News Coverage on Budget
Cuomo's budget moves concern lawmakersTom Precious
ALBANY -- Democrats and Republicans are moving to beat back an attempt by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to grab more power over the state's fiscal affairs and do an end run around long-standing checks and balances.
Cuomo, already operating in a state that affords governors great powers over the budget, wants to reduce the Legislature's authority to approve "sweeps" of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars a year from different state agencies and authorities operating under his control. The governor also would sharply reduce the oversight abilities of the state's chief fiscal watchdog involving billions of dollars in public contracts each year.
"The executive budget includes provisions that reduce financial transparency, accountability and oversight," warned a new report by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released Tuesday.
Cuomo's moves also were sharply criticized by the Legislature's top Republican. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican who has limited his rebukes of the Democratic governor, said the proposals contained in Cuomo's 2012 budget plan would reduce the role of legislators.
"The Legislature is part of the government in Albany, and I believe when we make a decision jointly with the governor that money should be spent a certain way, that's the way it should be spent," Skelos told reporters Tuesday outside the Senate chamber.
"If the governor thinks it would be more efficient to spend it another way or to another direction, then come back to the Legislature, and we'll work it out. But the Legislature has to be part of that process," the GOP leader said.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he has "concerns" over the governor's plans but said Assembly Democrats can work with Cuomo on a "shared goal of creating efficiencies" in the budget.
In his annual review of the gubernatorial budget plan, DiNapoli on Tuesday said Cuomo is seeking to centralize contracts under the Office of General Services and to exempt them from the current review and approval process the comptroller employs over centralized contracts.
The contracts affect not only state agencies, but also local governments and not-for-profits that can participate in the contract process.
DiNapoli said Cuomo also wants to end his auditors' ability to conduct procurement reviews on five major health-related contracts. The reviews on contracts are designed to reduce overpayment for goods and services, ensure competitive bidding rules are followed and eliminate pay-to-play deals.
The DiNapoli review said the contract oversight his office now has is meant to prevent "a bad business deal from slipping through which can waste taxpayer money, damage the state's reputation and harm the citizens who depend on the state's contractual services."
The comptroller said Cuomo also is seeking to get "broad new language" to give his budget office the power to reallocate spending between agencies and authorities "without regard" to the Legislature's approval or intent.
The attempt would leave essentially "meaningless" the Legislature's current legal role over such massive transfers, which could be done, under Cuomo's budget language, "without limit."
The comptroller also raised concerns over transparency in the spending plan. A year ago, Cuomo got a budget approved that left to be determined large parts of health care cuts; six months after the budget was passed last year, the administration declined to reveal how state agencies were complying with mandates to cut expenses.
In the new plan, DiNapoli cited the $15 billion infrastructure spending proposal Cuomo wants as lacking details or "statutory parameters."
In response, the Cuomo administration sought to portray its budget provisions as taxpayer-friendly.
"We can no longer abide by the Albany status quo that allows for out-of-control spending and contracting that wastes taxpayer dollars," Robert Megna, the governor's budget director, said in a statement.
Megna said the "flexibility language" will permit "a range of operational measures and will improve functions such as procurement, real estate and information technology."