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Reform advocates: Cuomo can start cleanup

Andrew Cuomo

ALBANY — Reform advocates say Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo can start fixing state government without waiting for any legislative support, using executive authority to take dozens of steps to improve ethics and openness, protect consumers and help the environment.

In a 129-page report, the New York Public Interest Research Group lists 30 specific problems and initial measures that Cuomo, who has promised reform, could take immediately after assuming office Saturday.

Advocates’ proposals include posting all unrestricted government documents, including underlying budget information, online for easy public viewing and access. They’re also seeking for Cuomo to prompt the Public Service Commission to regulate terms of cell phone service and for recyclable materials and yard waste to be banned from landfills or incinerators.

Cuomo’s staff has been briefed on the report.

Spokesman Josh Vlasto said Monday the governor-elect will consider executive orders at the appropriate time and that his views are clear from the policy books published during the campaign. Cuomo takes office Saturday.

Cuomo’s “Open NY” proposals included making government information available on one central website and trying to establish a network and augment sites for each state agency and authority under the governor’s control with uniform downloadable catalogs of agency data and search engines.

“The governor has vast executive powers to do things to improve the state of New York,” said Blair Horner, NYPIRG’s legislative director. “We believe New Yorkers actually deserve some action out of Albany.”

He pointed to a recent Quinnipiac University poll showing 59 percent of voters were optimistic about the next four years with Cuomo as governor, though only 45 percent said he would be able to fix government. The poll showed 57 percent believed the Legislature would not cooperate in fixing government.

Many of NYPIRG’s proposals were endorsed by other good government or advocacy groups such as the League of Women Voters, Empire Justice Center, Common Cause, Consumers Union, Environmental Advocates of New York and the Brennan Center for Justice.

Departing Gov. David Paterson faced stalemates with the Legislature on several issues, including spending cuts. His administration devised an approach to avoid resistance by imposing some cuts by executive order for agencies directly under his control and through emergency short-term spending measures needed to prevent the government from shutting down.

While New York has been a leader in protecting homeowners against foreclosures and defaults, the state should promote available mandated low-cost checking accounts to help poorer residents take advantage of the security of the banking system and avoid having their savings swallowed by various small bank fees, said attorney Kirsten Keefe of the Empire Justice Center.

A state Banking Department website lists banks, their transaction and monthly service fees, and those that don’t charge either.

Federal data show millions of New Yorkers don’t have traditional bank accounts, subjecting them to predatory lenders and check cashing outlets, thereby missing the safety and benefits of banking, according to the NYPIRG report. It also urged state licensing of all nonbank ATMS in New York.

A November report from the reform group Reinvent Albany listed 11 measures Cuomo could take by executive order to make the state government more accountable, including putting government information and public meeting presentations online, imposing stronger ethics rules for executive branch employees and automating voter registration.