Comptroller put back in process, as corruption reform bill advances

Apr 28, 2017

A bill that could address corruption in Albany is progressing in the New York State Legislature, but it might not be the measure that Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to become law.

Credit WBFO File Photo

Several former Cuomo associates, including a former top aide, face federal corruption trials on charges of bribery and bid-rigging in connection with the contracts for some of the governor’s signature economic development projects, including the Buffalo Billion.

A bill proposed by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli would give the comptroller the power to oversee economic development contracts in the future and potentially flag any signs of illegal activities.

The comptroller had the authority to review the contracts until 2011, when that power was taken away in an agreement by Cuomo and the Legislature.

Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, who is sponsoring the bill in that house, said he wants to correct what many now acknowledge was an error.

“This is the way things used to be,” said DeFrancisco, who added the comptroller was “mistakenly” taken out of the process because Cuomo convinced lawmakers that the extra scrutiny just slowed the projects down.

DeFrancisco said the bill reinstates more “transparency and checks and balances over the executive.”

The Senate Finance Committee approved the bill and it’s ready to go to the floor for a vote, though no date has yet been set for debate.

In the Assembly, the measure also has a majority party sponsor. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie was noncommittal, though, about the bill’s future, saying he wants to discuss it first with his Democratic members in conference.

“I like to bring these things to the conference and see what they say,” Heastie said. “In this day and age, making sure that tax dollars are protected and spent correctly is an admirable goal.”

Blair Horner with the New York Public Interest Research Group said he’s “heartened” by the reform bill’s progress.

“It’s important. We think it’s a tremendous step forward,” Horner said.

Horner said it’s hard to predict, though, whether Cuomo would sign or veto the bill if it’s presented to him.

Credit Ryan Delaney / WRVO News

Cuomo said shortly after the budget passed that he believed there was no “political will” to do ethics reform in the remainder of the 2017 legislative session. A spokesman said later that the governor was just giving an honest assessment of where he thought things stood.

The governor has proposed a different bill that would create a new inspector general within his own administration to oversee economic development contracts instead of reinstating the comptroller’s authority. DiNapoli and Cuomo have feuded in the past.

So far, the governor’s measure has not advanced.

Meanwhile, the State University of New York has issued a memo of opposition to the comptroller’s bill, saying that SUNY, unlike other state agencies, “operates in a competitive landscape that requires flexibility” and that the measure would set the university system back to outdated rules that were changed in 1985.