The two scores are not directly comparable, however, due to changes made to improve and update the questions and methodology, such as eliminating the category for redistricting, a process that generally occurs only once every 10 years.
The project also noted a significant “enforcement gap,” which measures the difference between the laws on the books and how well they're actually implemented.
Decades of corruption have taken their toll in New York, where voter turnout was a paltry 29 percent in the 2014 midterm elections. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara summed it up when he announced Silver’s arrest at a press conference, telling reporters that the charges “go to the very core of what ails Albany.”
With criminal cases against lawmakers piling up — 11 legislators have resigned since 2013 as a result of allegations of misconduct — Albany has done little to police the business that transpires in its ornate, 19th-century capitol building.
In 2013, Gov. Andrew Cuomo established a high-profile panel, known as the Moreland Commission, to combat Albany’s corrupt culture and prosecute wrongdoers. Eight months later he disbanded the commission, reportedly as it was preparing to issue subpoenas to several state Senate campaigns.
The governor’s decision enraged ethics advocates and led Bharara to collect the commission’s records as he investigated the shutdown.
Bharara, Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie — who took the position after Silver stepped down from his leadership post — declined through representatives to answer questions for this article. Sen. John Flanagan, who took over as Senate leader after Skelos’ arrest, did not respond to interview requests.
Weak oversight and a lack of transparency is not limited to the legislative branch; it extends through much of state government, including a Board of Elections hobbled by politics and understaffing and a procurement process that critics say does little to prevent fraud and corruption.
Many of the problems stem more broadly from what Kaehny called “the black box that is New York state government”: a lack of transparency that leaves the public – and even many legislators – in the dark about how the government works.
A prime example is New York’s mysterious, compressed budget process. The governor and legislative leaders make key budget decisions behind closed doors — a system that’s become known as “three men in a room” — which allows neither the public nor most lawmakers to provide meaningful input. Lawmakers often rush budget bills through the voting process using emergency legislation.
The final budget is virtually impossible for the general public to navigate, a labyrinthine book of numbers that gives little insight into the negotiations that led to it.
“When did 20 million New Yorkers agree to be ruled like a triumvirate in Roman times?” Bharara said at an event shortly after Silver’s arrest.
Critics say some problems could be solved by giving New York a full-time Legislature. The Assembly and Senate meet for only a portion of a few months per year, which some say hinders both the budget process and deliberation over thousands of other bills.
New York’s part-time Legislature is based on an agrarian model that’s outdated in this highly urbanized state, said Democratic Assemblyman Charles Lavine, chairman of the Assembly Ethics and Guidance Committee. Lawmakers no longer need the summer to tend to crops, Lavine said, and full-time legislating would allow for more transparency and accountability.
“We have at any given time 11,000 bills that have been introduced in the Assembly,” Lavine said. “There is no way to give a fair share of attention to all those bills.”