Whether the State Comptroller has authority, under both the New York Constitution and state statutes, to conduct performance audits of New York City agencies.
Yes. Article V, §1 of the State Constitution and N.Y. General Municipal Laws §§33 and 34 grant to the State Comptroller the authority to conduct performance audits of political subdivisions of the State, including New York City agencies.
In 1991, the Comptroller and the City of New York (the "City") agreed upon a formal protocol for performance audits of City agencies. Between December 1996 and April 1997, the Comptroller initiated the first steps of the protocol with six City agencies. The City blocked the Comptroller's efforts and questioned both the Comptroller's authority to undertake performance audits, and the political motivation for undertaking such audits. In response, the Comptroller issued administrative subpoenas to the agencies, and then sought judicial enforcement when the subpoenas failed to induce cooperation.The Supreme Court granted the Comptroller's motion citing a strong nexus between the financial condition of an agency and its performance or efficiency. The Appellate Division affirmed for the reasons stated below. The City appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.
The Court first concluded that the State Constitution permits delegation by the Legislature to the Comptroller of the supervision of accounts of any political subdivision of the State. Article V, §1 of the New York Constitution grants the Legislature such authority to delegate. The Court of Appeals, citing legislative history, rejected the City's contention that "accounts" restricts the Comptroller to financial matters. Instead, the Court interpreted "accounts" to include broader inquiries, including performance audits. Furthermore, the Court concluded that statutes, as well as the Constitution, authorize performance audits of political subdivisions by the Comptroller. The Court interpreted N.Y. General Municipal Laws §§33 and 34 to authorize performance audits. The Court noted that the legislative history of §§33 and 34 explicitly endorses the concept of performance audits of political subdivisions in order to ensure efficient use of the taxpayers' dollars. The Court did not pass on the validity of the specifics of the proposed performance audits, as the City had not challenged the details of the proposed examinations. In addition, the Court indicated that it had not addressed "any other issues that might, in the individual instances, circumscribe the authority" it recognized in the instant case.
Prepared by the liibulletin-ny Editorial Board.