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Reformers urge legislature to hold oversight hearings on corruption

Posted by Karen DeWitt on

Reform groups say in light of the criminal charges against some of Governor Cuomo’s former associates there are a number of changes that should be made to stop more corruption in the future.

The federal charges of bid rigging and bribery center on Governor Cuomo’s key economic development programs, including the Buffalo Billion.

Many of the contracts were overseen by the State University’s Polytechnic Institute. The rules there are more lax than the requirements for contracts in state agencies.  Governor Cuomo has already announced he’ll transfer all authority for future contracts to his economic development entity. But John Kaehny, with the group Reinvent Albany, says more is needed.

“We think there’s an inherent corruption risk in having your State university system, which has a different set of rules than state agencies, be the one that’s handing out enormous sums of money,” Kaehny said.

The head of SUNY Poly, Dr. Alain Kaloyeros has been charged in the corruption scandal, but Kaehny says the problems are bigger than any one person.

He says it was Governor Cuomo, who along with the legislature, actually made it easier for SUNY Poly to negotiate contracts without the normal extra layer of oversight. Cuomo and the legislature cut out the state’s Comptroller from reviewing any of the economic development contracts in 2011. He says the law needs to be changed to once again allow the Comptroller to review the contracts.

In some cases the board members of the SUNY Poly management group that negotiated the contracts also received some of the contracts, worth millions of dollars. The groups say that should never be allowed.

The groups are also calling on the  legislature to immediately hold oversight hearings. Kaehny says, so far, Republicans who control the Senate and Democrats who control the Assembly have done a “terrible job”, and have essentially looked the other way.

“The legislature has written he governor a blank check,” he said. “So they bear part of the responsibility for this.”

The groups say there should also be stricter laws against pay to play, where companies with business before government, or in competition for state contracts, would be restricted from giving large campaign contributions to politicians.

Governor Cuomo’s spokesman Rich Azzopardi says the governor has no argument with the group’s proposed reforms.

“These are all reforms that the governor has previously proposed and has put into his budget,” Azzopardi said. “We continue to support them and hope the legislature does the same and passes them next year.”

Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, says all seats in the legislature are up for election. He says polls show ethics reform is a key priority for most New Yorkers, and he says “the voters should make sure that the candidates know that”.

Assembly and Senate spokespeople did not return requests for comment.  

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