ALBANY, N.Y. — The corruption conviction of Joe Percoco on charges that he sought to rig economic development bids in exchange for bribes has highlighted the lack of independent oversight power in Albany when it comes to major state contracts.
"It's always hard to know exactly what could have happened," said NYPIRG Legislative Director Blair Horner. "It's pretty clear that if you have an open system of overseeing government contracting and if you have independent oversight, that acts as a deterrent."
While Percoco's case may not have been avoided altogether, lawmakers say it was a mistake to reduce Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's power to review state contracts.
"In doing that in a context in which you've limited independent oversight and that most of the decisions are made in secret raises the risk of corruption," Horner said.
Lawmakers call this move a mistake that needs to be fixed.
"It was absolutely, definitely, positively, a mistake in the year 2011 for the New York State Legislature, at the request of this governor who wanted to expedite things and make them more efficient, to have taken away that oversight role for state contracts," said Assemblyman Robin Schimminger (D - Kenmore).
And it's a bipartisan concern for lawmakers. The Assembly on Thursday approved a one-house budget resolution that would create new oversight controls on spending, including a so-called database of deals that tracks contracts.
"If there was more oversight of the economic development programs going on, I think we could have avoided some of this," said Assemblyman Ray Walter (R - East Amherst). "But you're never going to legislate out all immorality."
Senate Republicans, too, want to see changes.
"I don't need to speak to the Joe Percoco trial or verdict or anything," said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. "We thought that long before anything even happened there. We've been critical of the way our economic development programs have been working."
In his first public comments since Percoco's conviction, Cuomo on Thursday said he wanted to limit or ban outside income for public officials. Cuomo himself received more than $700,000 in outside income for a 2014 book he published.