EDITORIAL: Oversight bill a victory for taxpayers

New York State comptroller Tom DiNapoli STAN HUDY/THE DAILY GAZETTE .
New York State comptroller Tom DiNapoli STAN HUDY/THE DAILY GAZETTE



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New Yorker taxpayers don’t often get much good news when it comes to state government and the way it manages their money.

But after more than a decade in which the state comptroller has been prohibited from reviewing certain state government contracts before they’re signed, he soon will have that power again, thanks to legislation just signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Thanks to changes pushed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2011, the comptroller’s office was stripped of its power to review certain contracts entered into by the state Office of General Services (OGS), the State University of New York (SUNY) and the City University of New York CUNY).

According to memo of the bill signed by Hochul, Cuomo’s office justified the changes to the comptroller’s oversight authority back in 2011 by claiming the removal of oversight would help the state save money through cost-saving measures and efficiencies. But shortly after the changes were made, Cuomo’s signature economic development program, the Buffalo Billion, was marred by scandal, resulting in accusations that state officials accepted bribes in exchange for steering state contracts to certain companies.

The Buffalo Billion scandal might be extreme, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility for any government contract to be subject to waste, abuse and political influence.

Some supporters of the bill, said, for instance, that the comptroller’s oversight might have prevented the state from overpaying for covid tests and could have prevented or discouraged some of the overspending on the Buffalo Billion.

Specifically, the bill would restore the comptroller’s authority to review certain OGS centralized contracts, purchase orders and procurement deals; force SUNY trustees to follow comptroller rules and regulations for the purchase of certain materials, electronic information resources and contracts for services, construction and printing; restore the comptroller’s oversight for SUNY Construction Fund contracts; and restore oversight over SUNY contracts in which SUNY is a healthcare provider.

The governor signed the bill with the caveat that pre-audits cover contracts worth more than $85,000 (there were some lower milestones in the original legislation), as well as limit the length of comptroller reviews to 90 days so as to ensure projects move forward in a timely manner — changes the comptroller called “minor,” according to Newsday.

With this renewed oversight, the comptroller and his auditors will once again be able to identify potential problems with contracts before they’re signed and before those problems turn into expensive waste and fraud.

This bill represents an important change in direction and a major victory for taxpayers.

Hochul and lawmakers deserve credit for restoring this vital check on government power.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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