Spitzer tried to end practice under FBI probe

December 25, 2017 GMT


Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer took steps to end the controversial hiring practices that are the focus of an ongoing FBI investigation into Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.

Cuomo’s office has characterized the federal probe as a “charade” and argued there is a longstanding practice of appointing people to jobs in the Executive Chamber while paying them through state agencies and public authorities. The system allows governors to make high-salaried political hires while escaping criticism for inflating their budgets. It’s unclear why the FBI is investigating the practice that state officials said dates back decades.

Spitzer took office at the beginning of 2007. A copy of Spitzer’s 2007-2008 preliminary budget materials stated that his administration would change the hiring practice, which was widely used by his predecessor, Gov. George Pataki. It was part of a broader pledge by Spitzer to make state budgeting much more transparent.

“This appropriation level supports Executive Chamber staff funded by other state agencies in 2006-2007 and prior years,” the Spitzer records state. “Given the governor’s commitment to increasing the transparency of state government, certain staff positions and related funding previously not reflected in the Executive Chamber budget have been included herein to more fully reflect the true cost of the Executive Chamber.”

Pataki’s final budget had estimated there were 153 Executive Chamber employees.

Spitzer’s budget proposal from January 2007 listed an estimated 189 Executive Chamber employees — a number that now included the budget lines Pataki had farmed out to agencies.

Spitzer’s budget documents stated that the Executive Chamber would be taking up about $3 million in staffing costs, which under Pataki had been paid for by 20 different agencies, not the Executive Chamber.

The size of the Executive Chamber staff remained the same – 189 – in Spitzer’s second proposed budget a year later.

Darren Dopp, Spitzer’s spokesman early in the governor’s tenure, said he had argued internally to continue the practice of hiring on agency and authority lines to some degree. That was in part based on Dopp’s experience working for Gov. Mario Cuomo.

“I was one who argued on the inside not to do away with this ability,” Dopp recalled. “I said: ‘You (Spitzer) might want to use it one day for a task force or work group on some special project.’ The example I gave was myself. During the Mario days, I was, for a while, on the Department of State payroll, but I worked on the second floor on a mandate relief project. When I said that, everyone more or less agreed, but I know there was an effort to reduce the practice.”

Spitzer resigned amid a prostitution scandal in March 2008, weeks before his second budget would have passed the Legislature.

In the following two budget proposals of his successor Gov. David Paterson, who governed during the height of the Great Recession, the number of estimated Executive Chamber employees began to drop. Paterson’s office had estimated that by March 2011, when Cuomo would pass his budget, there would be 164 Executive Chamber employees.

In Cuomo’s first budget proposal, his administration put the number of Executive Chamber employees much lower, estimating that 136 people would be on the Executive Chamber payroll as of March 2011, when his first budget would pass.

Even as the Cuomo administration staffed up, the number of Executive Chamber employees it has estimated having in budget proposals has remained static: At 136 for every Executive Budget Agency Presentation during Cuomo’s tenure, according to Division of Budget records.

An analysis by the Times Union in November 2016 found that more than 40 percent of the Executive Chamber staff was actually on the payroll of public authorities or agencies.

At the time, there were 209 Executive Chamber employees, according to documents obtained through an open records requests. But Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office said only 120 were being paid by the Executive Chamber.

cbragg@timesunion.com • 518-454-5303