Mark Dunlea, the Green Party candidate for State Comptroller, outlined a number of proposals to improve transparency and accountability in how the state manages its finances.
“The state government engages in a lot of chicanery in how it operates, often in secret, that would not be tolerated in other level of governments in New York. The Governor and state lawmakers need to remember that they are public servants, not Lords of the Manor. There needs to be a lot more sunshine in how the state spends our tax dollars,” said Dunlea.
Dunlea said that he supported a number of the fiscal reforms that the Comptroller’s office has proposed in the past but that he would go further and be more vocal in rallying taxpayer support to enact changes. The Comptroller is the duly elected fiscal watchdog for the state.
“In light of the level of corruption and self-dealing at the Capitol, it is time for a Comptroller willing to be a bulldog rather than a house cat. When the Governor and lawmakers do thinks like strip away the Comptroller’s power to oversee contracts such as the Buffalo Billion, we need a Comptroller who will publicly fight back. We need a Green to watch the greens,” Dunlea added.
Dunlea said he support a range of reforms that have been promoted by groups such as NYPIRG and the Fiscal Policy Institute, both of which he has worked with closely over the last forty years. The reforms include restoring the power of the State Comptroller to review all state contracts (including by state authorities) exceeding $250,000; an end to non-academic contracting by state-controlled non-profit organizations, the creation of a comprehensive database of economic development deals; and a prohibition against state authorities, corporations, and affiliated non-profits doing business with their board members.
Dunlea supports the creation of an Independent Budget Office similar to what exists in New York City to help enable the public to better understand what is in the state budget and to conduct independent research on fiscal matters. He supports ending the practice of the three men in the backroom deciding the $160 billion state budget. One change would be to enable the so-called budget conference committees to actually determine spending for the issues and agencies under their jurisdiction.
Dunlea has long opposed the practice of using state authorities to evade the constitutional requirement that taxpayers approve state debt, which now amounts to more than $50 billion. He would curtail the practice of backdoor borrowing through the state authorities to balance annual state budgets. He said that authorities should have to comply with the procurement standards and rules that state agencies are subjected to.
“The state’s debt and the public authorities are a real financial mess. The budget is often a shell game, with money magically being moved around to hide from taxpayers what is really being done. Lawmakers just can’t keep shrugging their shoulders as if there is nothing they can do to demand fiscal accountability and oversight,” added Dunlea.
Dunlea has been a long-time critic of the state’s economic development programs, charging that they routinely serve as slush funds to reward campaign contributors who often fail to deliver the promised jobs. Many companies admit that they did not need the tax breaks in order to do a particular project but feel foolish if they don’t seek such handouts.
Dunlea has authored legislation in the past to establish accountability standards for such corporate tax giveaways, starting with recouping the payments if the company fails to create the promised jobs. There should also be standards for the wages and benefits such jobs provide and that the companies must be good corporate citizens.
Dunlea would largely scrap the existing economic giveaway programs that benefit individual corporations and instead focus on infrastructure investments guided by local residents to attract the economic development they would like to see. That way if a particular company decides to leave the public investment remains behind. Dunlea also pointed out that “in light of the recent 40% corporate tax cut sat the federal level, one has to question the wisdom of doling out additional tax cuts to such companies.”
While Dunlea and the Green Party support creating a full public campaign finance system similar to those in Arizona and Maine, in the interim he would prohibit state contracts from being awarded to any entity making campaign contribution. Such “pay-to-play” prohibitions already exist in 19 states.
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