DiNapoli: Comcast To Disclose Political Spending

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli on Tuesday announcement an agreement with Comcast Corp. that would require the company to disclose its political spending with corporate funds.

The announcement comes as Comcast and Time Warner Cable, the parent company of Time Warner Cable News, undertake a merger that would create the largest cable company in the United States.

The merger is currently being reviewed by the Department of Justice and Congress.

As he has with other companies, DiNapoli is using the leverage of the state’s pension fund investment in the company. The state’s fund has more than 7.8 million shares of Comcast stock that is valued at $383.7 million.

“In light of the recent Supreme Court decisions governing political contributions, it’s more important than ever that shareholders continue to call for greater transparency when it comes to political spending,” DiNapoli said. “As one of Comcast’s largest shareholders, we applaud the company for agreeing to disclose corporate political spending. The Fund will continue to engage with companies and shine the light on the use of corporate resources to influence the political process.”

Under the agreement, the company would disclose all money spent on political purposes, including contributions to candidates and parties, as well as payments to campaigns, trade associations and political action committees.

DiNapoli’s office has reached similar agreements with Qualcomm Inc., Marriot International Inc. and PepsiCo Inc.

DiNapoli’s 2013 Income Included Stock Sales

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli earned $161,476 in 2013, with his income augmented modestly by the sale of Verizon stock, according to his income tax records made public on Thursday.

DiNapoli, a Democrat who lives on Long Island, earned $152,567 from his post as state comptroller.

He earned $5,342 in dividends from stock, including AT&T, American Funds, Comcast, Verizon and Vodafone.

DiNapoli unloaded some of his Verizon stock last year, which netted him $3,246.

He paid $28,416 in total federal taxes when taking into consideration his $5,573 federal refund.

His state tax bill was $9,738, and he owed $21 at tax time.

DiNapoli also received $8 from a class-action lawsuit settlement involving American Express.

As usual, DiNapoli contributed thousands to charitable organizations, including $1,645 to St. Aloysius Church.

DiNapoli Blames The Process For Public Financing Compromise

From the morning memo:

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli doesn’t think Gov. Andrew Cuomo was giving him a dose of political payback, nor does he feel betrayed by his longtime ally, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, when the $138 billion budget agreement included the public financing of only one political campaign: His.

Good-government groups and public financing advocates have decried the compromise in the state budget that would create a small-dollar donor matching system for the state comptroller’s race and only for this year.

While state leaders have cast this as a “pilot” program, public financing supporters say it’s an untenable and unworkable proposal in the middle of an election cycle.

As such, DiNapoli, a supporter of public financing, won’t participate in it.

“It really struck me as changing the rules not even midstream, way downstream in a way that’s not only not fair, but also not reasonable in terms of any expectation you can implement the system,” DiNapoli said in an interview on Capital Tonight.

He echoed the concerns from advocates and questioned whether the Board of Elections was suited to develop regulations for such a system only months before a September primary.

“You get the sense that it was either not deliberately or without thinking it through set up for failure,” DiNapoli said.

Then there is the political intrigue aspect of all this.

DiNapoli’s relationship with Gov. Andrew Cuomo is frosty at best and fraught with snubs dating back to a Nassau County executive race in 2001.

At the same time, DiNapoli in part owes his ascendancy to statewide politics when the state Assembly, led by Speaker Sheldon Silver then as it is now, chose him to replace the scandal-scarred Alan Hevesi.

But DiNapoli insisted in the interview this wasn’t personal.

“I don’t think so,” DiNapoli said. “I think it was about a process that didn’t really work.”

Indeed, he pointed to the budget-making process itself, which features the top leaders of the Senate and Assembly, along with Cuomo, negotiating the spending plan in secret.

“This was an example of that still happening in a way that was not productive at all,” he said. “So no, I don’t think it was personal at all.”

Which then brings up the obvious question: Why wasn’t he notified?

He joked that the four men in a room could have flipped a coin to call him, but added it was more than just giving him notice.

“It’s more than a heads up, I think we’re entitled to meaningful input,” DiNapoli said.

Advocacy for the public financing issue isn’t over.

The comptroller, along with leaders of the union-backed Working Families Party will hold a conference call Wednesday at 7 p.m. to discuss the next step.

Wall Street Bonuses Boosted In 2013

More than five years after the financial crisis of 2008, Wall Street bonuses are breaking records, according to a report from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

Bonuses in the financial sector in New York City grew 15 percent last year to $164,530, the third highest on record.

It is also the largest average bonus reported since the 2008 financial meltdown, DiNapoli’s office found.

Nevertheless, profits in the financial industry dipped in 2013 compared to 2012, according to the report.

“Wall Street navigated through some rough patches last year and had a profitable year in 2013. Securities industry employees took home significantly higher bonuses on average,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Although profits were lower than the prior year, the industry still had a good year in 2013 despite costly legal settlements and higher interest rates. Wall Street continues to demonstrate resilience as it evolves in a changing regulatory environment.”

Wall Street bonuses are closely indicators of the health of the economy, especially in New York state, whose budget depends on revenue generated by the financial industry.

The estimate includes cash bonuses for the current year, supplemented by deferred compensation from previous years.

Meanwhile, securities firms reported $16.7 billion in profits in 2013, down 30 percent from 2012.

DiNapoli says that is still strong by industry standards.

DiNapoli: Sales Tax Collection Up

Sales tax revenue on the local revenue grew by $739 million in 2013, a 5.2 percent increase over the last year, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found.

Overall, $14.9 billion in local sales tax revenue was collected last year, the report found.

It’s a positive development for local governments following the relative lack of revenue growth in the years since the financial crisis of 2008.

“This is welcome news for our municipalities and comes at a time when local revenues have been experiencing little to no growth,” said DiNapoli. “The majority of the increase appears to stem from storm clean up, which gives these communities a short-term boost. As the economy continues its tenuous recovery, sales tax collections could vary either way for local governments and is generally a more volatile source of revenue.”

Interestingly enough, largely rural counties had the largest increases in sales tax.

Essex County overall had the highest growth rate, with an 8.8 percent increase, followed by Hamilton County at 8.2 percent.

Washington County, meanwhile, grew 6.9 percent.

Downstate communities also saw a sharp increase, which is largely due to the rebuilding efforts following Superstorm Sandy.

Local Sales Tax Collections 0214 by Nick Reisman

State Tax Collections Below Projections In January

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget office expects a surplus by the end of this fiscal year, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Friday found the state’s revenue collection has not met its projections, according to a cash-flow report.

Revenue through the end of January increased by more than 4 percent over the last fiscal year, but remain below estimates thanks to the timing of personal income tax payments.

“So far tax collections have grown 4.2 percent from a year ago but we still have to meet year-end estimates,” DiNapoli said. “The 2014-15 budget proposal assumes a surplus in the current year, and the strength of receipts in February and March will determine whether a surplus materializes and what the number will be.”

The state’s fiscal year ends March 31.

Cuomo’s $142 billion budget proposal includes an estimated $350 million surplus for this coming fiscal year.

January 14 by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli: DOT Overpaid TZB Workers

An audit from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office released Tuesday found the Department of Transportation wrongly paid nearly $321,000 for travel expenses to eight workers at the Tappan Zee Bridge.

The money was spent despite an internal DOT audit that identified the money as inappropriate, the DiNapoli report found.

“DOT needs to make sure its managers are aware of state travel rules and enforce them,” DiNapoli said. “After an internal audit identified the improper payments, DOT continued to make them, even with multiple opportunities to remedy the situation. DOT needs to do a better job protecting taxpayer dollars and ensuring its employees are not paid for routine commuting costs.”

The improper travel reimbursement may have led to the DOT failing to report about $227,000 in travel expenses to the correct taxing authorities between 2009 and 2011, DiNapoli found.

Guidance from the IRS says employee travel expenses are taxable.

The comptroller’s office found $101,706 was spent on personal car mileage, tolls and other expenses from June 2010 through September 2011. Overall, the DOT reimbursed Tappan Zee Bridge workers $320,756 for commuting expenses over a four-year period.

12s93 by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli: Budget Language ‘A Little Bit Different’

The aspiration to keep spending at a 2 percent spending limit in order to stem out-year gaps and create surpluses is “a little bit different,” Comptroller Tom DiNapoli told reporters on Monday in Albany.

In particular, DiNapoli said not specifying how spending would be kept under control

“What is different about the strategy is there are gaps identified and there’s a line that talks about controlling spending at 2 percent as a way to deal with those gaps,” DiNapoli said. “That’s a little bit of a different budget strategy or financial plan strategy than we’ve seen in the past.”

Cuomo’s budget plan for the coming fiscal years would hold spending at 2 percent increases, which he says will produce a $2 billion surplus.

The previous budgets have all held state spending at 2 percent increases.

“Certainly the governor has demonstrated an ability to control spending,” DiNapoli said. “I think that is an important underpinning to his expectation that the numbers will be there.”

More analysis from DiNapoli’s office is expected when he releases a report on Cuomo’s $142 billion spending plan in the coming days.

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DiNapoli: 15 Villages Facing Fiscal Stress

Fifteen villages in New York are facing some degree of “fiscal stress” according to an analysis released by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

Four villages — Suffern in Rockland County and Amitville in Suffolk County and Nassau County’s Bayville and Manorhaven — were all found to have significant levels of fiscal stresses.

The criteria for designating a local government under fiscal stress includes indicators such as cash-on-hand, patterns of operating deficits and fund balance totals.

The designation is meant to provide ailing local governments with an “early warning” of sorts as a first step to ironing out their budget wrinkles.

“Although the number of villages designated as fiscally stressed is small, village officials across the state must be on alert,” said DiNapoli. “Moving forward, the drivers of fiscal stress will continue to hamper villages in many of the same ways it does our larger municipalities. I continue to emphasize to local officials that the best way their community can avoid falling into fiscal stress is through sensible budgeting and careful long-term planning.”

DiNapoli’s report found villages in the downstate region were gaining population slightly overall, while their upstate counterparts were declining in the number of people living there.

Property values in downstate villages are also far greater: $170,000 in the New York City region compared to barely $40,000 upstate.

Often villages struggling financially have problems with declining property values, child poverty and a shrinking jobs base.

Fiscal Stress Summary Results Villages by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli: Not Much Highway Fund Cash Being Spent On Construction

Only 22 percent of the $3.8 billion in money spent by the Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust went to capital construction in the 2012-13 fiscal year, a report from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found.

The fund, which was first created in 1991, was originally meant to spend money reconstructing and preserving highways and bridges in the state.

Money sent to the fund comes from dedicated taxes and fees, including the gas tax, petroleum business tax and vehicle licensing and rental car fees.

“Taxpayers have paid billions in taxes and fees into a fund that was created to keep our roads and bridges in good repair. Now, more than three-quarters of this money is siphoned off to pay for borrowing and operating costs of state agencies, leaving fewer dollars for improving our infrastructure,” DiNapoli said. “While the state is making progress with its capital planning, New York needs a reliable source for investment in its transportation infrastructure and should restore the use of this fund for capital purposes.”

DiNapoli found that debt payments in 2002 surpassed capital projects.

Meanwhile, costs from state operations continue to take up most of the fund’s spending. Almost $1.6 billion in the previous budget year, including snow and ice management by the Department of Transportation and the day-to-day expenses of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The budget proposal for the coming 2014-15 fiscal year estimates capital spending will account for 23.5 percent of all disbursements, a slight growth from the current year.

dhbtf020413 by Nick Reisman