‘Investigations battle’ talk shows need for independent probes

Three days into the new year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo fired a warning shot over the heads of state legislators who said they would investigate the governor’s economic development contracts.

Last week, the governor threatened to investigate funding for state Legislature member item grants if the Legislature ramps up probes of his administration.

“You can always get into an investigations battle. They have oversight committees. I have every state contract, every member item contract,” Cuomo said on WAMC radio. “Every grant that the Legislature does goes through my government, so I can investigate every one of those.”

We echo the thoughts of state Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, a Democrat from Tarrytown and the Assembly Investigations Committee chairman, who was quoted in the New York Post saying, “What is he afraid of?”

The governor has taken action over the years to limit investigations. In 2011, the state comptroller’s office was stripped of its authority to review in advance construction projects undertaken by the State University of New York and its subsidiaries. Then the governor ended the Moreland Commission when it appeared the commission might begin investigating the governor’s office.

Legislators on the campaign trail last year heard loud and clear from their constituents that they are tired of the corruption and fraud involved with state government. Give credit to Abinanti and state Sen. James Skoufix, a Democrat from New Windsor and the Senate Investigations Committee chairman, for promising to lead active committees to get to the bottom of corruption in New York state. That’s especially important given that we’re not sure how active the U.S. Attorney’s Office will be with the departure of Preet Bharara, and since new state Attorney General Letitia James, whom Cuomo backed in last year’s election, is focused on President Donald Trump and the federal government.

Let’s not forget that two of his top associates, Joseph Percoco and Alain Kaloyeros, were tried and found guilty of taking bribes and rigging bids tied to millions of dollars in taxpayer money related to the Buffalo Billion.

While we would prefer more oversight before money is spent, we’re glad to see Skoufix and Abinanti willing to use their committees’ power in an attempt to keep bad actors honest.

The fact that Cuomo’s initial response was to threaten investigations of his own is reason enough to let the investigations begin. While we’re surprised to see Democrats putting such a focus on investigating the actions of a sitting Democratic governor, the squabble within the party makes us wonder if investigations between one branch of the government and the other will bear much fruit simply because politics will always be in play. Perhaps it’s time to form a third-party group without political ties to root out corruption — maybe a version of a Moreland Commission that can’t be disbanded at the whim of the governor or the Legislature.

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