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Editorial: State deals need more oversight

Editorial: State deals need more oversight

Independent authority needed to review contracts, promote ethical conduct
Editorial: State deals need more oversight
The state Capitol building in Albany.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

New York state government is going deeper and deeper into the darkness, and it’s taking billions of our tax dollars with it.

It’s bad enough we’ve got the U.S. Attorney’s office investigating illegal kickbacks from government contracts, favoritism, lavish and excessive spending of tax dollars, and conflicts of interest involving companies doing business with New York state.

But the system is also corrupted by questionable, costly, but legal transactions that have slowly been allowed to escape scrutiny thanks to a gradual shift toward increasingly lax oversight procedures in state government.

These transactions often are conducted in secret and without anyone questioning the validity of the expenditures or whether the transactions followed state rules regarding bidding and advertising.

For example, one contract for SUNY Downstate Medical Center, because of a lack of oversight, included expenses billed to taxpayers for luxury hotels, limousines, expensive meals and alcohol. Another, for healthcare information technology, was allowed to go out without competitive bidding, costing taxpayers an extra $1.3 million.

These are just a couple of examples cited in a memo in support of new legislation to rein in the waste and fraud. In effect, no one is minding the store. And it’s costing us all plenty.

When lawmakers return to Albany, one of the first bills they should pass is the Procurement Integrity Act (A6355/S3984),  which would restore oversight powers to the state comptroller’s office, establish more controls and restore transparency to the procurement process.

Under the bill, independent oversight of SUNY, CUNY and Office of General Services contracts will be restored to the state comptroller’s office, where it was in the past.

The bill also would expand the comptroller’s oversight of the procurement process to include contracts over $1 million by the SUNY Research Foundation, prohibit state contracts through certain nonprofits, strengthen ethical requirements for vendors and state purchasing agents, standardize the contracting process for all public authorities  and restore public transparency.

The bill has multiple sponsors in each house of the Legislature and has the support of good government groups such as Reinvent Albany, the League of Women Voters, New York Public Interest Research Group, the Citizens Budget Commission and the Fiscal Policy Institute.

If lawmakers are serous about ending corruption and restoring fiscal sanity to state government, this bill needs to be a top priority.

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