Editorial: Get corruption out of state contracts

Database of Deals, more authority for comptroller over contracts, more transparency would save taxpayers money, reduce corruption
The state Capitol.
The state Capitol.


Most proposals pitched for inclusion in the New York state budget end up costing taxpayers money.

Very few save money.

Of all the legislation being bandied about as state lawmakers put the final touches in the $175 billion state budget this weekend, one package of bills could not only save taxpayers millions each year, but also improve government transparency and take a major bite out of the fraud, corruption and influence-peddling that pervades state government.

Before they sign off on this year’s spending plan, lawmakers need to pass the Database of Deals relating to government contracts, restore to the greatest degree possible the state comptroller’s authority to review state contracts prior to approval, and apply the state’s transparency laws to economic development entities and their board members.

New York state is a major employer, awarding more than 50,000 government contracts worth billions of dollars. 

Right now, the state’s bidding system for those contracts is ripe for corruption because of the lack of oversight, public accountability and transparency.

So-called “clean contracts” legislation would go a long way toward preventing companies from benefiting from government handouts and tax breaks without fulfilling their promises of construction, tax generation and job creation.

If this legislation isn’t passed and signed into law this year, it will represent another massive failure by the Legislature and governor to address government corruption.

Here’s what they need to do.

Lawmakers once again are considering restoring the authority of the state comptroller’s office to review government contracts before they’re finalized in order to ensure that the state is getting the best price for its investment, that bids are only awarded to reputable businesses with clean records, and that contracts conform to fair and legal bidding practices.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had stripped the comptroller of that authority, saying it was ineffective and could cause delays in helping rebuild upstate economies.

We argue that the benefits of catching problems before contracts are awarded far outweigh the impact of any small delays.

Lawmakers also need to establish the “Database of Deals” — a searchable, downloadable, machine-readable and sortable online database that would include information about government projects, including the project’s name and location, the types of jobs created, a breakdown of jobs based on minority and women employment, the number of projected jobs, and the overall benefits that such projects would generate. 

In addition to establishing the database, lawmakers need to set aside $500,000 to fund it.

Another bill that needs to pass to help improve the public’s oversight of government contracts would apply the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), Open Meetings Law and ethics laws to economic development agencies, including Regional Economic Development Councils.

One final piece of legislation lawmakers need to pass (S3167/A113) would ban campaign contributions to officeholders who might be able to influence the bidding process.

All of this legislation would save taxpayers money in wasted tax benefits to companies that don’t fulfill their job-creation pledges, reduce corruption by exposing contracts to greater scrutiny, and increase transparency.

If any government official opposes this legislation, citizens have good reason to wonder why.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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