Assembly, Senate Combine For Almost $1M In Legal Bills

The state Assembly and Senate combined for nearly $1 million in legal fees last month associated with various sexual harassment scandals in one house and for representation related to the Moreland Commission To Investigate Public Corruption in the other, according to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

The Democratic-led Assembly was approved for $545,000 to “various recipients” in order to settle the sexual harassment lawsuit against one-time Brooklyn power broker Vito Lopez.

The former assemblyman resigned following a Joint Commission on Public Ethics report that revealed the details of abuse and harassment by Lopez directed toward his legislative staff.

Ultimately, two staffers sued Lopez and the Assembly in court, which was recently settled.

Meanwhile, the Assembly also spent $13,000 for outside legal counsel from Whiteman Osterman & Hanna in the appeals process for former Assemblyman Micah Kellner, who was accused of sending inappropriate texts and online chats with legislative employees.

Kellner did not run for re-election last year.

In the Republican-led Senate, $435,000 was approved in legal bills to Kirkland & Ellis, which is special counsel for the conference in the Moreland Commission investigation.

The commission ultimately shuttered last year following an agreement on ethics measures in the state budget.

The panel’s closure, as well as the evidence it generated, is being reviewed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

DiNapoli: U.S. Steel To Disclose Political Giving

Following pressure from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, United States Steel Corp. will disclose its corporate political spending, his office announced on Monday announced.

The agreement is similar to the previous efforts from DiNapoli’s office to have companies the state’s common retirement fund has invested in to disclose their political activity.

The common retirement fund has an estimated $20 million in shareholder value in U.S. Steel.

DiNapolis has used the state pension fund’s investments to leverage agreements out of companies to disclose their giving, including H&R Block and Valero Energy this year alone.

“In the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, investors and the larger public have been left in the dark on the extent of the reach of corporate dollars in politics,” DiNapoli said. “U. S. Steel is to be commended for agreeing to voluntarily disclose its political expenditures. Shareholders need transparency in order to determine whether corporate political spending benefits the company’s long-term value.”

DiNapoli is currently trying to gain agreements with 11 other companies the fund has invested in, including Aetna Inc., Delta Air Lines, Express Scripts Holding Co., NextEra Energy Inc., Nisource Inc., Raytheon Company, The Travelers Companies Inc., Waste Management Inc., Western Union Co., and Wynn Resorts.

All together, 27 companies have agreed to disclose their political spending.

DiNapoli: Medicaid To Grow By $700M Annually

The state’s spending for its Medicaid program is expected to increase by $700 million annually over the next four years.

Still, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli in a report issued on Thursday found progress in controlling annual growth in the costly health-care program.

Yearly growth in the program is expected to be less than 2 percent following an effort by the Cuomo administration to overhaul how money is spent in the Medicaid perogram.

DiNapoli’s report added, however, that the efforts to overhaul Medicaid bring some risk, include losing out on federal dollars.

“New York’s Medicaid program is undergoing major changes, with ambitious plans ahead that also carry risk,” DiNapoli said. “A federal waiver may bring as much as $8 billion in additional aid as an incentive to drive further reforms. However, failure to meet key benchmarks would result in a loss of significant potential federal funding. That could force the state to increase its own spending on the program or rein in Medicaid costs in ways that have been largely avoided in recent years.”

Medicaid enrollment in New York has grown between 2010 and 2013 by 12.3 percent, or 580,000 new beneficiaries. Enrollment in the program is estimated to exceed 6.4 million in the fiscal year after next, 2016-17.

State-based spending in Medicaid is expected to grow by $2.8 billion by 2018-19, according to the Division of Budget.

Medicaid 2015 by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli: Average Wall Street Bonus Up 2 Percent

Bonuses in the state’s financial services industry rose 2 percent last year, to an average $172,860, according to a report released Wednesday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

Wall Street’s financial health is a key barometer for the broader economy, with much of the state’s tax revenue coming from the securities industry.

Bonuses have been closely watched as the economy overall recovers from the depths of the 2008 recession.

In a statement, DiNapoli said the industry continues to adjust under the new regulatory guidelines.

“The cost of legal settlements related to the 2008 financial crisis continues to be a drag on Wall Street profits, but the securities industry remains profitable and well-compensated even as it adjusts to regulatory changes,” DiNapoli said. “The resumption of job growth in the securities industry bodes well for the New York’s economy, but it remains to be seen whether this trend will be sustained.”

Employment in New York City securities industry since the downsizing post-market crash has increased by 1.4 percent to 167,800 workers, with 2,300 jobs added in 2014.

DiNapoli Questions Cuomo’s Use Of Budget Amendments

An analysis from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office released Friday took issue with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s yoking of policy to appropriations in his 30-day budget amendments.

Cuomo’s amendments to his $142 billion spending proposal would tie ethics reform such as new disclosure requirements for the Legislature and requiring receipts for travel reimbursement to spending — a move that exerts the governor’s broad control over the process, but has come under scrutiny from lawmakers.

“Several of the amendments give the Executive great latitude in spending,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “And while particular substantive proposals may be worthy, attaching them to spending bills that expire within two years or less may not be the best way to consider the merits.”

Cuomo is linking new client disclosure and private income requirements to capital projects.

Per diem reform, for instance, is tied to spending for DiNapoli’s office as well — a move the comptroller’s office says came without consultation from Cuomo’s office.

The amendments themselves are yet to be formally introduced by the Legislature as lawmakers seek to re-gain leverage with the governor in the budget talks.

The report points to other areas in which Cuomo is linking spending to policy: education, health care and transportation (Cuomo is tying the DREAM Act, the education tax credit and the Tuition Assistance Program, into one package).

“Inclusion of policy changes in time-limited appropriations means that any such provisions included in the Enacted Budget would require further legislative action within the next year or two, or would expire due to State Constitutional and statutory limits on the life of appropriations,” the report states. “For this reason and others, important policy reforms may be better addressed through statutory revision.”

30 Day Review Sfy1516 by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli Files For 2018

Democratic Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has filed with the state board of elections to run for another term in 2018.

The incumbent comptroller’s re-election campaign account was rechristened DiNapoli 2018 this week, according to Board of Elections records.

DiNapoli was first elevated to the comptroller’s post in 2007 by his colleagues in the Democratic-led Assembly, following the resignation of Alan Hevesi.

DiNapoli was elected to the office outright in 2010, defeating Republican Harry Wilson. He won a second full term in 2014, defeating GOP Onondaga County Comptroller Robert Antonacci — a race that marked the first-ever public financing system for the comptroller’s office, which DiNapoli did not participate in (Antonacci did, with little success).

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not given an indication whether he will run for a third term, while Attorney General Eric Schneiderman would be seeking a third term for his post as well (the AG is considered a potential candidate for governor one day, especially if Cuomo steps aside).

Schneiderman earlier this year re-filed for 2018 as well.

Astorino: Senate’s Term-Limit Bill A ‘Half-Measure’

Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive who challenged Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year in his bid for re-election, called the bill limiting the terms of legislative leaders and committee chairs a good first step.

But he criticized the bill, which passed the Senate this week, for not going far enough. Namely, Astorino believes all 213 legislative seats in both the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled Assembly should be term limited, as well as the statewide offices.

“Senator Dean Skelos and his conference are to be commended for passing a term limit bill for legislative leaders,” Astorino said in a statement. “It is a move in the right direction, but ultimately a half measure. The culture of corruption in Albany is seated in the coziness between elected officials and monied interests that longevity in office invariably brings. Term limits empower the little guy — the voter — by reducing the grip of special interests on legislators.”

Astorino clashed with Senate Republicans during the gubernatorial campaign last year, with the top of the GOP ticket calling for sweeping ethics reform in Albany and knocking the majority conference in the Senate as being part of the problem in state government.

Assembly Spends More For Sexual Harassment Investigations

State lawmakers in the Assembly have spent an additional $56,000 on outside legal advice for developing sexual harassment policies and assist with investigations, according to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Tuesday.

The comptroller’s office announced it had approved $51,000 for Rossein Associates, which is helping the Assembly develop new guidelines for responding to sexual harassment in the workplace. At the same time, $5,000 was approved to Roemer, Wallens, Gold & Mineaux, which is handling individual investigations of harassment cases.

All told, Roemer, Wallens, Gold & Mineaux has been paid $22,471.75, according to the state comptroller’s Open Book website.

Rossein Associates, meanwhile, has been paid $398,936.43 since 2013.

The firms were retained by the Assembly following then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s handling of Brooklyn Democrat Vito Lopez’s sexual harassment case.

DiNapoli: 22 Villages In Fiscal Stress

The vast majority of the state’s village governments are not in fiscal stress, a report from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Monday found.

The review of village finances did find that 22 out of 539 local governments classified as villages are in some form of fiscal stress.

“Although the number of fiscally stressed villages is small, these communities still grapple with the same financial pressures as our larger municipalities,” said DiNapoli in a statement. “By continuing to focus on sensible budgeting and long-term planning, local village officials can avoid fiscal jeopardy.”

The three villages that are considered to be in “significant fiscal stress” are Amityville in Suffolk County, Tuckahoe in Westchester County and Broome County’s Port Dickinson.

Budgetary stress levels are determined by a number of factors including low fund balances, budget gaps and liquidity problems.

Villages Stressed 2014 by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli: Health Department Failed To Collect Rebates (Updated)

An audit released on Wednesday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office the state Department of Health did not collect nearly $102 million in rebates over the the last 2-1/2 years from prescription drugs makers in the state’s Medicaid program.

The audit blamed poor policies and processes for collecting the rebate cash.

“The Department of Health can do more to maximize rebate collections from drug companies,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “DOH must be diligent in its pursuit of rebates and do all it can to save money. Thankfully, department officials are working to fix the problems identified by my auditors to improve the rebate collection process. These actions should greatly benefit New York taxpayers.”

The audit looked at the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program, created by Congress in 1990, which was meant to reduce state and federal prescription drug costs in the Medicaid program.

Over the last 24 years, the state has been able to request rebates from manufacturers under the program. With the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, drugs prescribed to those enrolled in Medicaid managed care organizations were also included in the rebate program.

But the comptroller’s office found at the same time that during the audit period of Oct. 1, 2011 through June 30 of last year, about one millioner rejected claims were never resubmitted by Medicare managed care organizations.

DiNapoli’s report made a dozen recommendations to improve collecting the rebates in order to maximize collections.

Updated: The DOH responds, taking issue with DiNapoli’s report.

The numbers reflected in the audit are outdated. To date, DOH has collected 60 percent of these rebates and will be re-couping the additional 40 percent by the end of the coming fiscal year, as has been detailed in the Executive Budget. During the last three years, DOH has collected more than $5.5 billion in pharmacy rebates and has additionally saved more than $400 million from transitioning pharmacy benefits from fee-for-service to managed care.