Good-government organizations and a range of think tank and advocacy groups are backing the restoration of oversight for billions of dollars in state government spending by the New York comptroller’s office in order to guard against fraud and corruption.
The oversight power was previously stripped from the comptroller’s office to review contracts at the State University of New York, City University of New York and the Office of General Services.
Having that oversight could be key for preventing fraud or corruption given those entities have been used in the past to provide pass-through funding for economic development projects. Some of those projects in the last decade have fallen under the scrutiny of federal prosecutors.
“Comptroller oversight is crucial for ensuring the integrity of state contracts,” the groups wrote in a memorandum supporting the restored power. “The Comptroller’s office reports that it reviewed $235 billion in state contracts in 2020, and identified multiple cases where oversight saved the state millions. Allowing large contracts to go unchecked risks the abuse of billions of taxpayer dollars.”
A range of organizations are backing the change, from the good-government group Reinvent Albany to the right-leaning think tank Empire Center and the progressive advocacy group Strong Economy for All.
In 2019, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a memorandum of understanding agreed in principle to a restoration of the oversight power. But a law formally doing so was never given final approval.
At issue is the power of pre-audit authority for the comptroller, something that had been in place for a century until 2011 and 2012, when the power was removed from the office to review contracts at SUNY, CUNY, the SUNY Research Foundation, its affiliates and the Office of General Services.
In 2016, a massive bribery and bid-rigging scandal developed, leading to the arrests of prominent upstate developers and the governor’s close aide at the time, Joe Percoco, stemming from the use of economic development funds in Western New York.