Tesla plant again the symbol of state corruption - this time by Comptroller DiNapoli

Oct 24, 2018

New York's fiscal watchdog says other branches of state government have damaged his ability to monitor where tax dollars go. Tom DiNapoli was in town to attend a labor political rally in the Buffalo Irish Center.

The Buffalo Irish Center is not far from the Riverbend complex, which houses the Tesla solar panel factory, a three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollar investment from the Buffalo Billion for jobs and economic development. The Tesla plant has been a favorite backdrop for political candidates, complaining about corruption in New York State government this election season.

A few years back, state law was changed during a state budget battle. The Comptroller used to be able to look at state contracts before they were awarded and then audit the way the money was spent. That traditional pre-approval of contracts was taken away.

DiNapoli said that has been a mistake.

"After the fact, whenever there's state money is involved," said DiNapoli. "One of the key issues and concerns that I have raised is that what was taken away from us, diminished a few years ago, was our ability to do a pre-approval for the contract process and I think that's where some of the projects that had an economic development slant to it missed out on the opportunity for the kind of objective oversight that is smart on the front end."

DiNapoli said that has been recognized in the wake of the criminal trials over the way state money has been spent in economic development projects - and not just Buffalo Billion funds.

"Labor has raised concerns about IDAs, Industrial Development Agencies, and Local Development Corporations, in terms of when some of those tax benefits have been given out," he said. "The projects haven't been labor friendly and haven't created the jobs that were anticipated."

He said there will be a push to restore the old pre-approval system.

"We have the same voice, but less authority to oversight because, unfortunately, in the name of efficiency, changes were made by statute as part of the budget negotiations a few years ago that chipped away on our pre-audit authority,"DiNapoli said. "So we've been fighting to have that restored. Fortunately, we have a lot of support for that in the Legislature and I hope that, whether it's before the end of this year or going back into session next year, that, in fact, will be restored."