New Yorkers have the power on Nov. 7 to decide whether some state officials convicted of a felony should be stripped of their pensions.
But the proposal would not apply to two former legislative leaders and several former associates of Gov. Andrew Cuomo who are accused of corruption.
The ballot proposition before voters on Election Day would allow a judge to determine whether a state official convicted of crimes like bribery or bid-rigging should lose all or part of their pension.
But there is one important limitation. The pension forfeiture provision would apply only to crimes committed after Jan. 1, 2018.
That means two former state legislative leaders who face potential retrial for crimes they are accused of committing during the first half of this decade would get to keep their pensions if convicted.
Both former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Leader Dean Skelos saw their 2015 convictions overturned on appeal. Skelos, along with his son Adam, will be retried next year. And Silver also could be retried, depending on an expected ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Nine former Cuomo associates, including the governor’s former closest aide, also face trials within the next year over an economic development corruption scandal. But because the alleged crimes took place in the past, they also would be allowed to keep their state pensions if they are convicted.
Blair Horner with the New York Public Interest Research Group agreed that the proposal is limited.
“People that are currently under investigation are likely not to be covered by this,” Horner said. “Unless they commit another crime after January 1, 2018.”
Under current law, public officials who began their jobs after 2011 already are subject to pension forfeiture if they commit felonies. So the ballot proposal applies to a small subset of public officers: those elected or appointed before 2011 and who commit crimes after 2018.
Horner said nevertheless, his group supports the ballot proposal.
“It’s like chicken soup, it can’t hurt,” Horner said. “Whether or not it will make a big difference in how people behave, I’m doubtful.”
The League of Women Voters also backs the proposal. But the League’s Jennifer Wilson said the threat of pension forfeiture does not go far enough in fighting corruption at the Capitol. She said she would have liked Cuomo and the state Legislature to propose changes, like campaign finance reform, that would prevent corruption in the first place instead of “punishment” after a crime is committed.
“We’d really like to see legislation in place to prevent these crimes from occurring,” Wilson said. “And prevent legislators from committing these corrupt acts while in office.”
Wilson said there is a proposal on the ballot next month that could potentially make bigger changes to prevent corruption. And that is the question of whether New Yorkers should hold a full constitutional convention and open up the entire document to revision.
Opponents argue, though, that the event would be controlled by the existing political establishment, and they doubt whether much could be accomplished.