Lack of reforms at NY Capitol called "pathetic"

ALBANY -- Scandals and calls for oversight of the state's economic-development programs were not enough to compel the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to enact reforms before the legislative session ended Wednesday.

Good-government groups and some lawmakers ripped the inaction, saying Cuomo quashed a series of bills that would have provided greater scrutiny over about $8 billion a year New York spends on job-creation programs.

"The governor pressed for ethics reform when the spotlight was on the Legislature, but is not as interested in ethics reform when the spotlight is on the executive branch," charged Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, D-Mount Pleasant, Westchester County.

Legislative leaders and Cuomo failed to find a compromise on how to better review state contracts and job-creation programs amid the arrests last fall of Cuomo's former top aide Joseph Percoco on kickback charges and SUNY Polytechnic Institute president Alain Kaloyeros on bid-rigging charges.

“Scandals and ensuing inaction seem to be the ‘new normal’ in Albany," said Ron Deutsch, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, a labor-backed think tank in Albany. "One has to wonder how many indictments are needed before we enact any meaningful reforms."

'Missed opportunity'

A USA Today Network in New York investigation this month found that job-growth programs have underperformed and lack clear benchmarks and oversight.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli wanted a law that would let his office better review state contracts involving non-profit agencies created for SUNY Poly and other economic-development efforts. Some of his oversight was stripped in 2011.

But the measure made little progress in the Legislature, and Cuomo opposed it.

“The failure to enact procurement reform was a missed opportunity to protect taxpayers’ dollars and prevent corruption," DiNapoli said in a statement.

"Enhancing independent oversight of state contracting, especially with regard to economic-development spending, is needed to ensure accountability and transparency."

Lawmakers and advocates pressed for the legislative leaders and Cuomo to agree to create a "Database of Deals" so the public could more easily see how their tax money is being spent.

'Left undone'

Another measure would have established greater transparency over the state's 10 regional economic development councils, which the USA Today Network's reporting found lacked openness and have potential conflicts of interest in deciding how about $700 million a year is spent.

Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, Erie County, wanted a law that would restore reporting of the state's Start-Up NY program, which lets companies operate tax free if they are associated with certain colleges.

The program hasn't met job-creation goals.

But the bill also foundered.

"People deserve improvements to the system. Those improvements are embodied in at least five pieces of legislation left undone at the end of this regular session," Schimminger said.

Legislative leaders indicated in recent days they were trying to reach a deal with Cuomo on reforms. But other than proposing a procurement officer under his control to oversee contracts, Cuomo didn't publicly indicate support for any of the bills under consideration.

So no agreements were reached.

'Giant scandals'

Some lawmakers said the Legislature shouldn't rely on Cuomo to agree to changes in oversight of the state's economic-development programs, saying he has shown little interest in strong laws that would govern the executive branch.

There was no comment from Cuomo's office on the failed negotiations.

Some legislators said they should have passed their own bills and forced Cuomo to either sign the bills into law or veto them.

"When you can have giant scandals and still think you don’t have to do anything about it, it does raise a red flag," said Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan.

She added, "In my opinion, too much power is handed off by members to the two leaders. They think they have to do everything by three-way agreement."

Not only did the sides not reach agreement on procurement reform, they didn't pass any laws to improve the state's ethical climate.

They also failed to make a deal to extend local sales-tax rates because it is tied to a stalled plan to extend mayoral control of New York City schools.

"This is a pathetic excuse for governing and an insult to the millions of New Yorkers who expect a basic level of competency," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY.

On Thursday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said there were no immediate plans to return to the Capitol to address unfinished business.

"If the governor and/or the Senate is asking us to engage, we would be derelict in our duties not to consider those requests," Heastie said in a statement. "With that being said, there is no plan to return."
 

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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