Leading Transparency and Budget Watchdogs Call Again on Governor to Take Lead on Clean Contracting and Pay to Play Reforms


Watchdogs say Governor Cuomo must work to restore public trust after scandal involving $780 million in rigged economic development contracts.

Today in Albany, leading watchdog groups released a letter to Governor Cuomo asking him to include Clean Contracting reforms in any special session to renew 421-a real estate tax abatements. The groups also discussed the lack of of urgency or progress in fixing the structural problems that led to the State’s historic bid rigging scandal.



Governor Andrew Cuomo
New York State Capitol Building
Albany, New York 12224

November 14, 2016

Re: Renew public confidence in state government, include Clean Contracting reforms in special session to renew 421-a.

Dear Governor Cuomo,

We write to ask you to include Clean Contracting reforms and controls on pay to play as part of the special session you are calling to renew 421-a real estate tax abatements.

Over the last few weeks you have talked about the need to restore the public’s trust in New York’s scandal-scarred state government. We agree, and the place to start is with fundamental changes to how the state awards over a billion dollars a year in economic development contracts.

The public has not forgotten that in September, high-level officials in State government were arrested for rigging economic development contracts worth more than $780 million—nor can you.

Any credible attempt to restore the public trust in state government must include major reforms that give the public confidence that the state’s economic development spending is clean and accountable. Real reform is up to you. This stunning bid-rigging scandal took place within the executive branch, and as governor you can implement many major Clean Contracting reforms on your own through instructions to your appointees, through your budget, and more formally via executive orders. However, we urge you to use your power to propose and champion legislation, so that these changes are codified in law.

In late September, our groups wrote to you and other state leaders and urged you to make the major Clean Contracting reforms needed to restore public confidence. Today we are renewing our call for fundamental changes to en- sure that billions in state economic development contracts are awarded fairly and transparently.

Five Clean Contracting Reforms Proposed by Watchdog Groups:

  1. Require competitive and transparent contracting for the award of state funds by all state agencies, authorities, and affiliates. Use existing agency procurement guidelines as a uniform minimum standard.
  2. Transfer responsibility for awarding all economic development awards to Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), and end awards by state non-profits and SUNY.
  3. Empower the comptroller to review and approve all state contracts over $250k.
  4. Prohibit state authorities, state corporations and state non-profits from doing business with their board members.
  5. Create a ‘Database of Deals’ that allows the public to see the total value of all forms of subsidies awarded to a business – as six states have done.

We further urge you to reduce the potential for conflicts of interest by exploring options to limit campaign contributions from anyone who has or is seeking a state contract. Nineteen states and NYC have such “pay to play” laws, NY State does not.

As governor, you have not shied away from trying to do big things. In the aftermath of the biggest bid-rigging scandal in state history, we are calling on you to champion the fundamental reforms that are needed to protect the public’s money and restore public trust in government.

Thank you,

Dick Dadey
Executive Director
Citizens Union
299 Broadway
New York, NY 10007

Ron Deutsch
Executive Director
Fiscal Policy Institute
1 Lear Jet Lane
Latham, NY 12110

Blair Horner
Executive Director
NY Public Interest Research Group
107 Washington Ave
Albany, NY 12210

John Kaehny
Executive Director
Reinvent Albany
148 Lafayette Street, 12th Floor
New York, NY 10013

Dave Friedfel
Director of State Studies 
 Citizens Budget Commission
2 Pennsylvania Plaza
New York, NY 10001

Susan Lerner
Executive Director
Common Cause New York
80 Broad Street
New York, NY 10004

Dare Thompson
League of Women Voters NYS
62 Grand Street
Albany, NY 12207


Click here to view the letter as a PDF.