Groups Across NY’s Political Spectrum Support Bill Restoring Comptroller Powers

     

Ten groups sent a memo of support today for a bill that restores many of the Comptroller’s powers to review state contracts before they are signed. The bill, A7925-A (Zebrowski) / S6809-A (Reichlin-Melnick), puts into law a 2019 Memorandum of Understanding between Comptroller DiNapoli and then-Governor Andrew Cuomo that restored the Comptroller’s authority to do a “pre-audit” review of many SUNY, CUNY, and Office of General Services contracts. 

Watchdog groups believe the Comptroller’s authority to review state contracts before they are signed is a key check on waste and corruption. 

In his first budget in 2011 and 2012, then-Governor Cuomo forced through budget bills that removed the authority of the Comptroller’s office to conduct “pre-audit” contract reviews, a power the Comptroller had for more than a century. 

A few years after the Comptroller’s pre-audit powers were eliminated, New York State had its biggest ever bid-rigging scandal, when over a billion dollars in state economic development funds, including from the “Buffalo Billion” program, were steered to companies that donated large amounts to Cuomo’s political campaign.

The memo is here and below.


MEMO OF SUPPORT

A7925-A (Zebrowski) / S6809-A (Reichlin-Melnick)

May 2022
Title
An act to amend the state finance law and the education law, in relation to restoring oversight of certain contracts by the comptroller; and to repeal certain provisions of the education law relating thereto.

Summary
Section 1 amends state finance law section 112(2)(a) to restore the Comptroller’s authority to review Office of General Services centralized contracts that exceed $85,000, as well as purchase orders and other procurement transactions under such contracts.

Sections 2 and 3 replace education law section 355 subdivisions 5 and 6 with new language that restores the Comptroller’s oversight over certain State University of New York (SUNY) contracts. These rules will enable SUNY trustees to make certain purchases but require the trustees to comply with rules and regulations promulgated by the Comptroller. 

Section 4 replaces education law section 355 subdivision 16-b to restore the Comptroller’s power to oversee contracts when SUNY is the health care provider. SUNY trustees will be allowed to authorize contracts of $75,000 or under without prior Comptroller approval.

Section 5 replaces education law section 373 subdivision 12 to restore the Comptroller’s oversight of SUNY Construction Fund contracts.

Section 6 replaces education law section 6218 subdivision a to restore the Comptroller’s oversight for certain City University of New York (CUNY) contracts. Trustees will be able to purchase certain materials that are $50,000 or under without prior approval so long as they comply with rules and regulations promulgated by the Comptroller. Section 7 repeals education law section 6218 subdivision a-1 as that subdivision has been incorporated into Section 6.

Section 8 repeals education law section 6283 to restore the Comptroller’s oversight of CUNY Construction Fund contracts.

Section 9 states that the bill takes effect immediately.

Statement of Support
In 2011 and 2012, the state removed the Comptroller’s pre-audit authority for contracts of SUNY, CUNY, their Construction Funds, SUNY Research Foundation and its affiliates, and the state’s Office of General Services (OGS). The Buffalo Billion contract bid-rigging scandal happened not long after, resulting in the abuse of nearly a billion dollars in public funds. Advocates called for the Comptroller’s pre-audit authority to be restored, and in 2019, then-Governor Cuomo and Comptroller DiNapoli signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that restored most of the Comptroller’s powers.

Though the MOU was a step forward, these powers need to be enacted in statute, particularly since the memorandum can be revoked with ten days notice. This bill restores most of the powers that existed prior to 2011. The bill was also included in the 2022 Senate budget proposal (S8005-B, Part MM), and most of these powers would have been restored under the Assembly’s budget proposal (A9005-B, Part EE).

Comptroller oversight is crucial for ensuring the integrity of state contracts. The Comptroller’s office reports that it reviewed $235 billion in state contracts in 2020,and identified multiple cases where oversight saved the state millions. Allowing large contracts to go unchecked risks the abuse of billions of taxpayer dollars.

We fully support this bill and urge its immediate passage.

Click here to view the memo as a PDF.