After economic development corruption scandals, Governor Andrew Cuomo, the governor and the State Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli, have finalized a plan to restore the comptroller’s auditing powers over economic development contracts.
In 2011, Cuomo persuaded the legislature to agree to limit the comptroller’s oversight ability for some economic development projects. They included the $750 million dollar subsidy for the solar city project, as part of an initiative Cuomo called the Buffalo Billion.
At the time, Cuomo said the additional oversight slowed down the bidding and construction process.
Since then, bid-rigging and bribery scandals related to the Buffalo Billion initiative as well as other economic development contracts led to federal corruption charges and prison terms for several of Cuomo’s former associates, including his former closest aide, Joe Percoco. The former head of the State University’s Polytechnic Institute, Alain Kaloyeros, who helped cut the deals for many of the contracts, is also facing a jail term, though he is currently free while appealing his conviction.
Last March, Cuomo, and DiNapoli struck a verbal agreement to reinstate the comptroller’s audit powers over the projects.
But the actual details of the agreement languished, according to DiNapoli, who spoke about it in late July, in an interview with public radio.
“The spirit is there, but the actual translating the intent into practice hasn’t happened,” DiNapoli said on July 30.
Government reform groups complained that the governor was dragging his feet in setting up the arrangements something Cuomo’s office denied.
Late on a Friday afternoon in the middle of August, the governor and comptroller finally issued a joint memo of understanding. It restores the Comptroller’s oversight authority, beginning on September 15th.
John Kaehny, with the government reform group Reinvent Albany, says that’s good news.
“It clearly is a step forward,” Kaehny said. “It increases accountability and decreases corruption risk.”
The agreement also provides an additional layer of oversight. The state Inspector General’s office, which is part of Cuomo’s Administration, will have the authority to review the Comptroller’s audits. Kaehny says the more oversight the better, and he says the IG’s new powers will improve transparency. But he says the Inspector General won’t have equal powers with the Comptroller when it comes to the contracts.
“The Inspector General doesn’t get to approve them, they just get to see them,” said Kaehny who said the comptroller has the ability to reject contracts if they believe they are “tainted” or don’t meet state requirements.
Kaehny says ultimately, though, the governor and legislature need to pass a law to restore the oversight powers.
Governor Cuomo did not comment about the finalized agreement. A spokesman for the Comptroller, Mark Johnson, said in a statement that “"Implementation of the agreement “ is “an important step forward in enhancing accountability in state contracting”.