1. Reinvent Albany and nine groups from across New York’s political spectrum sent a memo of support for A7925-A (Zebrowski) / S6809-A (Reichlin-Melnick), which restores many of the Comptroller’s powers to review state contracts before they are signed (Spectrum News). The Comptroller had “pre-audit” contract review powers for more than a century before they were removed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in his first budget. The removal of Comptroller review allowed for the “Buffalo Billion” bid-rigging scandals, in which more than a billion dollars in contracts were steered to companies that donated large amounts to Cuomo’s political campaign.
From the Comptroller powers memo:
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.
Last week, we also sent a memo of support for a bill by Assemblymember Solages and Senator Ryan that prohibits local Industrial Development Agencies from giving tax breaks to e-commerce warehouses.
2. A new report by the Independent Budget Office says the Penn Station Development project may result in New York State taking future NYC property taxes to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to real estate developer Vornado (NY Times). The IBO also details how the Empire State Development Corporation – which is controlled by the governor – still has not provided basic financing information to the public or elected officialsabout why taxpayers should fund Penn Station upgrades via an extremely complex real estate project rather than conventional transit financing.
Here’s our take as reported by the Times:
John Kaehny, the executive director of Reinvent Albany, a government watchdog group, said that the Independent Budget Office’s report makes clear that “the project does not stand up under scrutiny.”
“It’s an issue of putting a lot of taxpayers at risk for no reason other than helping Vornado,” Mr. Kaehny said. “It just doesn’t make sense from a public-financing and public-policy perspective.”
3. Neil deMause explains how the Buffalo Bills stadium subsidy deal got approved despite being opposed by a majority of the public and legislators in a piece memorably titled “Governor Hochul’s Backroom Stadium Deal Happened Because New York Sucks At Democracy” (Hell Gate).
In an interview with Buffalo News, sports economist and professor Victor Matheson also talks about why the Bills subsidy deal is one of the worst in history.
How did this happen? One simple answer: It’s Albany. New York state’s political culture has long been viewed as singularly undemocratic—NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice once formally awarded New York’s legislature the title of “most dysfunctional” in the nation—with a long tradition of arranging deals behind closed doors by “three men in a room” (the governor and the heads of the State Senate and Assembly), who then instruct the rest of the legislature how to vote. After all, the last time a New York sports team got close to a billion dollars in public money for a new stadium—the New York Yankees in 2005—Albany leaders approved the state’s portion by literally dropping a bill on legislators’ desks the same day they were expected to vote on it.
If you got this from a friend, sign up here. Subsidy Sheet is written by Tom Speaker, Policy Analyst at Reinvent Albany. Please send questions and tips to tom [at] reinventalbany.org. We look forward to hearing from you!