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Proposal would create public database for NY jobs projects

ALBANY — A proposed “database of deals” now under discussion in the State Legislature would allow the public to view all tax breaks, other subsidies and state contracts awarded to companies under state economic development programs.

Good-government groups detailed the proposal Wednesday. It also would show the number of jobs that the companies promised and the resulting jobs produced, said David Freidfel, director of state studies at the independent Citizens Budget Commission. He said most of the information that could highlight and deter conflicts of interest is already collected by the state, but not reported in one place for public review.

The proposal is under “active discussion” by Assembly and Senate members and is expected to be released in a bill within days for action by the scheduled end of the session on June 21, said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany.

In the last two years the former Senate majority leader and the former Assembly speaker were convicted on corruption charges. The U.S. Attorney’s Office also began an investigation into alleged bid-rigging and bribery involving two of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s signature economic development projects in Buffalo and near Syracuse.

Cuomo isn’t accused of wrongdoing. He has proposed ethics packages every year of his administration, which began in 2011. He has a plan now to provide more overseers and investigators who either would be appointed by him or answerable to him, saying the goal is to uncover criminality, not add layers of review and audits.

“I proposed the real procurement reform,” Cuomo said last week. “Procurement is not an audit. The problem is not an audit function. Right? The problem has been a criminal violation problem. So it’s not audit, it’s criminal investigators. That’s what I think the system needs.”

The good-government advocates also want to build on Cuomo’s proposal to ban campaign contributions from companies while they are seeking state contracts.

Yet the groups said Cuomo and the Legislature have done too little to strengthen the review of state contracts, even as they have eroded some of the independent review by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said Tuesday that he expects to pass a contract procurement bill by the end of the session that would restore some of the powers to the state comptroller.

The Senate bill would empower the comptroller to review all bids and bidders before contracts are awarded. Currently, the comptroller is limited to “pre-audits” for contracts by state agencies, but not public authorities such as Empire State Development, which runs most of Cuomo’s economic development projects.

There was no immediate comment on the proposal from the Assembly’s Democratic majority or the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference.

On Wednesday, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi dismissed the good-government advocates as hypocrites, because some had sought two years ago to prevent the names of their contributors from being disclosed publicly.

“If we need a crash course on hypocrisy we know who to ask,” Azzopardi said.

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