Watered down bill restores more comptroller oversight
Assemblyman Andrew Goodell has voted against a watered down restoration of state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s review of state contracts.
Both houses of the state Legislature approved legislation in 2022 giving the comptroller back authority to approve contracts that had previously been removed as part of several years’ state budget negotiations during the term of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. A chapter amendment to that 2022 legislation was passed Tuesday in the state Assembly by a 120-23 vote after Gov. Kathy Hochul negotiated changes with legislators rather than vetoing the 2022 bill and starting the process over. Both Goodell and Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, voted against the chapter amendment (A.624) this week. A companion bill (S.2219) has been introduced in the state Senate but has not yet been placed on the floor calendar.
Section one of the A.624 increases the centralized contracts through the Office of General Services that triggers DiNapoli’s review from $85,000 to $125,000. The compromise also places any purchase order or other procurement transaction issued under such a centralized contract which exceeds $200,000 to review and approval by the state comptroller. Review and approval of certain centralized contracts, State University of New York contracts and City University of New York contracts would have to be completed within 75 days of submission to the Comptroller’s Office unless an extension is agreed to. A comptroller’s review of SUNY goods and purchases was increased from $50,000 to $75,000, from $75,000 to $150,000 for SUNY health care facilities, to $75,000 for SUNY and CUNY Construction Fund contracts, and from $75,000 for CUNY goods and purchases.
“We had some arguments about efficiencies,” said Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, D-New York City and sponsor of both the original legislation and the chapter amendment. “Certainly it creates a bit of work for these agencies and also throughout this process, it probably got some of the most pushback from SUNY and CUNY campuses who don’t like engaging in this sort of review. Certain members would talk to me had been reached out to by their SUNY campuses. So at the end of the day we did make some adjustments in those negotiations and most of those did increase as we just went through the contracted amounts so the comptroller won’t have review under those amounts, but we still do think it’s a significant improvement over the current state of the law. In some cases it’s actually an improvement over the old statute. For example, under SUNY and CUNY construction there was no preuadit even under the old statute, but now any procurements over the $75,000 would have a preaudit.”
Goodell’s no vote was the result of the compromise bill’s higher thresholds for comptroller review.
“This is a second time in less than a week I’m here telling you I like his earlier version that he drafted himself better than the one he’s been forced to defend today,” Goodell said in his comments on the bill. “I’m sorry, Mr. Zebrowski, but I’m still a fan of your earlier work. And as the sponsor noted, even with the amendments it’s better than where it was where we started with the exception of Office of General Services centralized contracts, where the thresshold goes from $85,000 to $125,000, up from where it was even before we acted. So I applaud the dilemma my colleague is facing. I personally support the lower thresholds. I actually like his earlier bill better and complements to him. I understand the dilemma he is wrestling with on this chapter amendment.”
Earlier this week, legislation known as the Grieving Families Act was vetoed after Hochul and legislative leadership couldn’t come to agreement on a compromise to change aspects of the bill Hochul disagreed with. Zebrowski said restoration of the comptroller’s review of large contracts, something DiNapoli has lobbied for during appearances around the state. Contract review has been raised repeatedly as a way to have prevented fraud and waste in the Buffalo Billion program after several state officials were charged with accepting bribes in exchange for steering state contracts to preferred vendors. In 2019, Cuomo entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Office of the State Comptroller, reestablishing some but not all of the DiNapoli’s oversight authority. Legislators then decided to draft legislation restoring more oversight.
“When we passed the bill we knew it was one that executives probably wouldn’t like, right?” Zebrowski said during floor debate with Goodell. “It’s not specific to this executive, but in general they don’t particularly love having to go for preapprovals for purchasing and others things by the comptroller. But we also know that’s better government. This bill had a lot of support from good government groups around the state and significantly strong support from our comptroller, Tom DiNapoli. So, I quite frankly, Mr. Goodell, always worried it was going to meet the veto pen, but I was pleasantly surprised that this governor did engage in negotiations.”
Zebrowski said some Assembly members who have SUNY or CUNY campuses in their districts reached out after the original bill was passed to increase the amounts for contracts that would require DiNapoli’s approval. Goodell said SUNY and CUNY contract reviews in the compromise bill raised another issue for him.
“There is one other area I think we as a legislature really need to look at and that is the statute gives the comptroller up to 90 days to review a contract,” Goodell said. “Three months. Look I think it’s great we have a comptroller keeping an eye on what’s going on in the state. That’s great. And the checks and balances the comptroller brings to the table help us operate more efficiently and with much more honesty and much less opportunity for corruption or fraud, but waiting 90 days to have a contract approved? I mean no one in the private sector would ever put up with a review process that takes three months for a contract. It’s mind boggling to think you would have to wait three months for a contract and when you add in inflation and cost increases and supply chain issues and logistics, three months in this economy can be an eternity.”