Gov. Kathy Hochul is taking heat for dragging her feet on a bill that would make governmental bodies post the details of emergency contracts online within 30 days of approval, supporters charge.
Red flags were raised during the pandemic when the state spent millions more than needed on COVID testing kits.
“I think that there were a number of contracts that were done during the pandemic that were high-money values, and it was done very quickly," said state Sen. Jeremy Cooney (D-Rochester), the bill’s sponsor.
A contract over $50,000 requires state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office sign off. But that approval is also waived in two ways: when the governor issues an executive order tied to emergencies, or if the oversight is bypassed through legislative action. It’s been used in the past to expedite spending, or make it hard to track.
"We want the administration to be able to move expeditiously and help New Yorkers in an emergency situation," Cooney said.
"At the same time, there has to be some level of accountability when you’re talking about public taxpayer dollars," Cooney added. "We want to make sure these taxpayer dollars are being spent in an efficient and responsible way."
The comptroller's oversight powers over contracts tied to SUNY, CUNY and other entities were stripped in 2011 under ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo. They were only restored last year.
Government watchdog groups support the bill, arguing it will improve transparency.
“The governor doesn’t want the comptroller reviewing some contracts in advance, and because they don't want the comptroller looking over their shoulder,” John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, told NY1.
Nearly $5 billion in spending was included in the nearly $230 billion state budget passed last April, sans comptroller review. But that doesn’t include the billions more issued under state emergencies like COVID-19 or even extreme weather disasters.
A state of emergency was issued in 2017 for the Metropolitan Transit Authority following the "summer of hell" service and infrastructure breakdowns declared under Cuomo and only recently ending under Hochul.
DiNapoli’s office backs the bill, saying it’ll help their office track spending.
Hochul’s office said she’s reviewing the legislation.
The governor has until Dec. 31 to sign the bill into law or reject it.