State Tax Collections Drop $1.2B

New York’s tax collections dropped in the first three quarters of the fiscal year by $1.2 billion and $29.9 million lower than projects made in the middle part of the year, a report released on Friday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

“Overall tax collections in December were close to reduced estimates from the mid-year financial plan update, but the state is trailing collections from last year by more than $1 billion,” DiNapoli said. “The timing of payments and the level of financial sector bonuses will influence whether current estimates are met in the final quarter of the fiscal year.”

It was not all bad news: The state did receive an additional $253 million in new settlement funds during the final month of the calendar year.

Through last month, all funds receipts dropped $686.8 million, a decline of 0.6 percent from a year earlier.

Spending, meanwhile, was 4.8 percent higher than last year during the same period due to increases in Medicaid — some $2.7 billion from mostly federal sources — and additional public health programs.

The general fund itself has a balance of $9.1 billion, $98.3 million less than estimates from the mid-year budget update.

DiNapoli: School District Tax Growth Limited To 1.26 Percent

School districts once again will be setting their budget proposals that will limit the amount they can increase property taxes to under 2 percent.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli this week calculated the allow levy growth for school district budgets will be limited to a 1.26 percent cap.

The calculation impacts levies for 677 school districts as well as 10 cities, including the “Big Four” districts of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers.

In a statement, DiNapoli said school districts can fall back on reserve funds, but others may not be as lucky.

“For the fourth consecutive year, school and municipal officials will need to plan around a tax cap below two percent,” said DiNapoli. “My audits have shown some school districts will be able to rely on ample rainy day funds to offset the low growth in revenue, but others must examine their budgets to determine where they can limit spending or cut costs in order to stay under the cap.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $152.3 billion budget proposal increased education aid by about $961 million.

School districts over the years have sought unsuccessfully to make the tax cap, in effect since 2012, a “hard” 2 percent cap.

Report Finds Public Authorities Have $267B In Debt

The state’s web of public authorities have amassed $267 billion in debt, equating to $13,487 for each New Yorker, a report released on Thursday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

Public authorities are semi-public entities that are created in order to borrow outside of normal bonding procedures, often deriding as “backdoor” borrowing.

As championed by controversial state builder Robert Moses, public authorities have come under criticism over the years for their opaque structure and financing.

“New York’s public authorities play an increasingly influential role in government yet they operate outside the traditional checks and balances that apply to state agencies,” DiNapoli said. “Some of these entities are repeatedly used in a way that circumvents borrowing limits and oversight. As a result, New York is shouldering a huge debt load issued by public entities operating in the shadows that voters never approved.”

The report counted 1,192 public authorities in the state, which includes 324 state-level authorities and entities. On the local level, there are 860.

The report also found 91 percent of the outstanding debt for state purposes has been amassed over the years by three major entities that have played key roles of late in economic and infrastructure development spending: the Empire State Development Corp., the Dormitory Authority and the Thruway Authority, the latter of which is overseeing the massive replacement project for the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Overall, state authorities employ 112,846 people, with local authorities employing 53,602, with nearly 18 percent being paid in excess of six figures.

In recent years, there have been efforts to identify public authority spending and debt, while also shuttering authorities and local development corporations that are defunct or no longer serve a purpose. The Authorities Budget Office annually releases reports on public authority financing and spending habits.

DiNapoli in a statement reiterated his call for legislation that would provide more sunlight for authorities, such as requiring an appropriation approved by the Legislature for their spending and would subject them to a pre-audit review.

At the same time, the bill would have public authorities fund projects with state appropriations that are based on measurable criteria.

Report Finds Tough Revenue Picture For Local Governments

A report released Friday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found local governments in New York continue to struggle with little to no revenue growth — straining their ability to pay for essential services and cover costs such as health care.

The lack of revenue increases is hardly a surprise: Local governments and school districts have budget within a cap on property tax levy increases, while state aid to municipalities has been flat over the years. The state’s tax cap has been below a 2 percent limit in recent years.

The mix has required local governments to increasingly rely on cash generated by the sales tax — which has steadily declined in the first nine months of 2016 from the same period a year earlier, falling from 3.6 percent to 1.8 percent.

“New York’s municipal governments are seeing sales tax revenue growth slow and state aid remain essentially flat while they and school districts are coping with tax cap and tax freeze initiatives that limit growth in property taxes,” DiNapoli said. “As local governments adapt to changing circumstances, my office will continue to support them with training, analysis and guidance.”

Spending, meanwhile, has grown between less than 1 percent and 2 percent a year since 2010. School district spending has been below 1 percent over the last three years starting in 2011. However, as state aid has increased, so has district over the last several years.

Aid to municipalities, meanwhile, has stayed at a flat $715 million rate for the last five years, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been hesitant to back an increase in aid.

Following Indictment Of Ex-Manager, DiNapoli Orders Review

An internal investigation is underway in the state comptroller’s office into oversight and hiring following the federal indictment of a former portfolio manager accused of receiving bribes ranging from prostitutes to drugs in exchange for access to the pension fund.

“Is there anything else that we can do to prevent that or to flag behavior that might lead to suspicion that something like this might be going on?” DiNapoli said in an interview on Talk-1300 Thursday morning.

The case stems from Navnoor Kang, who is accused of receiving favors such as lavish meals, trips, crack-cocaine and prostitutes in exchange to access to favored investment in the fund, worth nearly $180 billion.

“My question is what else could we have done if someone is going to lie and subvert existing policies and procedures to not allow this?” DiNapoli said in the interview.

Kang was removed from his job in February 2016; DiNapoli did not provide details as to why. The comptroller also said he first learned of the extent of the charges and scope of the alleged wrongdoing when the indictment was announced on Wednesday by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

Kang had previously worked for a private investment company and was fired after he received perks in exchange for business with the firm and failing to disclose it. Kang lied about the circumstances of losing his last job before working at the comptroller’s office, DiNapoli said.

Charges Filed Against Ex-Portfolio Manager In Pay-To-Play Scheme

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday announced charges against a former portfolio manager in the state pension fund as well as two brokers in an alleged pay-to-play scheme.

The case brought by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara will like deal a black eye to an office that had sought to restore its reputation following the tenure of ex-state Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who had been sentenced to prison in 2011 for his involvement in a pension fund scheme.

Incumbent Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, a Democrat, is not charged or implicated in the case.

According to prosecutors, Navnoor Kang, the former portfolio manager, is accused of receiving bribes from the two broker-dealers, Deborah Kelley and Greg Schonhorn. Those bribes came in the form of trips, meals, entertainment, bottle service at a nightclub, gifts, cash payments and prostitutes.

Kang was fired from his job in February 2016, DiNapoli said in a statment.

“The New York State Common Retirement Fund has absolutely no tolerance for self-dealing, and we are outraged by Mr. Kang’s shocking betrayal of his responsibilities,” DiNapoli said in a statement.

“In February 2016, he was dismissed. As the criminal indictment says, he secretly circumvented our rigorous ethical standards and policies. When his misconduct was uncovered by federal authorities, our inspector general worked with law enforcement officials to uncover the extent of his scheme. We thank U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the Securities Exchange Commission and the FBI for their immediate and professional approach to pursuing this wrongdoing. As U.S. Attorney Bharara states in the indictment, the CRF strictly forbids this conduct, and we will continue to assist federal authorities.”

All told, the value of the alleged bribes exceeded more than $1 million and included trips to Montreal, New Orleans, Utah, Broadway tickets and crack cocaine.

Thousands of dollars were also spent on strippers and prostitutes.

In return, Kang is accused of steering more than $2 billion in a fixed-income business to brokers, which landed them millions of dollars in commissions.

Us v. Kang and Kelley Indictment by Nick Reisman on Scribd

DiNapoli: NYC Has A Surplus, Despite Challenges

New York City is projected to have a $439 million surplus in the coming 2017 fiscal year despite slack job and tax revenue growth, according to a report from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Tuesday.

The report found the extra cash is even expected to grow despite some of the challenges the economy is facing.

DiNapoli praised the handling of the city’s finances by Mayor Bill de Blasio. Both Democrats have been at odds over the years with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“The city’s economy is strong, but job growth and tax collections in the near future are unlikely to be as robust as they have been in recent years,” DiNapoli said. “Additionally, a number of budget risks could increase the size of the out-year budget gaps. To his credit, Mayor de Blasio has prudently maintained the city’s reserves at historic levels, which will provide a cushion against any adverse developments.”

An out-year budget gap for the 2018 fiscal year, meanwhile, has been reduced from $2.8 billion to 2.2 billion and deficits for the 2019 and 2020 budget years have been unchanged: $2.9 billion and $2.4 billion respectively.

rpt9-2017 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

DiNapoli: ‘We’re Not Out To Get Anybody’

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli in a radio interview on Tuesday dismissed questions over whether his effort to restore procurement oversight powers in his office was part of the broader tension between him and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“We’re not out to get anybody,” DiNapoli said on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom.

DiNapoli earlier in the morning introduced a package or procurement reform proposals that would restore oversight over major contracts, a move that comes in the wake of the arrest and indictments of eight people on bribery and bid-rigging, including a former top aide to Cuomo, Joe Percoco.

“It shouldn’t be a heavy lift,” DiNapoli said. “I think we live in a time where more and more money needs to be on the books.”

DiNapoli also downplayed the friction between his office and the governor, saying it more or less comes with the territory of auditing and oversight.

“It is inherent to the relationship in which you have another office that is set up to be a check and balance,” he said. “That role has been diminished by executive action and legislative action. I think what we’re trying to do is restore some of the balance that had been there.”

Nevertheless, DiNapoli defended his office against concerns that having restored oversight could slow down the process of contracting approval, noting that on average his office reviews contracts within nine days.

“We’re part of being efficient and I think in the long run its protective to the executive branch and the legislative branch to have this review,” he said.

DiNapoli Presses Procurement Reforms

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli on Tuesday released a package of proposed changes to how the state oversees procurement and state contracting.

The proposals come months after the arrests of prominent upstate New York developers, along with Joe Percoco, a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and ex-SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros on charges of fraud, bribery and bid rigging.

Dovetailing with the announcements of the proposals was a letter urging Cuomo to back them.

“It is our shared interest to ensure integrity and taxpayer value in the procurement process,” DiNapoli wrote. “Staff and I are available to you and your staff to answer any questions or provide any additional information needed for your evaluation of this package.”

The proposals also come as state lawmakers are considering returning to Albany in a special session with potential changes to procurement oversight on the bargaining table. Cuomo has proposed his own procurement oversight changes, including the creation of a chief procurement officer that would work out of his office.

Cuomo, however, has had a contentious relationship with DiNapoli over the years and lawmakers have openly considered making changes to procurement that would potentially restore some powers from the comptroller’s office that had been removed over the years.

“The alleged contracting and kickback schemes uncovered by federal and state prosecutors show lax oversight over economic development spending,” DiNapoli said. “The state funneled taxpayer money to quasi-government organizations, avoiding scrutiny and sidestepping usual procurement practices. This created an environment ripe for self-dealing and abuse. New York state must take credible steps to reestablish the public’s faith in government and address the broader problems.”

The changes as backed by DiNapoli would restore oversight in his office for the state and city university contracting as well as centralized contracts for the Office of General Services.

Non-profit entities would also be subject to existing procurement and transparency laws and public authorities would be governed by the same procurement laws that state agencies must adhere to.

Contracts worth more than $1 million for the Research Foundation of SUNY would be reviewed by the comptroller.

New ethics requirements and penalties would be in place for violating the procurement process as well.

It’s unclear how receptive Cuomo may be toward restoring any authority in DiNapoli’s office. However, the comptroller remains popular with state lawmakers, including his former colleagues in the Democratic-led Assembly.

Cuomo Procurement Legislation by Nick Reisman on Scribd

DiNapoli Urged To Back Helicopter Purchase As Safety Is Questioned

The president of the union that represents members of the State Police on Monday urged Comptroller Tom DiNapoli in a letter to approve the purchase of a $12.5 million helicopter.

The purchase of the Sikorsky S76-D, which would be used for both the State Police and to transport Gov. Andrew Cuomo around the state, was rejected by DiNapoli’s office last month.

But in a letter from the Police Benevolent Association of the New York State Troopers, President Thomas Mungeer writes that the purchase of the helicopter would help the state aircraft fleet return to “full strength.”

“The last helicopter purchase was in 2002, making even the more recently acquired aircraft in the fleet almost 15 years old,” Mungeer wrote in the letter, which was obtained by Capital Tonight. “This situation puts the safety of our members at risk and is not acceptable.”

The Cuomo administration has insisted the purchase is still underway and is answering questions raised by DiNapoli’s office over the contract.

The issue surrounding the purchase as exacerbated an already contentious relationship between Cuomo and DiNapoli.

An administration official on Monday raised pointed safety concerns with the delay in the purchase, knocking both DiNapoli and his deputy, former Assemblyman Alexander “Pete” Grannis.

“Tom DiNapoli and Pete Grannis are still politicians at heart and the fact that they are so clearly playing politics with essential public safety equipment is reprehensible,” the source said. “They better pray there are no accidents.”

In a statement, DiNapoli spokeswoman Jennifer Freeman said it was necessary for their office to conduct the needed due diligence in evaluating the purchase.

“We are evaluating a multi-million dollar helicopter purchase with taxpayer money. Our job is to evaluate whether an entity has done its due diligence, which did not happen in this case,” Freeman said. “We appreciate getting feedback from the groups affected, such as the PBA. However, we have a number of remaining questions on this procurement and are still waiting to receive written documentation and information to address our concerns. We are an independent agency charged with protecting the taxpayers, and we don’t rubber stamp contracts.”

At the same time, Freeman took note of the timeline: No new helicopters have been purchase in 14 years, while one was lost in 2012. The budget appropriation for a new helicopter was approved in 2013. The comptroller’s office received the sole-source request for the helicopter on Sept. 30.

“If there are serious safety issues,” she said, “why did the state wait so long?”

TomLetterToDiNapoliDec12.2016 by Nick Reisman on Scribd