ALBANY, N.Y. ( WTEN ) — Two watchdog groups are warning the public about where your tax dollars are going. The state proposed almost $15 billion set aside in the budget for what’s known as “lump sum” appropriation; these are pots of money the Governor and legislature decide how to spend at a later time.
Rachel Fauss, Senior Policy Advisor for Reinvent Albany said the Governor and legislators would be able to distribute these funds without public accountability, “It doesn’t say who gets the money, where it goes, and it’s decided outside the regular budget process.” Fauss said the Governor also has $8 billion in lump sums set aside for COVID emergencies which is not subject to the state comptroller. “But you know, the COVID emergency at least as declared by the state is over,” explained Fauss.
She said the comptroller’s ability to review contracts can be taken away through the state budget. This allows the Governor to bypass the bidding process in order to save time in cases of emergency which she said, is unnecessary. “We’ve seen data from the comptroller that they take a very short amount of time to review these contracts. It’s usually just about a week. And that’s all they need to make sure that the ‘I’s are dotted and the ‘T’s are crossed. And it’s all about preventing waste of government resources. It’s worth a few days of review by the comptroller,” she explained.
Patrick Orecki, Director of State Studies at the Citizens Budget Commission explained how this could lead to corruption, “Legislative leaders and the executive … being able to use these to encourage members to vote a certain way and also that the allocations are made more for political reasons rather than good policy.”
In part, both watchdog agencies are recommending the state stop using lump sum appropriations and to have more transparency when that money is being spent. “We just wanna make sure that all public dollars are spent well and on the best value and purposes for the public,” said Orecki.
At a press conference on Friday, Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt weighed in, “They want funding that they control.. . the role of the legislature is to sort of push back on those things and say no ‘we want to know where this is going and it should be spelled out to the greatest extent possible.’ And that’s our job and if we don’t do that then sort of, shame on us.”
The joint report from both watchdog agencies can be found here.