction of a high-ranking elected official. It’s hard to know if this is the tipping point for change. New Yorkers can only hope so.

Blair Horner: The Former Speaker Is Convicted

Dec 7, 2015

When former Assembly Speaker Silver was convicted of corruption on all counts, there was also a second conviction: Albany’s way of conducting the public’s business.  From the court proceedings’ first days, it was clear that Albany’s ethics were also on trial.

Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday shopping season.  It is a time when many adults look for gifts for children.  And while the holidays are a time for fun and giving, it is important that it be a safe time as well.

Blair Horner: Privatizing America's Legal System

Nov 23, 2015

You see them everywhere – requirements that consumers go to an arbitration system instead of the courts.  If you look in your car’s manual, those arbitrations are mandatory, when you look at the fine print on your smart phones, they are there too.  If you want the car, or the phone, you have to agree to give up your right to go to court and resolve disputes through an arbitration system set up by the companies.

Blair Horner: Albany On Trial

Nov 16, 2015

As the former New York State Senate Majority Leader goes to trial and his former counterpart Assembly Speaker is still in court, it has become clear that whatever the outcome, Albany’s ethics is on trial.

Blair Horner: Predictable Tuition?

Nov 9, 2015

Higher education policy moved back into the news last week when the State University of New York’s Chancellor announced an effort to keep increasing the cost of public college tuition.

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