If elected, New York State comptroller candidate Herbert London said he would use "all the powers" at his disposal -- including the authority to withhold checks to outside vendors -- to make sure the state budget is balanced without tax increases or budget gimmicks.
London, a Republican who is challenging Democrat incumbent H. Carl McCall in this fall's election, said he would rely on existing state constitutional provisions to exert his influence. As comptroller, London said he would play a greater role in the budget adoption process by using these provisions, which certify that no fraud was involved in the state's payments to outside vendors.
Several Wall Street bond lawyers said London's plan would run counter to an established reading of the state constitutional provisions that govern the conduct of the comptroller's office.
Although the comptroller's office serves as the state's chief fiscal agent, the office cannot directly stop the governor or the legislature from passing a budget. In fact, the comptroller is not required under law or constitutional mandate to certify that the state budget is balanced.
Lawyers said that Article V, Section I of the New York State Constitution calls on the comptroller to protect taxpayers from fraud when it pays for services or equipment. The clause has never been interpreted as a way of widening the comptroller's role in the budget process.
Steven Greenberg, spokesman for the comptroller's office, said he is "outraged that Mr. London doesn't understand the job of the comptroller." Greenberg said there is "nothing in law or the constitution" that gives the comptroller authority over the state budget process.
"There's nothing the comptroller can do about the budget except use the bully pulpit of his office, as Carl McCall did this year," Greenberg said.
Fiscal 1994, which began April 1, marked the first time in almost two decades that the state did not hold its annual spring borrowing to make local aid payments.
In the past, the spring borrowing was accompanied by a review of the state budget by the comptroller's office, which conducted the offering. Even though there was no spring borrowing this year, London said that McCall should have taken the extra step of conducting a review of the state's fiscal 1994 budget using his constitutional auditing powers.
Under the state constitution, the comptroller can audit the state's payments to outside vendors or government agencies. London said he would use that power to "widen the interpretation" of the constitution and become part of the budget process. In New York State, budgets are adopted following negotiations between the governor's office and the state legislature.
"I would not certify any budget that contains a tax increase," London said in a press release. "My first priority will be to seek to assist legislators and the governor in achieving savings and/or implementing spending cuts that will enable them to vote on a balanced budget."