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Citizens Union group, Cuomo clash as state budget talks heat up

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announces a

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announces a $1.8 billion revitalization proposal on Sunday, March 19, 2017, that would make changes to the Sheridan and Bruckner expressways. Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine

ALBANY — A leading good-government group on Monday accused Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of masking how billions of dollars in taxpayer money is spent in a tense exchange as state budget negotiations heated up.

Citizens Union released its study, called “Spending in the Shadows.” It concluded that $4.3 billion in 60 “lump sum funding pots” have no details regarding how the money will be spent until well after the funding is passed in the state budget. Another $9.5 billion in 30 economic development and infrastructure “pots” lists no official with spending authority. Another $62 billion has too few details on how it will be spent, according to the report.

“There is no accountability,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union.

The $162 billion budget under negotiation between Cuomo and legislative leaders is due by April 1.

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi countered that the spending is subject to review before it is spent and meets every requirement. He said the spending will be subject to “rigorous agency review” by agencies within the Cuomo administration. He said the governor also needs flexibility to shift money in the event of a fiscal emergency.

“Each one of the governor’s reforms has been discussed for months, if not years, with these stakeholders,” Azzopardi said.

Dadey said that’s not enough.

“We have no way to test the integrity of that decision-making process,” he said. “We do not want to tie the governor’s hands . . . but there is too much discretion.”

Dadey said the public must know spending decisions are sound and not made “on the basis of some relationship or campaign contribution.”

Azzopardi then called the good-government group hypocritical for keeping some of its own sources of funding secret.

Citizens Union “issued the same tired report last year and the only difference now is they are hypocrites for preaching transparency while suing to keep their own donors secret,” Azzopardi said.

He referred to Cuomo’s long-standing attempt, now in court, to force good-government watchdogs and other nonprofit organizations to disclose their donors. Most of these organizations receive funding from public employee unions and other groups that have clashed with the governor.

Dadey said Monday that Cuomo’s attempt to reveal all donors “is to silence us.”

Dadey also said Cuomo and the legislature are ignoring the need for ethics measures to prevent corruption. He said for the first time, Cuomo has not engaged good-government groups in helping to pass ethics measures in the state budget.

“Dick Dadey’s fragile ego aside, rest assured that work on the governor’s budget continues,” Azzopardi said.

On Monday night, budget negotiations heated up as the legislature divided up areas of the budget to joint Senate-Assembly subcommittees to try to reach agreement. Meanwhile, closed-door talks between Cuomo and legislative leaders continue on the most contentious elements of the budget.

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