Ex-City Councilman Sentenced To 2 To 6 Years For Theft

Ruben Wills, the former New York City councilman convicted of siphoning $30,000 to a non-profit he controlled, was sentenced to 2 to 6 years in prison.

The Queens Democrat will also be required to pay back $33,000 in restitution as well as a $5,000 fine.

The investigation of Wills was conducted by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

“New Yorkers deserve elected officials whose priority is the needs of their constituents, not lining their own pockets. Instead of spending taxpayer money on projects to help his community, Ruben Wills betrayed the public trust by stealing tens of thousands for himself – and he’ll now pay the price,” Schneiderman said. “We will continue to ensure that public officials who act as though they’re above the law are brought to justice.”

Wills was found guilty in July of directing thousands of dollars in public matching funds and grant money to a shell company that was meant to distribute campaign literature. Instead, Wills was found to have redirected the money to an entity called NY 4 Life, which Wills controlled.

He would withdraw the money for purchases, including a shopping spree at Macy’s that included a $7,500 Louis Vuitton handbag.

“Ruben Wills stole money meant to benefit the community he was sworn to serve. Thanks to my investigators and auditors working with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Mr. Wills has been brought to justice,” DiNapoli said. “We must have a zero tolerance for public corruption and we will continue to partner with law enforcement to root out fraud and protect the taxpayers.”

DiNapoli Won’t Say If He’d Vote For Cuomo Or Cynthia Nixon (Updated)

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli in a radio interview on Thursday would not say if he’d vote for Gov. Andrew Cuomo or actress and education advocate Cynthia Nixon in a hypothetical primary.

“It’s a secret ballot,” DiNapoli said with a laugh during a Talk-1300 interview with Fred Dicker.

DiNapoli added he believes Cuomo would likely be the stronger candidate against Nixon, who would be launching her first bid for public office. He did acknowledge Nixon would potentially have a leg up in the “post-Trump era” of celebrities running for office.

For now, a candidacy by the former “Sex and the City” star seems unlikely. It’s being boosted in part by public education advocates who have pushed Cuomo to spend more money on high-needs school districts.

DiNapoli and Cuomo have been locked in what is considered to be at best a frosty relationship.

Updated: Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi responding, taking aim at Dicker in a statement.

“I didn’t know Dicker still had his show,” he said. “That’s adorable.”

Reached by email, Dicker responded, “Cuomo’s notoriously nasty messenger boy may claim he’s not aware of my radio show but then again didn’t Cuomo claim not to be aware that he was responsible for the New York City subway and commuter rail system?”

Pension Fund Valued At $197B

The state’s pension fund was valued at an estimated $197.1 billion, earning a 2.9 percent rate of return ending June 30.

The fund was boosted in part by the strong performance of the stock market over the last several months.

“Strong domestic stock market returns continued to buoy our investments through the opening months of the state fiscal year,” Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said in a statement. “As a long term investor, the fund’s performance is best measured by its success over a period of years if not decades, but we always welcome a strong quarter.”

The pension fund’s value at the end of the state’s fiscal year in March had been revised upward slightly to $192.1 billion.

Sales Tax Grows Modestly

Sales tax revenue across the state grew by 3.3 percent in the first half of the year, according to a report released Friday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

The total sales tax collections through the end of June, the first half the calendar year, totaled $8 billion, up from $7.8 billion the same time last year.

“Local sales tax growth across the state is welcome news, especially for many of our upstate communities that have struggled with tough economic conditions,” DiNapoli said. “Sales tax, however, can be a volatile source of revenue and local officials must remain cautious. While consumer spending is holding up for now, the upcoming back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons may determine if this level of growth is sustainable.”

Tax collections in New York City grew 3.5 percent, or $121 million during the same time period.

The strongest sales tax growth was reported in Oswego County, but that is attributed to technical adjustments in collections. Counties reporting strong increases included Cayuga, Wyoming and Seneca.

The full report can be found here.

Slow Growth And Trump Present Challenges To NYC, DiNapoli Says

New York City has an estimated surplus of more than $4 billion, but even with its coffers full still faces challenges from federal cuts in Washington, slow growth in tax revenue as well as job creation, according to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

“Changes in federal fiscal policies present the greatest and most imminent risk to New York City’s financial outlook. The city faces the possible loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding and cuts to Medicaid,” DiNapoli said. “With these risks in mind, Mayor de Blasio and the city have prudently increased reserves to record levels. The city should continue to identify opportunities for agency savings, which will provide added budgetary flexibility.”

The surplus is the largest the city has had since 2008, just before the onset of the recession.

However, budget gaps for the 2019, 2020 and 2021 fiscal years are projected, starting at $3.5 billion.

Tax collections have dropped starting in 2016, with non-property taxes declining for the first time since 2010.

Meanwhile, the labor market has constricted. Unemployment is down to 4 percent, its lowest level in 41 years. But given the economy can be cyclical, its possible each year will bring a new setback.

The full report can be read here.

DiNapoli: NY Challenged By Lower Revenue, Potential Cuts

The state’s fiscal picture faces challenges from lower-than-expected revenue growth and the potential for federal cuts and tax changes, according to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

The comptroller’s office on Friday released a report that found the state’s budget situation is darkening in part by falling personal income tax collections and uncertainty over the federal budget.

“The state’s fiscal outlook is clouded because of uncertainty in Washington, falling revenues, and fiscal practices that obscure the level of spending,” DiNapoli said. “If revenues continue to fall short, projected out-year budget gaps may grow further.”

Aid for health care programs remains at risk for the state, while tax receipt have fallen 6.1 percent below projections in February.

At the close of the state’s most recent fiscal year, March 31, the state’s general fund stood at $7.7 billion, with two-thirds of that money made up by funds generated through settlements.

The full report can be found here.

2017 18 Enacted Budget Financial Plan July by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Report Assesses Impact Of Federal Aid On Local Governments

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Friday released a report assessing the impact of federal aid on New York’s local governments and schools districts, finding they rely on more than $11 billion combined in 2015.

“Local governments receive much-needed federal aid that supports our schools, fixes our roads and keeps our communities safe,” said DiNapoli. “But potential policy changes in Washington could have a considerable impact on local government operations. In today’s political climate, it’s important for New Yorkers to get a sense of how much funding is at stake and what programs might be at risk.”

Outside of New York City alone, local governments and school districts received $4.7 billion in direct federal aid.

New York City separately received $7 billion, with $1.7 billion toward public schools.

Federal aid as a share of total revenue was highest for county governments, some 11.2 percent. In New York City, it accounts for 10.1 percent.

The full report can be found here.

Report Finds $67B Hit For NY If Deductions Go Away

New York could stand to lose more than $67 billion in state and local tax deductions if they are eliminated by congressional tax reform legislation, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found in a report released Wednesday.

“The stakes are high for New Yorkers if these changes are made to the federal tax code,” DiNapoli said. “There is a distinct possibility that President Trump’s plan will hurt New York’s middle class taxpayers and working families and give a windfall to the wealthiest among us. We really need more clarity on the specifics of the plan to fully assess its impact on New York.”

New York taxpayers in 2014 reported $47.3 billion in itemized deductions for the state’s counties and $20.2 billion in deductions for property taxes that same year. That represents 13.5 percent of all state and local tax deductions in the U.S.

Eliminating local tax deductions is expected to hit states with high property taxes, like New York, New Jersey and California, the hardest.

The bulk of the itemized deductions in New York took place downstate in Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, Staten Island, Manhattan and Dutchess counties.

State officials on both sides of the aisle have raised concerns with the impact of eliminating deductions on property taxpayers.

Federal Tax Reform by Nick Reisman on Scribd

DiNapoli Disappointed In Lack Of Procurement Reform

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli in a statement called the lack of procurement a “missed opportunity” at the end of the legislative session in Albany.

Lawmakers have left town without voting for any reforms to oversight or transparency to economic development spending.

The Legislature had sought, among other items, to restore DiNapoli’s procurement power for spending that pass through SUNY and CUNY-related entities, a common vehicle for economic development funding.

“The failure to enact procurement reform was a missed opportunity to protect taxpayers’ dollars and prevent corruption,” DiNapoli said. “Enhancing independent oversight of state contracting, especially with regard to economic development spending, is needed to ensure accountability and transparency. I hope the legislature will consider the clean contracting proposal when they reconvene.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had opposed the bill, seeking instead to appoint a inspector general who would oversee contracting at state agencies. Other measures, including bills that would increase transparency for the regional state economic development councils and the START-UP NY program also faltered.

DFS Report Of DiNapoli’s Oversight Coming Soon

The Department of Financial Services will soon release a report that is expected to take a critical view of Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s oversight of legislative spending, according to sources familiar with the matter.

A source pointed to a possible focus in particular on the legal requirements in both the state constitution and the state finance law for the comptroller to audit and approve state spending — essentially suggesting the office isn’t simply a “pass through” entity for spending.

According to one lawyer who has reviewed the law and constitutional provision, the comptroller’s office “has an affirmative obligation and is legally required to conduct these audits.”

DiNapoli is a former member of the state Legislature, having been put into the post initially in 2007 by the Democratic-led Assembly.

“The law is clear — the comptroller has a fiduciary responsibility to audit and verify, but he’s said time and again that he’s been nothing but a rubber stamp for legislative payments since Shelly appointed him,” a source said. “He has a real problem on his hands.”

The comptroller’s office sees things a lot differently.

Since the time he took office, DiNapoli’s office has sought to shine a light on legislative spending by posting contracts entered into by both the Senate and Assembly. A monthly press release, also, is issued directing the public to contracting and spending that’s been approved.

At the same time, the comptroller’s office has disclosed legislative per diems online that is updated quarterly.

A wealth of this information is found on the comptroller’s Open Book website.

The comptroller’s office also points to its own auditing functions that oversee tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of daily transactions. The comptroller’s office uses a method of accounting typically deployed by large entities — think the 10 largest corporations — through an analytical approach that flags high-risk transactions.

The comptroller’s office also argues payments are routinely halted when a red flag goes up, in addition to an annual financial audit.

The DFS audit would come amid increasing tensions between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and DiNapoli, two longtime rivals in state government. It also would not be the first time DFS has released a critical review of DiNapoli’s handling of his duties. The agency in December issued a report that took a critical view of fees paid out to hedge funds that provided relatively poor returns on the investment — an assessment that DiNapoli vehemently disagreed with when it was released.

Meanwhile, a controversy erupted last month over the practice of the Senate arranging for stipends to those lawmakers who hold vice committee chair posts and receiving payments normally reserved for committee chairs. DiNapoli’s office was involved in approving those payments to the Senate.

The comptroller is seeking a bill that would re-instate his oversight power for procurement and state contracting at entities affiliated with SUNY and CUNY — a measure that’s being sought in the final days of the legislative session, due to end on Wednesday.