Tax Revenue Higher Than Expected In December

The state hhas collected $474.2 million more than it initially expected in tax revenue last month, while collections over the last three quarters are $716.4 million more than anticipated, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found in a report released on Tuesday.

“Strong tax collections in December added to a positive short-term picture for the state’s budget,” DiNapoli said. “However, revenue that is higher than anticipated today does not always mean flush times tomorrow. We will monitor economic and revenue developments closely as negotiations on a new state budget begin in coming weeks.”

At the same time, New York has received $4.2 billion in windfall funds from financial settlements, with an additional $1.3 billion on the way.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in recent days has proposed a mix of projects to spend the windfall money on, including shoring up the state Thruway Authority as well as infrastructure projects such as broadband Internet access and the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project.

Cuomo has insisted the state will run a surplus of its own if spending is kept flat at under 2 percent increases year over year.

December 2014 by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli Audit Finds Nearly $1M Of Incorrect Medicaid Payments

An audit from the state comptroller’s office released Friday revealed nearly $1 million in incorrect payments from the state Department of Health paid out through 29,000 pharmacy claims.

The audit, which covers a 27-month period, found thousands of Medicaid recipients received the over payments despite already being covered on managed care plans.

A separate audit released concurrently found $61,711 in overpayments to providers due to incorrect Medicare co-insurance, co-payments or deductible amounts.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli in a statement said the state Department of Health needs to do a “better job” of ensuring Medicaid money si being spent properly.

“The state’s Medicaid program, providing health care for millions of New Yorkers, accounts for a huge share of the state budget each year,” DiNapoli said. “DOH has to do a better job making sure that the money spent on this important program is not being wasted and is being used for necessary and appropriate treatments. Taxpayers have invested heavily in the Medicaid system and have a right to expect that health care dollars are being spent as needed.”

All together, auditors found $978,251 was spent on inappropriate payments because eligibility files in the Medicaid program were not updated with managed-care organization enrollment information. MCO, as its known, is a monthly premium those who receive Medicaid benefits.

DiNapoli urged the Department of Health to review the improper claim payments as well as take “corrective action” in order to ensure enrollment data are updated.

Medicaid is typically one of the costliest expenses in the state budget, with total claim costs at the end of the 2014 fiscal year totaling $50.5 billion. There are roughly 6.5 million enrolled in the program.

14s5 by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli Audit Finds Mixed Bag For Control Port Authority OT

Recommendations to control ballooning overtime costs at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have either been partially implemented or not implemented at all, an updated audit from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found.

A follow up audit made public Friday of the Port Authority’s pay found recommendations from DiNapoli’s office found only one of four cost-controlling recommendations has been implemented: The requirement that departments at the authority justify their overtime budgets this year through detailing why the extra pay was occurred and how situations were managed.

Two other recommendations — including requiring correction action be taken when following up on questionable overtime pay and review its business model to assess overtime costs — were rated partially implemented.

Still, the comptroller’s office did determine the Port Authority “has adopted a number of measures to be proactive in overtime management,” including the creation of a overtime costs steering committee last year and training on a standardized approval program.

Meanwhile, the authority is yet to implement an effort to develop and enact a plan that would reduce overtime by 20 percent, as called for in its 2010 budget.

The update on the Port Authority’s overtime comes after before Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed legislation that would dramatically overhaul the operations of the authority, long considered to be rife with patronage and a source of political bread buttering.

The governors instead announced plans to implement their own reforms to the Port Authority, which critics contend fall far short of needed changes.

14f3 by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli Pushes Monster Beverage On Diversity

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Thursday called on Monster Beverage to increase both gender and racial diversity on its board through a shareholder proposal.

The proposal is co-sponsored by Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds, The City of Philadelphia Public Employees Retirement System and Calvert Investments — all of whom have combined shares of $57 million in the company.

The formal proposal comes after the company promised to use diversity as a factor when considering new board nominees in 2009, but failed to live up to the goal, the pension fund leaders said.

“It’s unsettling that Monster Beverage has ignored repeated, widespread investor support for increased board diversity,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Company value and board diversity are linked. Businesses that rely on consumers should be particularly mindful that their boards should reflect the men and women who purchase their products. When a board fails to be responsive to its shareholders, it is often symptomatic of larger, systemic problems in the company’s governance.”

DiNapoli has used the state’s pension fund in recent years to take a more activist role in the direction of companies being invested in, most notably through encouraging them to reveal their political activities and contributions.

The pension funds that signed on to the shareholder proposal are calling on Monster Beverage to describe the steps taken to include women and minority candidates in its board nominee pool and also expand searches for members from “non-traditional sources.”

Off The Books (Updated)

From the Morning Memo:

Spending by the state’s largest public authorities jumped $3.5 billion from 2013 to this year, according to a report that will be released today by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

All told, the state authorities spent $38 billion in 2013. When added to the $21.5 billion worth of local authority spending that same year, the total jumped to almost $60 billion.

What’s more, the state and local authorities together are carrying over a quarter of a trillion dollars worth of debt.

And not a penny of that was approved by New York taxpayers.

That’s of great concern to DiNapoli, who is again issuing a clarion call denouncing so-called “back door” borrowing, which enables the state to circumvent a constitutional provision restricting general obligation debt without voter approval.

For years, gubernatorial administrations have used the authorities to provide hundreds of millions of dollars to support the state budget, disguising actual spending and weakening transparency, the comptroller said.

The last two budgets alone anticipated some $650 million in budget relief from the MTA, NYPA and other authorities, shifting costs from the general tax base to those who rely on authority services.

During a CapTon interview last night, DiNapoli singled out the Thruway Authority for particular concern.

He noted Thruway board members just last week approved a 2015 budget of $1.7 billion with a $36 million hole and did not explain how that hole will be filled – something that will likely require toll hikes.

DiNapoli pointed out (and he is not the first to do so) that the Canal Corp. has been a big drain on the Thruway Authority since it was moved under its umbrella of responsibility some years ago.

The two don’t have a shared mission, the comptroller said, and it might be time to consider uncoupling them, and sending the Canal Corp. back to DOT.

Of the 1,180 public authorities in New York, 325 are state authorities, 847 are local authorities and eight are interstate or international authorities.

The comptroller’s report relies on self reporting by authorities, because they are not required to provide annual financial details to his office. UPDATE: The comptroller’s office notes that there’s a nuance here…It’s not that authorities aren’t required to provide this information, it’s that they are not subject to the same oversight and review as state agencies.

“It’s the best data we have,” the comptroller said. “…They may not be reporting everything as rigorously as they should.”

DiNapoli Approves More Moreland, Sexual Harassment-Related Contracts

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Tuesday announced it had approved hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending related to legal services for the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption as well as funds for the state Assembly to defend itself in sexual harassment lawsuits.

The comptroller’s office announced $150,000 had been approved for legal services for the firm Kirkland & Ellis to represent the state Senate in the Moreland Commission-related inquiries.

A $150,000 contract with Loeb & Loeb was also approved for the Independent Democratic Conference in proceedings related to the now shuttered anti-corruption panel.

Meanwhile, in the state Assembly, a $397,000 contract with Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman LLP was approved for outside legal services as well as a $177,000 contract for defense work in sexual harassment litigation with the firm Hogan Lovells.

A $59,000 contract with Rossein Associates was approved with the state Assembly in order to develop sexual harassment policy and to conduct investigations.

And a $15,000 contract with Whiteman Osterman & Hanna LLP was approved for outside counsel for the Assembly to work on the appeals process for Assemblyman Micah Kellner, who is fighting sanctions issued by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office.

DiNapoli Report: DEC Doing More With Less

As the Department of Environmental Conservation has had new responsibilities heaped on it, the agency has undergone a series of staff cuts and “constrained” funding over the last decade, a report from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found.

The report issued Wednesday found funding for the DEC has remained more or less flat compared to the rate of inflation while new responsibilities are being added its purview, including the Brownfield Cleanup Program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and the Waste Tire Recycling and Management Act.

Those responsibilities could grow should the Cuomo administration give the green light to high-volume hydrofracking.

Environmental advocate as well as officials at the DEC have often cited the need for more staff to potentially regulate the controversial natural gas extraction process. A long-awaited Department of Health review is expected to be released this month on the impacts of fracking on human health.

“DEC’s staff has declined while funding has barely kept pace with inflation and now is projected to decline,” DiNapoli said. “Our natural resources are major assets for the state’s economy and New Yorkers’ health and quality of life. We must continue to safeguard these assets.”

DiNapoli’s office found that spending at the DEC in 2003-04 fiscal year was $795.3 million, a budget that has grown to $1 billion a decade later.

Still, that’s a 1.7 percent increase over that decade when adjusting for inflation.

Meanwhile, the size of the DEC has decreased by more than 10 percent, from 3,256 full-time equivalents a decade ago to 2,917 full-time equivalent workers in 2013-14. The agency reached a peak of 3,779 employees in 2007-08, but a round of budget cuts and hiring freezes reduced that number.

Environmental Funding Nys 2014 by Nick Reisman

Despite Falling Short, Antonacci Backs Public Financing Statewide

Republican Bob Antonacci struggled to qualify for matching funds under the public financing system created for the state comptroller’s race this year.

But even though Antonacci fell short in total dollars raised in order to access the money, he said in a phone interview that a statewide public financing program could work.

“I have to tell you I think it will create opportunities for those who are not millionaires,” Antonacci told me. “I think will stem the tide of special interest money in politics.”

He added that a public financing program could be paired with a “complete ethics reform package” that includes term limits for statewide elected officials.

“I certainly think term limits and encouraging participation in the political process and the barrier being who can raise the most money shouldn’t be one of them,” he said.

Republicans generally are opposed to public financing, who express an unease with using taxpayer money to fund political activity.

Efforts to create a public matching system have fallen short in Albany in recent years in the face of opposition from Senate Republicans.

The public matching program for the comptroller’s race was created in the budget agreement in March to the chagrin of advocates who wanted a broader, statewide program.

As for his won campaign against Democratic incumbent Tom DiNapoli, Antonacci said his effort was challenged in part by starting relatively late in the cycle and working to comply with the recently created public financing program.

DiNapoli himself didn’t compete in the program and blasted it for coming in the middle of the election cycle.

Still, Antonacci ended the race with more than $100,000 left in cash on hand. Antonacci said today he didn’t want to “waste” the money — essentially knowing he was going to lose to DiNapoli.

“I couldn’t waste somebody’s money. We knew the writing on the wall,” he said. “If we spent that money it would have been a waste of time and money.”

Antonacci plans on using the left over funds to run for re-election as Onondaga County comptroller, undertake special projects or donate it to charity, he said.

Antonacci’s Money On The Table

From the Morning Memo:

Republican candidate for comptroller Bob Antonacci this year struggled to meet the requirements under the public financing system.

Though Antonacci did meet the threshold for matching dollars with the necessary number of donors, he did not raise enough cash to qualify for the public funding.

Qualifying for the public matching funds bedeviled Antonacci’s long shot campaign against Democratic incumbent Tom DiNapoli, who cruised to a third term last month.

(DiNapoli did not participate in the public funding program, which was created as a compromise in the state budget and derided by good-government groups and public financing advocates as being even less than half a loaf).

Nevertheless, Antonacci left a good chunk of money on the table, his campaign filing showed.

Antonacci’s filing on Monday revealed he had $102,613 in cash on hand at the end. To put it another way, that’s nearly twice as much money as the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee, Rob Astorino, had at the conclusion of his campaign.

Antonacci could have spent that money, public matching dollars or not (he admitted at the end of the campaign that qualifying for the money was not going to happen).

Instead, he spent relatively little money: $21,367 in the final days of the campaign and immediately after.

His filing on Monday showed that his biggest expense at the end of the campaign was for a mobile billboard, which cost $3,200.

DiNapoli: Despite Extra Cash, Deficit Remains

The state has extra money, but don’t think of it as a surplus, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli cautioned on Monday.

“I wouldn’t call it a surplus. It’s really more of an unexpected windfall, it’s unexpected money that comes out of the surplus,” DiNapoli said.

DiNapoli, re-elected to a third term earlier this month, told reporters at the Capitol that the money should be treated as essentially a one-shot windfall.

“It’s not the surplus in a sense that we’ve gone through the budget year and we have money that wasn’t expended or the traditional revenues have produced more than anticipated,” DiNapoli. “I think you have to look at it as a one-time opportunity and treat it as such.”

The state has at least $5 billion of extra cash following a series of massive financial settlements with major banks.

Naturally, a major fight is brewing in the coming legislative session on how to spend that money, with a major push from construction interests being seen for infrastructure investments. Indeed, the trades organizations want all of the money spent on infrastructure projects.

Outside of that money, DiNapoli’s office continues to project a deficit of under $2 billion for the 2015-16 fiscal year, with larger gaps in subsequent fiscal years. The state’s fiscal year runs from April 1 through March 31.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, before the financial settlements came in, had projected a surplus assuming that state spending stayed under a 2 percent increase from the following year.

Budget hawks are also warning that money shouldn’t be using on so-called “recurring” expenses, with more money for schools following into that bucket, a sentiment the comptroller said he agrees with.

“I think the bottom-line is the overriding principle should be do not use this non-recurring revenue for recurring expenses,” DiNapoli said. “I think that should limit the number of expenses.”

DiNapoli said he supports using the money for infrastructure projects as well as creating a trust fund in order to shore up retiree health-care costs.

“What kind of decisions can we make today that will put us in a better financial position tomorrow?” DiNapoli asked.

Cuomo, meanwhile, has hinted at proposals for the spending that could include infrastructure, helping local governments consolidate and upstate economic development.