Addressing corruption is voters’ top end-of-session priority

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Voters overwhelmingly support stripping pensions from legislators and state employees convicted of crimes related to their public jobs; Divided on limiting legislators’ outside income to 15 percent of salary; Strongly pessimistic that anti-corruption legislation passes by June


Ninety-seven percent of New Yorkers say it is important for the governor and state Legislature to pass new laws to address corruption in state government before the session ends in June, including 82 percent who say it is very important, and a plurality of 30 percent who say it’s the single most important issue that must be acted on before session ends, according to a new Siena College poll released Tuesday.

On the day former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is scheduled to be sentenced in his federal corruption case, the Siena poll shows more than three-quarters of registered voters support stripping pensions from state legislators convicted of crimes related to their public service and an identical number — 77 percent — say a pension forfeiture law should apply to all state employees, not just elected officials.

Voters are closely divided on the issue of whether to limit legislators’ outside income to 15 percent of their salary, as proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and a majority continues to support a full-time legislature that bans outside income. Fifty-six percent of voters oppose increasing legislators’ pay, even if they were to become full-time legislators.

Yet, by a two-to-one margin (65 percent to 32 percent), voters are pessimistic that significant anti-corruption legislation will be enacted this session.

“As the former Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader are about to be sentenced after their corruption convictions, corruption is very much the issue for New Yorkers right now. By a 93-to-4 percent margin, voters say corruption in Albany is a serious problem,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg. “A near unanimous 97 percent say it is important for the governor and Legislature to pass laws addressing corruption before the session ends.

When asked to rank seven issues in order of importance that may be addressed by the state legislature before the end of session, 30 percent of voters said fighting corruption is the top issue; followed by 23 percent who say it is reforming common core and state testing; 21 percent who say affordable housing; 13 percent who said combating heroin addiction. Increasing screenings for cancers and settling the issue of mayoral control of New York City rounded out the bottom of the list of issues.

“Corruption even beats out education, affordable housing and combating the heroin epidemic as the single most important issue,” Greenberg said. “The problem is clear but voters don’t agree on all solutions and they are decidedly pessimistic that Cuomo and the Legislature will address the corruption issue before the end of session.”

A possible deterrent for public corruption is stripping legislators and other state employees of their pensions if they are convicted. Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, also convicted on federal corruption charges, could possibly retain their pensions despite their crimes against New York taxpayers.

“Stripping pensions from legislators — as well as any state employee — convicted of a crime related to their public jobs is an issue that has the overwhelming support of New Yorkers. More than two-thirds of Democrats and voters from New York City, as well as at least 81 percent of Republicans, independents and voters from the downstate suburbs and upstate support a law to strip convicted legislators of their pension, even if they were elected prior to that law being passed,” Greenberg said. “And at least 72 percent of voters from every region and party support applying the pension forfeiture law to all state employees.

The poll of 802 registered voters found that New Yorkers are evenly divided on whether state legislators, who are technically part-time state employees, should have their outside income limited to 15 percent of their state salaries, which equals about $12,000 a year.

“While there’s overwhelming support for the Governor’s proposal on pension forfeiture, there’s mixed support for his proposal to limit legislators’ outside income to 15 percent of their salary,” Greenberg said. “That proposal is supported by 45 percent of New Yorkers and opposed by 48 percent. Interestingly, the close division is true among Democrats, Republicans, independents and voters from every region of the state.

Since many former lawmakers have used their employment in outside jobs as a way to generate questionable donations, illegal “consulting” fees and under-the-table income, many good government groups have been pushing the idea of making the state Legislature full-time, thereby removing temptation and opportunities.

“By a 56-to-37 percent margin — down slightly from 60 to 34 percent in February — voters support making the Legislature full time and banning outside income. Democrats and independents strongly support that, while Republicans are more divided between that idea and keeping the Legislature part time,” Greenberg said. “If the Legislature was full time with outside employment banned, voters would still oppose, 56-to-41 percent, legislators getting a raise. Republicans and independents strongly oppose a raise, while Democrats are closely divided.”

While just 42 percent of New York voters have a favorable view of the Senate and 39 percent view the Assembly favorably, Gov. Cuomo’s standing with voters is edging up….slightly.

Cuomo now has a 54-41 percent favorability rating, up a little from 52-to-43 percent in February and his job performance rating is a negative 43-to-56 percent, up slightly from negative 42-to-58 percent in February.

“Cuomo has seen a slight uptick in his favorability and job performance ratings — now both at their best level since April 2015 — although this poll was completed prior to news breaking that the Administration was facing Federal subpoenas,” Greenberg said. “Interestingly, his favorability rating was down a little in New York City but up in both the downstate suburbs and upstate, while on a partisan basis he improved more with Republicans  — although still very much under water with them — than he did with Democrats or independents.”

This Siena College Poll was conducted between April 24 and April 27 via telephone calls conducted in English to 802 New York state registered voters.

Respondent sampling was initiated by asking for the youngest male in the household. It has an overall margin of error of 4.1 percentage points, including the design effects resulting from weighting.

Sampling was conducted via a stratified dual frame probability sample of landline and cell phone telephone numbers from within New York state weighted to reflect known population patterns. Data was statistically adjusted by age, party, region and gender to ensure representativeness.