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EDITORIAL: Why the delay in restoring bid oversight?

EDITORIAL: Why the delay in restoring bid oversight?

Comptroller should be able to audit economic development deals to protect taxpayers
EDITORIAL: Why the delay in restoring bid oversight?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the state Capitol in Albany on April 5, 2017.
Photographer: Nathaniel Brooks/The New York Times

Guess how many audits the state comptroller’s office has undertaken of large economic development projects since Gov. Andrew Cuomo verbally agreed to reinstate the comptroller’s auditing powers in March.

If you answered “zero,” then you’re not only correct, you’re also pretty well versed in how state government works from the top down in New York.

The abuses, waste and fraud in the state bidding process was epitomized by last year’s bid-rigging and bribery scandals involving SUNY Polytechnic and projects associated with the Buffalo Billion initiative.

These types of contracts are often worth millions, or hundreds of millions, of dollars, and the process of awarding of them is ripe for corruption.

Without independent oversight, there’s a good chance that bids on state contracts could go to companies not based on merit or the lowest cost option, but on how much the owners contribute to a politician or how much influence they have over the decision makers.

That could result in taxpayers paying much more for such projects, for incompetent work, for companies not being able to finish what they started and not providing the promised number of new jobs. In the end, when these companies bail out, taxpayers are left holding the multi-million-dollar bag without having derived the benefits.

If only we had a state official whose job it is to audit contracts in order to root out potential problems with bidders and the bidding process and who could identify potential conflicts of interest involving government overseers before they become fodder for a U.S. Attorney’s Office investigation.

Oh wait! We do! Or, well, we did.

But several years ago, the governor stripped the comptroller’s office of that authority, and good-government advocates and newspaper editorial pages have been pushing for the restoration of that authority ever since.

While lawmakers were trying, and failing, to restore the comptroller’s powers legislatively, the governor and the comptroller agreed verbally to expand the comptroller’s oversight.

So far, though, that hasn’t happened.

Given the time that’s passed since that agreement, some fear the governor has reneged on his promise. The governor’s office says they’re just hammering out the final details.

Exactly what details are there to hammer out? Let the comptroller do his job ensuring fairness, financial responsibility and transparency. It shouldn’t be that complicated or take this long.

The public deserves fair and honest government contracting. Allowing the comptroller to provide oversight will help ensure that.

There’s no more time, or taxpayer money, to waste.

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