Gov. Kathy Hochul authorized paying nearly $2 million in taxpayer money for outside ghostwriters to help draft her State of the State speeches.
The unusual arrangement comes as Hochul — who has made two of the annual addresses providing her vision of New York since becoming governor — lacks no shortage of in-house communicators, policy analysts, and budget experts, the New York Times first reported.
Most of the money was paid to Deloitte Consulting and the Boston Consulting Group to help the state’s first female governor shape her vision.
Representatives for three of Hochul’s predecessors — fellow Democrats Andrew Cuomo and David Paterson and Republican George Pataki — told the outlet they never paid for outside help to prepare for the annual address typically made each January.
“In theory, people elect a governor for their vision and their core values,” said Melissa DeRosa, a top aide to Cuomo. “Apparently when those are lacking, taxpayers unknowingly farm it out to multimillion-dollar consultants.”
Hochul’s office shelled out $871,000 on three outside firms to help prepare this year’s speech – with Boston Consulting Group racking up the largest amount of $838,000 for what it listed in records as “SOS support.”
The governor also authorized paying Gotham Ghostwriters $25,000 to help her office hire a writer to produce a 277-page book for January’s State of the State, “Achieving the New York Dream.”
The book outlined Hochul’s agenda and set the stage for budget fights over housing policy, the state’s bail law, tax rates, and other pending issues.
Another $8,000 was paid to copy-edit this book.
The spending was even higher in 2022 when Hochul’s office forked over a total of $60,000 to an outside writer, editor, and the speech-writing firm Fenway Strategies.
Deloitte pulled in $1,017,221 for “project management” for assistance on a book and speech that set the stage for Hochul’s first full year as governor and her successful campaign later that remain retain her post.
Julie Wood, a spokeswoman for Hochul, said the outside firms played supporting roles, helping her office’s policy team catalog proposals from state agencies to present to the governor and her senior advisors.
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“Neither Deloitte nor B.C.G. were involved in giving policy advice or making policy decisions,” she told The Times.
Wood added that Hochul had little time to hire her own staff and prepare for her 2022 speech, which took place less than five months after she was sworn into office after Cuomo resigned in the wake of a sexual misconduct scandal.
Both firms’ work on the State of the State addresses accounts for a tiny piece of the contracting business they do in New York.
Cuomo hired them in 2019 to provide strategic advice to his budget division, and the contracts were then at around $30 million a year each, The Times reported.
They’ve since skyrocketed to over $250 million combined, largely due to emergency orders during the coronavirus pandemic that allowed state officials to hire more private consultants without competitive bidding and state comptroller oversight, records show.
A Deloitte spokeswoman referred questions to the state, and Boston Consulting Group did not immediately return messages.
Dan Gerstein, chief executive of Gotham Ghostwriters, said he was approached by Hochul’s policy director, Micah Lasher, in late 2022 to help find a ghostwriter for the book accompanying the governor’s speech.
He said he helped connect Lasher with Jordan Michael Smith, a journalist, and writer, adding he did not find that arrangement unusual.
“In my experience, most governors’ offices don’t have people on staff who have experience writing and editing books,” he said.
However, Hochul’s predecessors said the setup was unusual.
“We didn’t do that — ever,” said John C. Wolfe, a longtime speechwriter for Pataki.
Cuomo often called on former advisers to help construct his State of the State presentations, but those people worked as unpaid volunteers, said his spokesman, Rich Azzopardi.
Paterson said he had never considered paying for outside help but said laughing: “Might have been a good idea. I might still be there.”