DiNapoli Questions Sandy Spending On Catering Company

dinapoliA catering company contracted by the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs racked up $20,00 in costs deemed excessive by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office, according to a report released on Thursday.

The Staten Island-based Arrochar Meats, Inc., provided food to the New York Army National Guard during the emergency response for Superstorm Sandy, but also acted as “an unnecessary middleman” for 18,960 gallons of fuel, which added nearly $20,000 to purchase price.

“In times of disasters, most New Yorkers pull together to help each other, not to make a quick buck,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Even under such circumstances, state agencies should keep watch over the public’s money and, in this case, DMNA should now recover any inappropriate fees that were charged.” More >

DiNapoli: Sales Tax Revenue Slows

Sales tax collections on the local level have slowed to 1.6 percent growth in the first half of 2015, down from a 3 percent increase last year and far lower than the 4.2 percent average annual growth rate in the last 15 year, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found in a report released today.

When not including cities, county sales tax collections have grown by 0.5 percent during the first six months of the year, while many counties have seen an actual decline in their revenue.

Overall, sales tax collections declined in 33 of the 57 counties outside of New York City when taking into consideration the same period in 2014, the report found.

The steepest decline was in Schoharie County, which saw a 6.1 percent decrease. Steuben County saw the steepest increase, 8.8 percent.

“There has been a general downward trend in sales tax collection growth over the last several years and that is continuing in 2015,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “The slow growth in sales taxes could pose fiscal challenges for local governments across New York, especially for counties who rely heavily on sales tax collections to pay their bills.”

The declining revenue is potentially problematic for counties next year, when the cap on tax levy increases will be under 1 percent for the first time the limit was in effect since 2012.

Local Sales Tax Collection 0715 by Nick Reisman

NY Has $1.9B More Than Expected

New York had nearly $1.9 billion more than expected in its general fund balance in June, according to a report released by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

The June cash report, released Wednesday morning, found tax revenues in June were stronger than initially projected, with $8.1 billion being collected and, for the first quarter of the fiscal year, $748.5 million higher than estimated.

Still, DiNapoli warned that the strong collections will not necessarily continue for the rest of the year.

“Tax collections were robust in the first quarter of the fiscal year, exceeding projections in every major category,” DiNapoli said. “However, we are seeing strength in sometimes volatile revenue sources, so it is unclear whether this positive trend will continue in the months ahead.”

Here’s the report:

june_2015 by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli: Tax Cap Will Be Under 1 Percent

The cap on local government property tax increases will be 0.73 percent, according to a report released on Monday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

“Local government officials need to brace for the lowest growth in their property tax revenue in the tax cap era,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Municipalities may have to operate differently under these new limits. Even tougher budget choices may be required on staffing levels, delivery of services, fund balance reductions, and deferral of capital and infrastructure projects. And if inflation trends continue, it is possible that some local governments with fiscal years beginning later in 2016, including school districts, could be faced with zero growth in property tax revenue.”

The cap has been in place for local governments and school districts since 2012. The cap limits increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation for local governments, including counties, towns, fire districts, cities and village entities.

The report found that the local governments will have about $88.3 million less in levy growth next year compared to 2015.

This year, the allowable growth rate for tax increases was 1.56 percent.

Local governments and school districts sought changes to the state cap this year, including making it easier to override the measure when budgets are considered as well as eliminating the rate of inflation provision.

In the end, lawmakers did approve comparatively minor changes to the cap, such as allowing for capital expenses in BOCES programs and PILOT provisions.

Tax Cap Tightens 0715 by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli: May Tax Revenues Higher Than Projected

The state took in $3.9 billion more in tax revenue than initially estimated last month, while collections overall this fiscal year are $142.3 million more than initially projected, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found in a report issue on Friday.

The extra cash was attributed to “robust” personal income tax collections.

At the same time, the state has collected more than $1 billion in unanticipated settlement money, the report found.

“Personal income tax collections were robust through May and New York’s finances remain solid two months into the new fiscal year,” DiNapoli said. “New York has also collected more than $1.5 billion in settlement dollars that are not yet appropriated. These funds should be used to fix New York’s crumbling infrastructure or for other non-recurring purposes and not to support ongoing expenses.”

May 2015 by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli Writes To Oil Companies On Transportation Safety

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has written letters to more than a dozen energy and transportation companies seeking information on what safety measures they are taking when it comes to shipping petroleum by train.

“Rail lines carry petroleum crude oil through communities large and small, across important agricultural lands and other vulnerable natural resources,” DiNapoli said in a statement on Monday. “Recent rail accidents resulting in catastrophic losses from oil spills pose serious risks for the public, the environment, and the companies involved. We need to know what companies are doing to safeguard against future mishaps which can lead to serious legal liabilities for the companies. As trustee of the state pension fund, I am concerned that future liability claims may harm the interests of the retirement system’s members, retirees and beneficiaries.”

Among the companies DiNapoli wrote to include top oil companies Exxon Mobil Corp. and Hess Corp. as well as CSX Corp., the rail firm.

All together, DiNapoli wrote to 14 companies seeking an assessment on whether the recent derailments of oil-transporting trains have led to an elevated financial risk and asks them to describe the point in the transportation prcoess in which the companies take ownership of the crude oil being shipped.

DiNapoli is asking for details on their polices that ensure oil-carrying cars are safely maintained and inspected as well provisions they have made for liability and loss for accidents and injuries.

The letters come during a period of heightened awareness over oil train safety following the 2013 derailment of a crude-oil train in Quebec that killed 47.

Oil Transport Letters by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli: In-Depth Inspections On Canal System Needed

The state Canal Corp. has not conducted in-depth inspections needed for structures along the 524-mile system of waterways throughout the state, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found in an audit released on Tuesday.

Routine operational checks do occur along the Canal Corp’s structures, but the audit found 38 percent of the system’s critical structures, or 792 in total, have not been inspected within the last five years. Of those, 163 structures have never had an in-depth, above-water inspections as required.

The audit also determine 430 high and intermediate importance structures have not had an inspection within the last two years.

For the 1,068 structures in need of below-water inspections, 832 have not received one in the last five years, the audit found.

“There are significant canal structures that have not been inspected in many years – and some not at all, possibly elevating risks to the canal system, canal users and those who live by it,” DiNapoli said. “Because the canal system depends on aging hydraulic structures and includes many other structures that are exposed to the elements, regular inspections are essential to ensure safety. Canal officials should immediately seek all available funding for infrastructure repair, make sure all inspections are getting done and the system’s greatest repair needs are being met. It is encouraging that in response to the audit, canal officials largely concur with our recommendations.”

The Canal Corp. is a subsidiary of the state Thruway Authority that was created in order to operate and maintain the canal system. The canal system itself, once a major way of trafficking goods through the state’s ports, has since become more of an attraction for recreational boaters.

State law requires in-depth inspections of structures along the system over a two-year cycle.

The audit recommended a series of fixes for the Canal Corp’s inspection routine, including entering into a formal agreement with the Department of Transportation to handle inspections for all state-owned canal bridges.

At the same time, the Thruway Authority is being instructed to develop a long-term financial plan that’s aimed at improving the overall infrastructure along the canal system.

Updated: Canal spokesman Shane Mahar responded to the audit in a statement.

“The continued safe operation of New York’s Canal system after nearly two centuries is the best indication of the Canal Corporation’s successful inspection and maintenance programs, and we will be working closely with the Thruway Authority to further enhance the way we manage and conduct inspections and to ensure that all available resources are used to maintain our canals,” he said.

14s45 by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli: Pension Fund Hits $183.5B

The state’s pension fund has hit a record estimated value of $183.5 billion at the end of the state’s fiscal year in March, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Friday announced.

The fiscal year runs from April 1 through March 31.

“The Fund performed well over the past year despite the challenges in the market,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “We achieved a solid return on investments in the midst of global volatility thanks to our talented investment staff and our diversified asset allocation.”

New York maintains the third-largest public pension fund in the nation with one million state and local government employees, retirees and beneficiaries.

The pension fund’s long-term rate of rate is expected to be at 7.5 percent, DiNapoli’s office said.

DiNapoli Report: Tax Exemptions Up, Job Gains Down At IDAs

Tax exemptions doled out by Industrial Development Agencies jumped $105 million in 2013, but estimated job increases were down by 23,000 from the previous year, a report from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Monday found.

“Although the amount of tax breaks IDAs provided to private companies noticeably increased, job gains did not keep pace,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “IDAs can be an important catalyst for economic development in our state, but I urge local officials to improve their scrutiny over projects so that taxpayers know if their community is receiving promised jobs and economic benefits.”

Overall, IDAs in New York provided $660 million in net tax exemptions and reported a total of 644,080 full-time jobs created through IDA projects — a median cost of about $2,095 per job gained, the report found.

And despite the weaker growth in jobs, the 109 active IDAs in the state gave away $1.38 billion in total total exemptions in 2013, which were partially offset by $723 million worht of payments-in-lieu-of-taxes.

Overall, there are 4,709 IDA-backed projects in 2013 that are valued at $76.8 billion, a 4.8 percent increase over the previous year.

The highest number of jobs created in 2013 was on Long Island: 851 total.

Ida Performance by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli Pushes Aetna On Political Disclosure

Insurance giant Aetna Inc. is the latest company to fall under scrutiny from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli for not disclosing its political giving.

DiNapoli on Thursday announced he had issued a shareholder request that would lever the state’s pension fund investment in the company to disclose political giving by Aetna.

The state pension fund holds 1.2 million shares of Aenta, a $135.6 million value, the comptroller’s office said.

“In the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, investors and the public are too often in the dark on corporate political spending,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “We need to know whether Aetna is using our investment in ways that benefit long-term value or if it is putting the company’s reputation and its bottom line at risk. Aetna should join the growing ranks of major corporations that have chosen to pull back the curtain on their political spending.”

Along with Aetna, DiNapolis also seeking disclosure through fund leverage with four other companies the state fund is invested in: NextEra Energy Inc., Raytheon Company, The Travelers Companies Inc. and Western Union.

DiNapoli over the years has used the pension fund as leverage to gain disclosure from more than two dozen companies.