New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget includes an unusual amount of unrestricted funding which one good government group has called “a corruption risk” and state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has called disappointing.

According to Reinvent Albany, there are at least three pots of money in the budget totaling $10 billion which are exempt from the comptroller’s pre-audit review. The group said it appears $8 billion of this is "unrestricted" and are essentially "slush funds."

This isn’t the first time the comptroller’s authority has been reduced by the executive.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo stripped DiNapoli of his pre-audit power on construction contracts led by the State University of New York and its nonprofit in 2018. Since then, some of the comptroller’s oversight authority was restored via a memorandum of understanding between DiNapoli and Cuomo. 

“This has been an issue that we’ve talked about over a number of years,” DiNapoli told Capital Tonight. “[The change is made] under the guise of being more efficient, and it always happens at budget time.”

According to Reinvent Albany, the comptroller’s pre-audit process takes an average of less than six days. 

Several appropriations and Article VII provisions in the executive budget would eliminate the state comptroller’s oversight and waive State Finance Law competitive bidding procedures for state contracts, according to an analysis by the state comptroller’s office.

This includes at least $10 billion in COVID-19 and emergency-related appropriations and reappropriations.

“I guess, disappointingly, in this year’s budget, we see some of the old tricks of the trade coming back,” DiNapoli said. “Some of the health care spending, some of the money that would go for oversight of the Medicaid managed care programs, some of the money for COVID-related expenses — these are areas where, if we had our ability to do that pre-audit review, we could make sure that money isn’t being wasted and taxpayers aren’t being ripped off.”

Specifically, according to the comptroller’s own analysis, “some of the $10 billion multi-year funding for health care is proposed without sufficient oversight and accountability, including $1.6 billion in capital grants. The budget also eliminates the comptroller’s contract oversight and State Finance Law competitive bidding requirements for Medicaid managed care contracts.”

There is a bill to permanently restore the comptroller’s pre-audit power sponsored by state Sen. Elijah Reichlin-Melnick and Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski.

Comptroller DiNapoli told Capital Tonight he hopes that there is an appetite to pass the bill this legislative session.

“There’s less of a likelihood that something inappropriate is going to happen if we have additional review,” DiNapoli explained. “I always say, it helps the executive for us to play this role.”