Advocates press Gov. Cuomo to address bid-rigging scandal
Advocates urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take steps to prevent a repeat of the sort of bid-rigging scandal that has resulted in criminal charges against his former top aides and associates.
“The public has not forgotten that in September, high-level officials in state government were arrested for rigging economic development contracts works more than $780 million — nor can you,” they wrote in a letter released Tuesday. “Any credible attempt to restore the public trust in government must include major reforms that give the public confidence that the state’s economic development spending is clean and accountable.”
They were referring to the federal prosecution of Cuomo’s former top aide Joe Percoco, former SUNY Poly President Alain Kaloyeros, and lobbyist and longtime Cuomo associate Todd Howe on corruption charges related to alleged big-rigging on massive economic development projects in upstate New York.
The letter to Cuomo from the League of Women Voters, Reinvent Albany, Common Cause and other groups came as a state compensation commission took no action on a proposed pay raise for state legislators and top government officials.
The move could prod Cuomo and legislators to return for a special session before Dec. 31 tied to a deal on a pay increase, since the commission studying the issue goes into legal limbo after today.
In a statement, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi called the situation a “stalemate,” saying the main issue was whether the job of a legislator was full or part-time.
“The people of the state are universally opposed to a raise from the (current pay of) $79,500 for a part time salary,” he said. “The Governor believes the members should keep working at it because they have until the end of the year.”
“The idea that a pay raise could be lumped in with a larger scale agreement on some of the issues we’ve been talking about now, that wouldn’t surprise me a one bit because that’s the way Albany operates,” said Blair Horner of NYPIRG. “It’s ‘Big Uglies.’ “
Big Ugly is a slang by used by legislators and lobbyists to described the kind of deals that are common in Albany when disparate issues are tied together in one package to be voted up or down. The same tactic was used in 1998 when the last pay raise went through as part of a deal that include creating charter schools.
Cuomo has already called for a lame-duck special session to approve a renewal of the 421-a tax abatment program that is tied up with the creation of affordable housing in New York City. He has also expressed support for ethics reforms
The groups called for five changes to clean up the state’s contract procurement process, including competitive bidding on all state contracts and removing the authority of SUNY and nonprofit affiliates from awarding economic development con- tracts.
The money would instead be dispensed through the Empire State Development Corp.
They also said Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli should review all state contracts worth more than $250,000, members of state boards should be prohibited from doing business with their agencies, and the state should create a “Database of Deals” to let the public see all the taxpayers subsidies handed out to businesses.
Cuomo was traveling upstate Tuesday and again expressed support for reforms in the Legislature.
“As long as you have a legislator who is receiving outside income and also getting paid by the public, you’re going to have an inherent conflict of interest,” he told reporters at a stop in Binghamton.