Audit Finds $8M In Questionable Tax Freeze Payments

An audit released Thursday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found $8 million in “questionable payments” from the state’s property tax “freeze” program, according to the report released on Thursday.

The audit examined 138,962 individual property tax credit payments that were deemed to be considered high risk, worth more than $75.9 million.

Of those, 31,924 payments were considered questionable enough to require further action. That included more than $5.4 million in payments made due to errors in calculation and $1.6 million in payments made to a home or property owner who was not eligible for a STAR tax exemption.

Further, $818,766 in payments were made to homeowners who had died.

Auditors recommended to the state Taxation and Finance Departments that officials there work with local assessors to ensure data is sent in a standard, complete and accurate format, while relevant data from the department is use to ensure eligible taxpayers are receiving the property tax credit.

DiNapoli: Tax Collections Dip Through October

Tax collections last month fell by $764.1 million over the same period last year as revenue from the personal income tax continues to lag, a report issued Friday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found.

New York collected $41.6 billion through October, a 1.8 percent drop.

Nevertheless, tax collections of $4.7 billion last month were 13.8 percent higher than those in October 2015 due in large part to audit payments made under the bank tax and increasing sales tax collections.

“With personal income taxes falling far short of initial projections, the state Division of the Budget appropriately revised its outlook,” DiNapoli said. “We will be closely watching tax collections from the upcoming holiday shopping season and the level of bonuses paid in the financial sector during the remainder of the fiscal year.”

The lagging tax revenue comes after the Division of Budget this week acknowledged in a mid-year budget update the personal income tax receipts had slowed this year, requiring revised projections as the state is expected to face budget deficits in the coming years.

October 2016 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

DiNapoli: State Tax Collections Down $1.3B

The first six months of the state’s fiscal year saw tax collections tumble by $1.3 billion or 3.5 percent from the same period last year as the state’s revenue from the personal income tax fell short of expectations.

“Personal income tax collections continue to fall short of expectations, making the state’s revenue picture uncertain,” Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said, who issued the six-month fiscal year tax report on Thursday.

“The state has not seen the level of growth needed to meet year-end projections. At the same time, the use of some settlement resources for ongoing spending and to boost the state’s bottom line may be obscuring New York’s true fiscal position, and leaving uncertainty for the commitments already made. Going forward careful attention will be needed to monitor the state’s revenue and fiscal position.”

The report suggests New York could be sailing into choppy budget waters next year as Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to push for budgetary restraint under a self-imposed 2 percent cap on spending increases.

The fiscal year for New York state begins April 1.

Overall, tax collections through Sept. 30 were bellow the previous years’ collections in five of the first six months, $918.7 million lower than initial projections in the final budget.

Since the start of the 2014-15 fiscal year and through the middle of the current budget year, the state has either received or expects to collect almost $9 billion in non-recurring funds through finds, settlements, or other restitutions.

The report notes that $1 for every $6 in settlement money has been spent or is being planned to be used for non-capital purposes.

2016-17 Midyear Report by Nick Reisman on Scribd

DiNapoli Urges Patience In Procurement Reform

From the Morning Memo:

It’s been more than a month since nine people, including a former top aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo, were arrested on charges of kickbacks and rigging contracts. But state officials say they are taking their time in how they’ll address the problems that led to the alleged wrongdoing.

“We shouldn’t rush to do any change,” said Comptroller Tom DiNapoli in an interview on Tuesday.

“We should make sure we’re thinking it through pretty clearly. Hopefully all the stakeholders will have some input. Before you know it, it is going to be January and the full Legislature will be back. That might be a more appropriate time for there to be a full vetting of whatever suggestions there are for the procument process to be more responsible, accountable and transparent.”

DiNapoli did not embrace the prospect of bringing lawmakers back to Albany before the start of the year to assess potential changes to the state’s procedure for approving contracts. One measure may be to restore some of DiNapoli’s oversight powers.

“I don’t think it’s about restoring some of our authority that was diluted in the past, but it really needs to be a broader conversation and we’re looking at some proposals that may put forward as well,” he said.

Cuomo in September said the state was focusing in the short term on ensuring the economic development projects continue to function. Many of them had been overseen by figures like former SUNY Poly President Alain Kaloyeros, who was among those charged.

“My focus is on getting the projects up and getting the projects running,” he said.

And Cuomo plans to unveil his proposals for procurement reform in the new year as well.

“We’re going to have for the State of the State have a reform package in terms of procurement with more checks and balances,” he said.

One issue that could bring lawmakers back to Albany is a potential pay raise, currently in the hands of a commission, but the decision may be linked to lawmakers voting for new ethics reforms. DiNapoli says the pay raise itself for the Legislature is worth exploring.

“They set up a commission to look at that,” DiNapoli said. “We’ll see what kind of recommendations they come up with. Obviously it’s been a long time since there’s been a raise, so I don’t think it’s an inappropriate question for people to look at.”

DiNapoli: Wall Street Profits Rise, But Bonuses And Jobs Are Down

Wall Street profits in New York are on track to do better than last year, potentially reversing three straight years of declines, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found in a report released on Friday.

But bonuses from the first half of the year are down by 7 percent — part of a trend that could see its third consecutive year.

“Wall Street had solid profits in the first six months of the year and, barring a major setback, profits are on track to surpass last year,” DiNapoli said. “While the securities industry in New York City is smaller than before the financial crisis, it remains critical to our local economy and one of the largest contributors to city and state tax revenues. New York City continues to be the global capital of finance.”

The report on the securities industry found firms earning profits of $9.3 billion from the first half of the year.

Still, job growth is down this year in finance following thousands of jobs being added in 2014 and 2015, with jobs declining on Wall Street since March 2016.

The report found there were 2,600 fewer jobs in Wall Street from March through August.

Wall Street’s health is vital to New York’s budgetary revenue.

rpt8-2017 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Legislative Legal Bills Continue, Marcy Nanocenter Construction Spending Approved

Legal bills ranging from investigations for sexual harassment to a settlement for an undefined “employment matter” have been approved by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

DiNapoli’s office announced on Monday $23,000 for Roemer Wallens Gold & Mineaux LLP, hired as outside counsel to conduct independent investigations of sexual harassment, was approved. An additional $19,000 by Rossein Associates for outside legal counsel to develop a sexual harassment policy was also approved.

The law firms were retained following a spate of sexual harassment cases involving state lawmakers, including the late former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, a Brooklyn Democrat who stepped down after it was determined he broke the public officer’s law when he harassed women who worked for the Legislature.

Meanwhile, in the Republican-led Senate, the comptroller’s office approve $82,000 in spend to the law firm Kraus & Zuchlewski LLP “for a settlement related to an employment matter.”

It is not immediately clear what the employment matter is, but the spending comes after Sen. Marc Panepinto had announced his plans to not run for re-election following turmoil in his Senate office.

And, unrelated to harassment issues, the comptroller’s office has $500,000 in spending for the Empire State Development Corp. to construct a service access roadway at the Marcy Nanocenter at SUNYIT. That spending comes after the arrests of nine people on bribery and bid-rigging charges related to upstate economic development projects, including now-former SUNY Poly President Alain Kaloyeros.

DFS Superintendent Defends Report Critical Of DiNapoli

After Comptroller Tom DiNapoli this morning in a radio interview blasted a report from the Department of Financial Services critical of his handling of the state’s common retirement fund, the agency’s top official is hitting back.

In a statement from DFS Superintendent Mario Vullo, DiNapolis taken to task for his office not providing answers to specific questions raised by regulators at the agency on Sept. 9.

“None of the information provided to DFS in response to the September letter validates the claims being made now,” she said in the statement released Tuesday afternoon. “And putting aside all of the bluster, the Comptroller has not contested, because he cannot contest, the fact that he took 8 years to address these significant issues while pension fund managers nationwide have significantly cut or entirely eliminated their hedge fund investments.”

Meanwhile, Vullo insisted she reached out to DiNapoli before the report was released. DiNapoli’s office claims they were given a five-minute heads up on the report’s release.

“Prior to the release of our report, I personally called the Comptroller but he has yet to return my call,” she said. “DFS stands by its report and will continue to exercise its oversight of the pension systems and maintain its obligation to the public to report on these important issues.”

DiNapoli in an interview on Talk-1300 this morning called the report “inflammatory” and lacked professionalism for the charges made that his management is leading to excessive fees from hedge funds.

The report came after weeks in which DiNapoli was critical of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s economic development efforts and called for enhanced procurement oversight after nine people were arrested in an alleged bid rigging scheme.

DiNapoli: Bid-Rigging Scandal Reveals ‘Structural’ Problems

The alleged bid-rigging of lucrative economic development contracts in major economic development programs showed there is a “systemic” and “structural” problem with oversight, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said in a Friday radio interview.

Speaking to WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom, DiNapoli said one area that should be under consideration for reform is shining more sunlight on the non-profit entities that have been used for vehicles of economic development projects.

“Maybe we should look at the question of non-profits,” DiNapoli said. “It all should be on the books.”

The renewed oversight push comes in the wake of the arrests of nine people — including a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Joe Percoco, and ex-SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros — in an alleged effort to secure contracts for favored developers.

DiNapoli said he would favor oversight for pass-through entities such as the Fort Schuyler Corp. that would require them to adhere to similar oversight methods that state agencies must abide by.

And DiNapoli wants the power of his office restored to have auditors review contracts worth more than $250,000.

“I think the lesson here is you can’t just trust all of this is going to be handled in the right way,” he said. “I do think you need independent oversight and that’s what our office is set up to do.”

The Cuomo administration has signaled it is open to reviewing procurement procedures in both the executive and legislative branches after a string of scandals have rocked state government in recent years.

And DiNapoli acknowledged what state lawmakers have said in recent days: A package of potential reforms is being discussed by both chambers of the Legislature.

The comptroller — whose relationship with Cuomo has been frosty at best in recent months — added it wasn’t “productive” to blame Cuomo for the overarching problems at SUNY and economic development.

“I think we will certainly be vigilant and working with the Legislature and hopefully with the governor to change the law,” he said.

DiNapoli: 40 Local Governments Under Fiscal Stress

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Tuesday announced 40 municipal governments are facing financial strains and persistent budgetary woes.

The breakdown includes 10 counties, 10 cities and 20 towns who are determined to be under some form of fiscal stress, based on a formula followed by the comptroller’s office that assesses a range of budget concerns include fund balance, budget gaps and other fiscal measurements.

“The challenges facing local governments across the state are real,” said DiNapoli. “Our monitoring system has shown that for those localities experiencing financial hardship, it can be difficult to overcome challenges that have been years in the making. Local officials should be carefully examining their scores and using this system to determine how they can budget prudently and develop realistic long-term financial plans.”

Of the 40 communities under fiscal duress, eight local governments are under “significant” stress including Monroe, Franklin Broome and Rockland counties. The cities of Albany, Port Jervis and the towns of Tuxedo and Parish are also on that list.

The designation is based on local governments’ 2015 financial statements.

Local governments have generally faced an array of financial and budgetary challenges in recent years, including high pension costs, shrinking tax bases and, most recently, a cap on property tax increases that constrains their ability to raise new revenue.

DiNapoli Warns School Districts Will Face Limited Revenue

Revenue growth from state and local sources will be limited for school districts in 2017 as the cap on property taxes and tax collections overall will take their toll, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli warned in an interview published Monday.

DiNapoli, speaking to the New York State School Boards Association, warned budget gaps over the next several years are possible, which he attributed to an increase in spending and declining tax revenue.

“We may have to be perhaps a little more conservative in our assumptions as we move forward,” DiNapoli told Kremer. “State budget gaps could be as high as $5 billion per year over three years due to increased state spending, decreased tax collections, and depletion of reserve funds.”

School districts have over the last several years seen increases in education aid from the state, and lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo this year agreed to end the Gap Elimination Adjustment for school districts.

But school officials continue to chafe under the state’s cap on property tax increases, which they have so far unsuccessfully lobbied to make less restrictive.

The cap is expected to allow for growth of less than 1 percent in 2017.

“Unless there’s a dramatic change in the economic trends, I don’t see that happening,” DiNapoli said.