DiNapoli: Cuomo Risks Transparency in State Budget Proposal

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo may be effectively closing state budget gaps with few fiscal gimmicks, but he’s also proposing to expand his executive powers in how it gets done, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said today in a report.

In his review of Cuomo’s budget, DiNapoli applauds Cuomo’s ability to stabilize the state’s finances. The Democratic governor’s proposal would close a $3.5 billion deficit for the 2012-13 fiscal year without the bevy of risky moves that had previously wrecked the state’s finances, DiNapoli said.

But DiNapoli warned that Cuomo wants to shift oversight of contracts away from the Comptroller’s Office, give the governor’s office broad powers to unilaterally make spending decisions and shift billions of dollars to scandal-scarred public authorities.

DiNapoli said the proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts April 1 continues the state’s recent trend of aligning revenue with spending.

“This year’s executive budget proposal continues that trend and substantially reduces out-year deficits,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “However, this progress should not be made at the expense of transparency, appropriate checks and balances, and the realistic and necessary safeguarding of public dollars.”

DiNapoli said the budget plan does offer the state long-term financial viability, limiting future-year budget gaps.

But DiNapoli warned that the state’s fiscal condition remains tenuous, citing the state and nation’s weak economic recovery and the European debt crisis. Those factors could result in a decline in federal aid and lower-than-expected state tax revenue.

DiNapoli also said that some of Cuomo’s budget estimates, such as about $1 billion in savings from agency consolidations, isn’t clear.

In the 70-page report, DiNapoli, a Democrat, contended that the authority Cuomo is seeking would increase his hand over the budget process and how and where taxpayer dollars are spent.

The report says that the budget “includes provisions that reduce financial transparency, accountability and oversight.”

Cuomo’s budget, which would require legislative approval, would exempt many agency contracts from the comptroller’s review and approval, which is currently prescribed in state law. Contracts would be centralized within the state Office of General Services.

In another proposal, Cuomo would bypass the Comptroller’s Office review of bidding for at least five major health-related contracts. Some state agreements with Cornell University’s land grant program would be exempt from state finance law, the report said.

The budget, DiNapoli’s report said, also includes language that would give the governor the ability to shift spending among agencies with “minimal oversight or legislative input.”

Here’s the report:

2012 Review of Executive Budget

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