Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday dismissed an effort by the legislature to return some authority to Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to examine state contracts before the Cuomo administration can approve them.
“The problem has been a criminal violation problem. So it’s not an audit,” Cuomo told reporters Wednesday. “Let’s call it what it is: We had a series of criminal violations, and that’s not an audit problem, and if you try to treat it as an audit problem, you are avoiding what it really is, which is a fraud problem of criminality.”
Cuomo’s procurement reform proposals would create new inspectors general and special prosecutors.
State lawmakers have criticized the plan in part because the investigators would be appointed by Cuomo or report to him.
A legislative effort led by Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) seeks to restore some of the “pre-audit” and other oversight traditionally held by the comptroller’s office. Oversight power was eroded under Cuomo in measures approved by the legislature.
The measures were taken to speed the process to increase efficiency and better work with businesses that often must act faster on projects than government.
DiNapoli, however, said restoring his authority to “pre-audit” all contracts could avoid the criminal violations.
“It’s a level of deterrence for waste, fraud and abuse to save taxpayer dollars,” DiNapoli said in an interview Wednesday. He said a “second set of independent eyes” could spot problems faster and likely deter abusers from trying to land the contracts.
A federal investigation continues into Cuomo’s signature economic development program known as the Buffalo Billion and other economic development projects in Onondaga County outside Syracuse.
In each project, large state contracts and tax breaks went to developers who were major contributors to Cuomo’s campaign. The comptroller was not authorized to monitor the contracts before they were awarded.
In addition to the proposed “New York State procurement integrity act,” the legislature is considering bills that would force business and academic leaders whom Cuomo appoints to regional economic development councils to release personal financial data required of state officials to avoid conflicts of interest.