Assemblymember Kevin Cahill: Assembly Passes Major Governmental Reform Agenda
Assemblymember Kevin Cahill (D-Ulster, Dutchess) announced that the Assembly recently passed a landmark governmental reform agenda. The legislative package includes bills aimed at regulating interactions between lobbyists and government officials, opening to public scrutiny the activities of New York’s numerous public authorities and public benefit corporations and improving the state’s budget process.
Two measures have been passed that limit the influence of lobbying on the awarding of state agency contracts. "Literally billions of taxpayer dollars flow every year into state agency contracts and, under current law, no one is accountable for the millions of dollars that are spent behind the scenes trying to influence the process," Assemblymember Cahill said. "The current state of procurement lobbying is a blemish on New York’s democracy, and an obstruction to the openness good government needs."
Lobbyists are currently required to disclose certain lobbying activities, but not procurement lobbying. Assembly Bill A.9062-A would expand the definition of lobbying to include any effort to influence the action of any public official – state or municipal – regarding procurement of goods or services, construction and the sale or purchase of land. This includes efforts to influence the implementation of rules or regulations, as well as tribal state compacts and executive orders. To ensure that the state agency procurement process is protected from improper lobbying influence and contracts are awarded fairly, the Assembly also passed Assembly Bill A.6322-B, which would require state agencies to:
- Award contracts based solely on the merits of proposals;
- Appoint procurement integrity officers;
- Establish new controls to prohibit improper lobbying;
- Report improper lobbying attempts; and
- Prohibit state contracts from including vendor’s costs for outside lobbyists.
The Assembly also passed Assembly Bill A.9010, which would provide critically needed oversight of the many public authorities and public benefit corporations that have been created by the state. Billions of dollars are expended each year by the dozens of state authorities that currently operate outside public scrutiny, and this measure would provide significant improvements in transparency and responsiveness relating to authority operations, the need for which was uncovered last year in public hearings conducted by the Assembly.
"Last year, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s fare hike fiasco showed the entire state what happens when authorities think they have no one looking over their shoulder," Mr. Cahill said. This legislation creates a public authority inspector general to make sure that authorities are given the kind of oversight they’ve been lacking. It would also restrict certain lobbying practices, ensuring that there is no improper or undue influence when it comes to awarding authority contracts or spending taxpayer’s money and would require each authority to create a central procurement office to oversee procurement contracts. Additionally, the bill establishes an independent budget officer for public authorities and public benefit corporations to collect, distribute and assess information about the budget for each authority. "Distancing lobbyists from the decision making process and requiring that authorities’ budgets be examined by independent experts are two steps that go a long way toward warding off problems," Assemblymember Cahill added.
In addition to these important lobbying, procurement and public authority reform measures, the Assembly has passed a comprehensive budget reform bill, Assembly Bill A.9615, which would make New York’s budget process more open, accountable and efficient. "Taxpayers should feel confident that their tax dollars are being spent wisely and efficiently," Mr. Cahill said. "This plan overhauls how the budget is negotiated and shines light on state spending by making more expenditures subject to budget negotiation checks and balances. This will ensure that the right choices are made for working families."
The Assembly and Senate will now hold a conference committee to iron out differences in each house’s version of these reforms. "Working across party lines with the Senate will go a long way toward making reform a reality," added Mr. Cahill. The major reform measures of this omnibus bill include:
- Increasing timeliness and accountability by changing the beginning of the fiscal year from April 1st to May 1st, in order to provide more accurate revenue forecasts, opening hearings on state agency budgets to the public, requiring the Governor to include more detail in his budget submission, increasing the tax stabilization fund, and by withholding the Governor’s salary until the budget is passed. Currently, legislator’s salaries are withheld.
- Removing obstacles to budget negotiations by creating a state legislative budget office to provide objective, non-partisan analysis of state revenues, expenditures and management practices.
- Streamlining state operations and improving oversight by creating a strategic planning and performance measurement system to detail state spending and efficiency, requiring additional reporting about state spending on information technology purchases and by providing state agencies access to more information about the contract performance and compliance history of state contract bidders.
Another portion of the plan creates the Health Care Reform Act (HCRA) State Budget Transition Fund, which would receive HCRA revenues and be under the watch of the State Comptroller. More than half of the program, or approximately $2 billion annually, is currently "off-budget" and not subject to the normal financial checks and balances that would ensure accountability. The Governor would be required to put this spending "on-budget" by providing appropriations for this program in his budget proposal.