Long Island’s counties, towns, villages, school districts and “special taxing districts” award millions of dollars’ worth of contracts to law firms, engineers, developers, contractors and subcontractors for all manner of work. How many times have you read about a “Republican-connected” or “Democratic-connected” law firm? How many state legislators’ offices employ relatives of local political supporters and contributors? What sanitation district doesn’t have relatives and cronies on the payroll? Why is it that when one party is in power, certain companies get lots of business in government contracts, while others are left to try to get “their” politicians elected next time? That’s not evidence of corruption, but it sure does prove the need for transparency in how legislatures, councils, boards, mayors and commissioners decide who gets the people’s tax money.
We would like to believe that politicians seek elective office to do good for their communities, but too many of them are in jail now because their lust for power, sense of self-importance and greed overcame whatever wholesome intentions they may have had. As the saying goes, They went to Albany to do good, and stayed there to do well.
Every citizen needs to assert his or her authority over our elected officials by demanding to know all the facts about how contracts are awarded, to whom, how the money gets spent and what the results are. It may be time for more levels of government to have independent inspectors general whom taxpayers can trust to watch over their money and guard their best interests. It may be time for more of us to follow President Reagan’s dictum, “Trust, but verify.”
Citizens Union has six recommendations for action that are worthy of consideration.
1. Pass comprehensive state campaign finance reform that improves public financing, creates strong and effective enforcement, closes loopholes, lowers contribution limits and ends the pay-to-play culture.