DiNapoli: Tax Revenue Declined In April

New York’s tax revenue in April declined during the first month of the new fiscal year compared to the same time last year, according to a cash report from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

The state collected $8.2 billion in taxes last month, a reduction of $420.4 million, or 4.9 percent, to April 2015.

It’s a potential red flag for the state’s economy and the revenue picture for the state. Nevertheless, the revenue was more or less what conservative estimates given the expected slackening of the economy.

“April tax receipts were in line with more conservative projections compared to just a few months ago as the economy has shown signs of slowing in the first quarter of the year,” DiNapoli said. “New developments in the coming months and their impact on revenues must be monitored closely as the new fiscal year progresses.”

The decline year over year is due to lower estimated personal income tax payments that resulted from a weakened financial market.

New York meanwhile spent $10.5 billion last month, $2.8 billion more than last year during the same period.

DiNapoli Nudges ExxonMobil On Climate Change

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office is teaming up with the Church of England to pressure the company on the issue of climate change.

DiNapoli in a statement on Monday signaled he would use the state pension fund’s investment in the company to leverage a response out of its board of directors on how ExxonMobil will adjust to internationally driven policy of limiting the effects of climate change through a reduction of carbon output.

“Combating climate change presents risks and opportunities that ExxonMobil needs to address,” said DiNapoli, who is trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund.

“We need to know if ExxonMobil is taking into account the growth of lower carbon economies and taking steps to protect the long-term value of our investments. Earlier this year, the company tried unsuccessfully to get the Securities and Exchange Commission to keep investors from voting on these important questions at the annual meeting. ExxonMobil’s peers are stepping up to address climate risk, it’s time they did so as well.”

The effort is being joined by the Church of England, which has also invested in the company and has taken on a similar activist shareholder role.

“I am delighted investors will have the chance to vote on this motion at this week’s annual meeting, in spite of ExxonMobil’s best efforts to deny them that opportunity,” Edward Mason, the Head of Responsible Investment for the Church of England’s investment fund said. “With peers such as BP and Shell agreeing to report on climate risk, the company is in danger of being increasingly out-of-step with the mainstream on this issue.”

The announcement comes as Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office is reviewing Exxon’s impact on the environment and climate change. The AG’s office last week blasted a letter sent by House Republicans seeking more information from Schneiderman’s office as well as 16 additional attorneys general who are gathering information in the case.

Per Diems Posted, CHA Consulting Gets High-Speed Rail Payment

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Friday posted the three months’ worth of per diem and travel reimbursement data for the members of the state Senate and Assembly.

At the same time, the office has posted per diem and travel data for lawmakers from 2013 through 2015, breaking down how much each lawmaker received in air travel, daily expenses and per diems.

Among the spending approvals was $83,000 to CHA Consulting Inc. for high-speed rail design. The company was found to have paid Joe Percoco, a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, between $20,000 to $50,000 in 2014, according to a financial disclosure form.

Percoco, along with lobbyist Todd Howe, are under investigation by federal prosecutors as part of a broader probe into economic development spending. Percoco also claimed he received income from COR Development, which the companies denies ever paying him. CHA Consulting says it is cooperating with the investigation and does not believe it to be a target.

DiNapoli’s office office also announced it approved $34,000 in spending for the Assembly to continue working with Rossein Associates, the firm hired to develop a sexual harassment policy and conduct investigations.

An additional $5,000 was also approved in spending for the Assembly to retain Roemer Wallens Gold & Mineaux LLP, which is also providing outside counsel related to investigations of sexual harassment.

DiNapoli: Settlements, PIT Bolster State Finances

New York ended its 2015-16 fiscal year with $1.9 billion more than initially estimated, thanks in part to major financial settlements and strong personal income tax collections, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found in a report released on Friday.

Spending overall grew 4.7 percent from the previous fiscal year, far less than anticipated and from final projections. Overall, the general fund ended with $8.9 billion.

“New York state ended the fiscal year with cash in the bank largely thanks to billions of dollars in settlements received over the past two years,” DiNapoli said. “As personal income tax collections in April of 2015 drove higher collections for the year, my office will be looking closely at this April’s results to see how the new fiscal year starts off.”

The state has since April 2014 received $8.5 billion in major settlements from financial institutions who have been hit with regulatory penalties and settlements. In the previous fiscal year, those fines amount to $3.6 billion into the state coffers.

Tax collections grew by 5.1 percent, attributed to strong growth in the real-estate transfer and estate tax collections.

Debt service spending was nearly $5.6 billion, declining by 9.5 percent.

year_end_fy2015-16 by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli Report Recommends Changes To State Spending Practices

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli recommended a series of changes to how the state spends and borrows money, moves his office says would enhance transparency in the state’s fiscal policy.

The report released Wednesday includes recommendations for reform to discretionary lump sum spending, restrictions on so-called “backdoor spending” through public authorities and further limits on state debt through the constitution.

“Too often New York’s approach to budgeting obscures spending and borrowing,” DiNapoli said. “The Governor and the Legislature deserve credit for putting the state on stronger financial footing, but it is time to fix the persistent problems and improve New York’s fiscal practices. Adoption of the reforms I am proposing would help put our state’s finances on a stronger path forward.”

The report points to the billions of dollars in discretionary pots of funds that are approved in the budget without clear details on where and how the money will ultimately be spent. At the same time, DiNapoli says the state should bolster its reserve funds, also known as “rainy day” funds in order to better prepare for the economic downturn.

Despite a debt reform measure in 2000, the state’s debt burden continues in part due to economic conditions. The state should ban “backdoor borrowing practices” with the state the second most indebted since California.

Fiscal Reform 2016 by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli Calls On Feds To Strengthen Rail Safety

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli in a letter to federal transportation officials released on Monday called for the enhancement of rail safety measures to curtail oil spills and accidents, including having oil transporters be required to have sufficient insurance to cover cleanup costs.

“The potential for oil train accidents demands that we take every measure to avoid loss of life and financial loss,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “A major accident could impose not only tragic human costs, but loss of local jobs and tax revenues. The state has stepped up inspections, but incidents such as the recent derailment in Ripley, N.Y. demonstrate that the risk of a disaster remains a major concern. Federal regulators must do more to protect the taxpayers and communities of New York.”

In the letter sent on Monday to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, DiNapoli pointed to the heightened concerns over the transportation by rail of oil through primarily upstate New York communities. Trains that haul hazardous or flammable materials run through 21 counties, mostly in upstate New York.

A review of financial regulatory filings by two of the major crude oil carriers in the state, CSX Corp. and Canadian Pacific Railway Limited, found varying degrees of insurance.

CSX is self-insured for $25 million per incident of what is deemed to be “non-catastrophic” property damage, such as a train derailment. For incidents such as floods and hurricanes, the company has insurance of up to $50 million per occurrence.

Canadian Pacific’s public filings did not include data on their levels of insurance.

Among DiNapoli’s recommendations include having federal regulators consider rerouting trains that carry hazardous materials around populated areas while also having companies consider designating additional municipalities to have slower operating speeds when trains are passing through them.

“The increase of crude oil transportation has unfortunately come with devastating consequences in many communities across North America,” said Marcia Bystryn, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters. “We applaud Comptroller DiNapoli’s efforts to ensure that crude oil transport companies, not taxpayers or local towns and villages, are financially responsible when something goes wrong.”

Foxx Usdot by Nick Reisman

Report: NY Has The Second Highest Foreclosure Rate

A report from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released Monday found New York has the highest foreclosure rate in the country — a major issue for municipal governments squeezed for property tax revenue.

“Our communities are paying a big price when people lose their homes,” DiNapoli said. “We must continue efforts to help homeowners and implement solutions that support local governments’ economic recovery.”

One out of 21 home mortgages are in foreclosure, with Long Island and the Hudson Valley having the biggest impact on their tax bases in the aftermath of the recession.

At the same time, the problem is compounded by a rise in the number of so-called “zombie homes” or vacant and abandoned properties, which leads to local governments straining to collect taxes, water and sewer costs and contend with hazardous structures.

foreclosure0416.pdf by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli: Budget Details ‘Came Together Late’

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli was critical on Friday of the process by which the budget was agreed to, saying it “came together late” with little sunlight.

But DiNapoli also praised the agreements within the spending plan, that include an increase in the minimum wage and a 12-week paid family leave program.

The comptroller’s office plans to release its yearly analysis of the budget in the next few weeks.

“This budget reflects stronger economic times and assists individuals and families who have not shared equally in the state’s economic prosperity,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “The details of the budget came together late in the process and outside the public’s view, so more analysis is needed to examine the long-term impact of these spending decisions. My office expects to finish our analysis of the enacted budget in the coming weeks.”

The budget was approved in the state Senate after a 17-hour debate that lasted the evening and into the early morning hours. The Assembly is due to take up voting later this afternoon.

Pension Fund Moves To Invest In Northern Ireland

The state’s pension fund is investing $7 million in a Northern Ireland bank, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli on Thursday announced.

The investment from the fund is in the Bank of Ireland Kernel Capital Growth Fund, which was created in 2013 to aid Northern Ireland-based small and mid-sized businesses accelerate growth.

“We’re pleased to announce another investment in Northern Ireland’s dynamic economy that will provide a solid return for the New York State Common Retirement Fund,” DiNapoli said in a statement.

“Northern Ireland is on the move, as I saw firsthand during a recent visit. The peace process has opened doors and created economic opportunities for all communities. We’re proud to be able to play a part in Northern Ireland’s economic resurgence. This partnership will benefit our retirees, taxpayers and Northern Ireland for years to come.”

The pension fund’s investment in Kernel Capital is coming from a $115 million Emerging Europe Fund and was selected after an analysis from 57 Stars LLC, which oversees the fund.

Ultimately, the pension fund could make investments in Northern Ireland of up to $30 million.

“This significant investment by the New York State Common Retirement Fund demonstrates a solid commitment to helping Northern Ireland’s businesses grow and is a real endorsement of the strong entrepreneurial spirit which exists in Northern Ireland’s business community,” said First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster.

“In the last couple of years our economy has grown from strength to strength and this added investment, combined with Kernel Capital’s impressive track record of investing in high growth companies, will continue to support Northern Ireland’s thriving business community into the future.”

DiNapoli: Wall Street Bonuses Declined By 9 Percent

Bonuses in New York’s financial industry in 2015 declined by 9 percent on average to $146,200 while profits industry wide fell by 10.5 percent, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found in a report issued on Monday.

But at the same time, Wall Street added jobs for the second straight year, presenting a brighter picture that may not last given the global volatility in the marketplace.

“Wall Street bonuses and profits fell in 2015, reflecting a challenging year in the financial markets,” DiNapoli said. “While the cost of legal settlements appears to be easing, ongoing weaknesses in the global economy and market volatility may dampen profits in 2016. Both the state and city budgets depend heavily on the securities industry and lower profits could mean fewer industry jobs and less tax revenue.”

The annual survey of the securities industry in New York is a key indicator for the state’s economic condition as a whole, which has recovered since the onset of the recession in 2008. Revenue from Wall Street transactions, as well as the wealth generated by those who work there, is a major component for the state’s financial picture and budget each year.

The report found pre-tax profits for the broker/dealer operations in the stock exchange declined by $1.7 billion to $14.3 billion in 2015. The first half of the year was largely a strong one for Wall Street, but the financial industry reported a $177 million in the fourth quarter, the first time it has done so since 2011.

Despite a decrease in profits, employment on Wall Street actually increased by 2.7 percent last year, averaging 172,400 jobs. The industry added 4,500 jobs all together, compared to 2,400 jobs added in 2014. It’s the first time Wall Street has added jobs two years in a row since the financial crisis it its peak.

The average salary in the securities industry has also increased by 14 percent in 2014 to $404,800 — nearly six times higher than pay in the rest of the city’s private sector. Data for 2015 is not yet available.

NYC Security Avg Bns by Nick Reisman