WXXI AM News

Still no arrangement for comptroller to audit state contracts

Aug 1, 2019

A deal between State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, left, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo seems to have stalled.

A handshake deal between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to reinstate the comptroller’s powers to audit contracts in the wake of corruption scandals has stalled.

Reform advocates are accusing Cuomo of reneging on the deal, something the governor’s office denies.  

In 2011, Cuomo persuaded the Legislature to limit DiNapoli's auditing powers when it came to large economic development contracts. They included ones through the State University’s Polytechnic Institute, which was heavily involved in hundreds of millions of dollars of projects.

“The oversight powers of the comptroller’s office were diluted,” DiNapoli said in an interview. 

Cuomo said at the time that the extra oversight slowed down the process. 

But since 2011, the over $4 billion in annual subsidies for economic development led to major scandals of bribery and bid-rigging, including $750 million for the Solar City project in Buffalo and a never-used film hub in Syracuse. 

The former head of SUNY Polytechnic, Alain Kaloyeros, as well as several former close aides and associates of Cuomo, are facing or serving prison time. 

The comptroller and government reform advocates have argued that if the comptroller’s office had been able to examine the contracts, they might have averted the damaging scandals.  

Cuomo, just before the state budget passed in late March, struck a verbal agreement with DiNapoli to allow the comptroller to once again see the economic development contracts. 

DiNapoli said nearly half a year later, the details still haven’t been worked out.  

“The spirit is there, but the actual translating the intent into a practice hasn’t happened,” DiNapoli said. 

When asked if he had reviewed any economic development contracts, the comptroller said “no.” 

John Kaehny with the reform group Reinvent Albany said he thinks the governor broke his promise.

“The comptroller is a gentleman, but it looks to us like the governor completely reneged on a publicly announced deal,” Kaehny said.

Kaehny said what’s ultimately needed is a law reinstating the comptroller’s oversight powers.  

“Because no agency volunteers to have pre-audits or review by the comptroller of their upcoming contracts,” Kaehny said.

DiNapoli agreed.

“My goal would be to work it out administratively and then have it memorialized in statute,” DiNapoli said.

The Legislature has had second thoughts about the 2011 agreement, and bills have been proposed to return the auditing authority. But they have failed to pass and become law. The next chance to do so would be in 2020, when the Legislature next returns to the Capitol for session. 

Kaehny said with all of the bad publicity over the bid-rigging and bribery scandals, he’d think the governor would welcome the measures and would want to be “inoculated against claims of waste, fraud and abuse.” 

But he said since then, “zero reforms” have been enacted.

The governor’s office denies that the governor reneged on the deal, and said they are still working out the details on how to restore the comptroller’s auditing oversight authority.

“John Kaehny doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” said Jason Conwall, a spokesman for Cuomo. “The agreement is still in place and the final details are being worked out.”