Watchdog Report, “Empire State of Emergency,” Says Governor’s Overly Broad Emergency Powers Invite Corruption, Abuse of Power

Recommends Comptroller Review of Contracts Be Restored, and
Legislation to Rein in Emergency Powers While Increasing Transparency

According to a new report released today by watchdog group Reinvent Albany, Governor Kathy Hochul has issued or continued disaster declarations for ten separate emergencies, including two related to COVID-19, since taking office in August 2021. On Tuesday, October 18th, the Gun Violence Emergency Order is set to either expire, or be renewed.

The Governor’s emergency declarations have suspended dozens of laws that include safeguards that the State Legislature has put in place to:

  • ensure competitive bidding on state contracts (State Finance Law);
  • prevent corruption and collusion by state vendors (State Finance Law’s Comptroller review/approval provisions); and
  • protect the environment (the State Environmental Quality Review Act), among other important laws (see the report for a full listing of laws suspended by each order).

Under State Finance Law, the Comptroller oversees state contracts to make sure taxpayers are getting the best deal possible, and to prevent waste, fraud and abuse of state funds.

While the Comptroller’s review was recently suspended, the state paid nearly twice the price as California for home COVID tests from a small firm, Digital Gadgets, whose owner and family donated at least $300,000 to Governor Hochul’s campaign, as reported by the Times Union. This middleman bought tests and resold them to New York State without a contract or any typical vetting of the vendor, which includes ensuring they are not a front for organized crime. Using purchase orders, New York paid Digital Gadgets $637 million in multiple payments over three months that were not reviewed by the Comptroller’s Office. 

The report includes the following recommendations to prevent future potential abuses of executive power: 

  1. The Legislature should pass a bill like its 2021 rollback of the governor’s COVID-19 powers to require notification to the Legislature, affected local governments, and the State Comptroller, including the opportunity for comment before emergency orders are extended or modified.
  2. All emergency orders and their extensions should be online in a searchable format. The Governor can do this administratively, or it can be required by the Legislature, modeled off of the Legislature’s 2021 roll-back of COVID-19 powers.
  3. Emergency declarations lasting more than one year should be required to be approved by majority vote of each house of the Legislature. Under current law, the Legislature can pass a resolution to overturn an executive order or emergency declaration, but initial approval is not required for the order or its extensions.
  4. The Governor should sign legislation currently on her desk, A7925-A (Zebrowski) / S6809-A (Reichlin-Melnick), that restores many of the Comptroller’s powers to review state contracts before they are signed. 

Click here or below to see the full report.