Still some very dangerous things happening in the Capitol

Political theorists have long raved about the advantages of balanced government. It is always best to have one independent branch looking over the shoulder of the others. Balanced government is a good thing in order to prevent abuses.

When the very popular Andrew Cuomo was elected governor it could easily be said that he had a mandate from the people to clean up Albany. In fact, that’s exactly what he said he would do. Unfortunately, from this perch, Albany looks pretty much the same that it always has. We still see the powerful legislative majority leaders drawing districts where they have a better chance of winning. We still see the legislators asking for raises, and probably getting them when they are cutting the possibilities of raises and pensions for civil servants including our teachers. But there are still some very dangerous things happening in the state Capitol. One of the most dangerous is a move by the powerful governor to cut the “pre-auditing” function from the independently elected state Comptroller. The reason the people who wrote the state Constitution made the comptroller independent was to audit the other branches. Anyone who runs a business or a not for profit organization knows that at least once a year those businesses have to be audited.

In New York state, the comptroller has always had the ability to pre audit contracts. That means before a state contract can be let, the comptroller has to take a look and see whether there is any bad smell to it. You know; is a contract about to be let to people who are fiscally enigmatic? You wouldn’t want suspicious people, like the mob, pouring the cement for the soon to be rebuilt Tappan Zee Bridge. You wouldn’t want suspicious people running a large gambling casino in Queens. Otherwise by the time the contract had been let to suspicious people, the horse would have long been out of the barn. Unfortunately, in the powerful governor’s budget, the power to pre audit major contracts was taken away from the Comptroller. When Cuomo did that to DiNapoli my eyebrows shot up towards the sky. Why in the world would you take this kind of protection from the people of New York? I wrote about it in this column. I opined about it on the radio. The response was anything but deafening. The subject, esoteric as it might be, was ignored by almost everyone.

Recently I had Tom DiNapoli on the radio and asked him about it. He was not reticent about his answer. When I asked him about the governor’s move to strip him of the important pre-audit powers he said, the move, “made no sense.” And, with imaginary dark music playing in the background DiNapoli said that he that there would be no other moves like this one to cut down on the Comptroller’s powers. Not only had that he said that he had always said that “It is my responsibility to be an independent voice, and I take that very seriously.”

It is no secret that Tom DiNapoli was not Andrew Cuomo’s choice for the comptroller’s job. DiNapoli is the kind of guy who gets along with everyone. Cuomo’s reticence in supporting his fellow Democrat was perplexing. It is important to remember that when the Comptroller’s Office became vacant it is the legislature’s responsibility to fill the office. The Legislature elected DiNapoli who then went on to run for a full term without fellow Democrat Cuomo’s support. Anyone besides DiNapoli might have resented that just a little. But DiNapoli is like Ferdinand the Bull. He does not like these things to become personal; he’d rather just smell the flowers. Despite that attitude, the more bellicose Cuomo has carried the fight to the comptroller for no good reason that I can see. Maybe it’s that the comptroller can get in the way of some of the plans of the governor.

In any case, I’m glad that I asked DiNapoli the question and I’m especially glad that he answered it. Sometimes, even Ferdinand got angry like that time he got stung by the bee.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 7/9/12

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