Our view: Restore New York comptroller's full review power

The Citizen Editorial Board

Auburn Citizen

Jun 11, 2017

From the weak job-creation numbers for the university-based tax break program to the corruption scandals that have rocked some of the biggest state-backed business projects in the state, New York's economic development program is suffering from a decided lack of public confidence.

Perhaps the biggest blow came last fall, when an $800 million bid-rigging scandal erupted and led to nine criminal indictments of major New York economic development players, including a top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the leader of the State University of New York's high-tech development effort.

Given the deeply troubling allegations behind those indictments, it should be a no-brainer for the leaders in the state Capitol to take action to improve independent oversight and transparency. For many legislators, it indeed is an easy and clearly necessary fix: give the elected state comptroller back the power to review economic development spending that goes through SUNY entities.

Cuomo succeeded in removing that step several years ago, and the result was a system ripe for abuse. There's clear evidence that abuse did indeed happen, and courts will soon determine if any of it was also a crime.

A procurement reform bill to fix this mistake has bipartisan support in both houses of the Legislature, but Cuomo is doing his best to derail the effort.

He's arguing that comptroller review will make the program too inefficient, and could hurt women- and minority-owned businesses because of the extra bureaucratic review. The truth, however, is likely that an independent look at these deals would prevent the very type of game-fixing that results in such firms not getting work in favor of the big fish that know how to work the Albany system.

Cuomo has also tacitly acknowledged that the problem needs to be fixed with his alternative proposal, an independent procurement officer that he would appoint.

The shortcoming with that proposal is that it's hard to believe such a person could be truly independent. The Cuomo administration's history of meddling in supposedly independent processes and programs is well-documented.

The best way to ensure independence is to put a person in charge of the reviewing who is directly accountable to the public. In New York, we have such a position in the state comptroller, who must earn his or her job back in an election every four years.

If it becomes clear that the governor is not going to back off his stance on this issue, we hope the Legislature doesn't back down. They should pass this measure before the session ends with the intention of overriding a veto.

New Yorkers deserve a clean economic development program, and this is an important step in giving it to them.