Greater oversight of NY's jobs programs stalls

ALBANY -- Efforts to improve transparency and oversight of New York's billions of dollars in incentives to businesses appeared stalled at state Capitol.

Lawmakers suggested that negotiations were continuing over roughly a half-dozen bills that would provide greater scrutiny of the roughly $8 billion a year New York spends to attract and retain jobs, but they offered no indication that any deals are near.

The legislative session is set to end Wednesday.

"I think they are not supported by the governor," Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Buffalo, who sponsors several of the bills, charged Tuesday on "The Capitol Pressroom," a public radio show.

Calls from good-government groups and lawmakers to improve the state's economic-development programs comes after a top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the head of SUNY Polytechnic Institute were criminally charged last fall in a bid-rigging and kickback scandal involving state projects.

A USA Today Network in New York investigation earlier this month found the money spent by the state hasn't led to the job growth anticipated, and many of the programs lack clear benchmarks and independent reviews.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is urging lawmakers to pass a measure that would provide his office greater auditing power over the state's non-profits that are used for economic development.

Part of the scandal involving Cuomo's office stems from SUNY Poly based in Albany using two non-profit boards to oversee public construction projects across upstate. It's former president, Alain Kaloyeros, is charged in federal and state courts for allegedly steering bids to preferred developers.

DiNapoli said on "The Capitol Pressroom" the state needs "credibility of the programs, giving taxpayers and the citizens of New York assurance that money is being spent as intended and reduce or eliminate the opportunity for there to be any corruption or compromise along the way."

But legislative leaders in recent days have said little more than that discussions were ongoing with Cuomo's office on a potential agreement.

"I said my desire all along is to get a three-way agreement, and I’m hoping we still can achieve that," Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said Monday.

Cuomo has wanted to establish a chief procurement officer to oversee some economic-development contracts, but critics said the officer would be under Cuomo's control, not independent. There was no immediate comment Tuesday from Cuomo's office on the state of negotiations.

"The establishment of a chief procurement officer duplicates and impedes the independently elected state comptroller’s duties and responsibilities to review contracts," the group, Reinvent Albany, said.

The debate comes after a Manhattan attorney hired last year by Cuomo's office to review its procurement procedures criticized some of the spending by the state for its Buffalo Billion effort in western New York and for SUNY Poly projects.

In April, special counsel Bart Schwartz asked the state to disallow $49 million in bills for the construction work because of a lack of documentation and "proper procedures and protocols," according to documents provided by the state Comptroller's Office under a Freedom of Information request.

Schwartz is also requesting $1 million for his review of the state's contracting, which included a series of recommended reforms New York should undertake, the records showed.

"We are hopeful that actions in which we have engaged will result in stronger controls to prevent fraud, waste and abuse," Schwartz wrote.

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