Assembly Spends More For Sexual Harassment Investigations

State lawmakers in the Assembly have spent an additional $56,000 on outside legal advice for developing sexual harassment policies and assist with investigations, according to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Tuesday.

The comptroller’s office announced it had approved $51,000 for Rossein Associates, which is helping the Assembly develop new guidelines for responding to sexual harassment in the workplace. At the same time, $5,000 was approved to Roemer, Wallens, Gold & Mineaux, which is handling individual investigations of harassment cases.

All told, Roemer, Wallens, Gold & Mineaux has been paid $22,471.75, according to the state comptroller’s Open Book website.

Rossein Associates, meanwhile, has been paid $398,936.43 since 2013.

The firms were retained by the Assembly following then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s handling of Brooklyn Democrat Vito Lopez’s sexual harassment case.

DiNapoli: 22 Villages In Fiscal Stress

The vast majority of the state’s village governments are not in fiscal stress, a report from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Monday found.

The review of village finances did find that 22 out of 539 local governments classified as villages are in some form of fiscal stress.

“Although the number of fiscally stressed villages is small, these communities still grapple with the same financial pressures as our larger municipalities,” said DiNapoli in a statement. “By continuing to focus on sensible budgeting and long-term planning, local village officials can avoid fiscal jeopardy.”

The three villages that are considered to be in “significant fiscal stress” are Amityville in Suffolk County, Tuckahoe in Westchester County and Broome County’s Port Dickinson.

Budgetary stress levels are determined by a number of factors including low fund balances, budget gaps and liquidity problems.

Villages Stressed 2014 by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli: Health Department Failed To Collect Rebates (Updated)

An audit released on Wednesday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office the state Department of Health did not collect nearly $102 million in rebates over the the last 2-1/2 years from prescription drugs makers in the state’s Medicaid program.

The audit blamed poor policies and processes for collecting the rebate cash.

“The Department of Health can do more to maximize rebate collections from drug companies,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “DOH must be diligent in its pursuit of rebates and do all it can to save money. Thankfully, department officials are working to fix the problems identified by my auditors to improve the rebate collection process. These actions should greatly benefit New York taxpayers.”

The audit looked at the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program, created by Congress in 1990, which was meant to reduce state and federal prescription drug costs in the Medicaid program.

Over the last 24 years, the state has been able to request rebates from manufacturers under the program. With the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, drugs prescribed to those enrolled in Medicaid managed care organizations were also included in the rebate program.

But the comptroller’s office found at the same time that during the audit period of Oct. 1, 2011 through June 30 of last year, about one millioner rejected claims were never resubmitted by Medicare managed care organizations.

DiNapoli’s report made a dozen recommendations to improve collecting the rebates in order to maximize collections.

Updated: The DOH responds, taking issue with DiNapoli’s report.

The numbers reflected in the audit are outdated. To date, DOH has collected 60 percent of these rebates and will be re-couping the additional 40 percent by the end of the coming fiscal year, as has been detailed in the Executive Budget. During the last three years, DOH has collected more than $5.5 billion in pharmacy rebates and has additionally saved more than $400 million from transitioning pharmacy benefits from fee-for-service to managed care.

DiNapoli On Budget Criticism: Read The Report

From the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget office was not thrilled with Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s assessment of the state budget proposal, which he found in a report includes out-year deficits as well as a stark increase in economic development spending.

The Division of Budget blasted DiNapoli’s report, essentially, for committing to what they saw as some fuzzy math.

It was the just the latest knock at DiNapoli, who previously released a report that was critical of spending at the Empire State Development Corp. and its job-creating efforts.

But the comptroller in an interview on Sunday said the criticism from his office is constructive.

“When we put out these reports whether it’s the governor’s office or the legislators or the citizens our hope is they read the report,” he said. Look at the substance of it. You can disagree, but sometimes the criticism seems to come out faster than the thoughtful analysis of what we’re recommending.”

DiNapoli and Cuomo have had a relatively cool relationship over the last four years, though the governor did endorse the comptroller’s re-election in 2014, something he refused to do in 2014.

“I think we made some solid recommendations, I hope the governor and the Legislature will weigh them seriously when they’re finalizing the budget,” DiNapoli said.

DiNapoli: Conversations Underway On Per Diem Reform

Overhauling how state lawmakers are reimbursed for their travel may be part of a larger conversation about a legislative pay raise, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said in an interview on Sunday.

DiNapoli has been holding discussions with newly elected Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie about overhauling how per diems are doled out.

State lawmakers have come under scrutiny in recent years over receiving generous amounts of money for travel and lodging, essentially augmenting their base $79,500 salaries.

Last year, former Assemblyman William Boyland was convicted on 21 counts of corruption charges, stemming in part from his misuse of per diems.

“The broader discussion of whether there should be these reimbursements, I think that’s going to be tied into the larger compensation question,” DiNapoli said.

In the mean time, DiNapoli is holding talks with Heastie, whose own per diem use has come under question in the lead up to his election as speaker of the chamber, replacing Sheldon Silver, who faces corruption charges.

“I give Speaker Heastie a tremendous amount of credit because this is an area where there has been abuse,” DiNapoli said. “The speaker is very much headed in the right direction for changes. We’ve just started those conversations. Of course, it’s up to Legislature to set the rules in this area, but our folks are going to be making some recommendations in this area.”

It’s not immediately clear what the per diem reform will mean. DiNapoli indicated that new accounting measures could be put in place that would provide a more accurate measure of what work was being done in exchange for the reimbursement.

“Some argue to get rid of them totally as part of compensation reform,” DiNapoli said. “If you’re going to have per diems, certainly more clear accounting of where they are. We just have to be sure that when people are putting in for these per diems, we have a trail that we can audit.”

At the moment, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a commission that would study pay increase for state lawmakers and commissioners of state agencies and departments.

Cuomo in the past has linked legislative pay increases to ethics and campaign finance reforms, which state lawmakers balked at taking up in December.

Lawmakers last received a pay increase in 1998, when the salary hike was tied to an expansion of charter schools in New York.

DiNapoli: Pension Fund Hits $181.7B

The state’s pension fund grew in the most recent fiscal quarter by 1.91 percent, bringing its total value to $181.7 billion, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli announced on Friday.

The third quarter of the state’s fiscal year ended Dec. 31.

“Prudent management has nurtured the Fund’s growth despite market volatility,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “We continue to seek out diverse opportunities that enable us to maximize stable, long-term investment returns that ensure a secure retirement.”

The pension fund’s value at the end of the last fiscal year, March 31, was $176.8 billion.

Report: Fewer School Districts Overriding Tax Cap (Updated)

A declining number of school districts are overriding the state’s limit on local property tax increases, a report released Wednesday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found.

“Local school district officials are working hard to operate within the confines of the cap,” said DiNapoli. “As the cap fluctuates below two percent, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay under the levy limit while also dealing with increased costs and uncertain state aid. If the past three years are any indication, however, school districts will continue to hold the line on taxes despite these challenges.”

In the first year the cap was in place, 6.5 percent of the state’s district sought to override the cap. The following budget year, 2013-14, 4.7 percent of districts overrode the cap. And in the current school budget year, only 2.8 percent of school districts — 19 in total — approved budgets above the tax cap.

DiNapoli’s report found the school districts that do override the cap tend to receive less in state aid: From 2013-14 through 2014-15, 3.3 percent of the school districts deemed low and average-need districts sought to override the cap, compared to 1.5 percent of higher need school districts.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal would increase state education funding by as much as $1.1 billion, or a 4.8 percent hike in spending. But much of that added spending is tied to backing Cuomo’s education policy changes, including more stringent teacher evaluation measures and strengthening the state’s charter schools.

In a break from previous years, the governor’s office did not release school aid runs, which break down the projected aid districts can expect to receive from the state.

Updated: Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, weighs in.

“These numbers are further proof that Governor’s tax cap is a success and they also demonstrate that even with a stricter 1.56 percent cap this year, the tax freeze is working as intended to encourage schools and local governments to cuts costs and provide relief to property taxpayers. New York has no future as the high tax capital of the world and keeping the tax cap in place, as well as enacting the Governor’s property tax credit, will provide tax relief to those who need it the most.”

School District Tax Cap 0215 by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli: Economic Development Spending Up, Debt Ceiling Lowers In Cuomo’s Budget

Spending on economic development programs is increasing by nearly 45 percent, while the state’s debt ceiling is reaching an all-time low, according to an analysis in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2015-16 state budget by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

Meanwhile, out-year budget gaps are projected unless future spending cuts are enacted.

The report found the governor’s $142 billion budget proposal would increase economic development spending by $585 million, pushing total costs up to more than $2 billion.

At the same time, the budget calls for new debt issuances, outstanding debt and annual service payments over the next five years. Available capacity under the state’s debt is hitting a low point of $604 million, the report found.

Outside of a $5 billion windfall surplus gained from financial settlements, the comptroller’s office is also projecting an average deficit of $3.3 billion over the next two fiscal years unless unspecified cuts to state operating funds are approved.

The governor’s Division of Budget is estimating surpluses if future spending increases are held at less than 2 percent.

“Extraordinary financial settlements and higher than expected revenues will help New York end the fiscal year with its largest balance in years,” DiNapoli said. “The Executive Budget continues this positive momentum by boosting reserves, investing in infrastructure and easing the property tax burden. Nevertheless, the out-year gaps remain a concern and there is a lack of clarity for some key spending areas. New York has made great strides over the past few years to get its financial house in order, but there is still work to be done.”

Review of Executive Budget 2015 by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli Surveys Empire State Development Corp.

An economic profile of the state’s job-creating entity, the Empire State Development Corp., found little available financial data for its various subsidiaries, while reports that highlight its results were similarly lacking, a report conducted by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found.

Debt at ESDC, meanwhile, has grown by 20 percent over the 2013 fiscal year, totaling more than $10.7 billion.

“New York state spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to spur economic development and job creation through ESDC programs,” DiNapoli said. “New Yorkers deserve more thorough accounting about whether these programs are achieving desired results.”

ESDC’s reported job creation from its various programs totaled 2,424, but it’s unclear from its public assessments of how those jobs are actually created.

Cuomo on Long Island pushed back against questions over whether the tax credits and incentives provided by ESDC have been effective.

“I disagree with the comptroller fundamentally and on his concept on economic development,” Cuomo said. “This state lost its primacy in creating jobs over the last decades. To the extent that the comptroller thinks we should go back to the old way that saw New York losing jobs, I couldn’t disagree more strongly.”

Here’s the full report:

PA by the Numbers ESDC 2 15 by Nick Reisman

Stringer To Silver: ‘Step Down’ Not ‘Step Aside’

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, a Democrat and former member of the state Assembly, said this morning at the Association for a Better New York that Speaker Sheldon Silver should not “step aside” but “down down” from the post he’s held since 1994.

“I don’t think this is a time to step aside, I think this is a time to step down,” Stringer said.

The Assembly leadership, under a plan devised Sunday evening, would allow five members to assume Silver’s responsibilities when it comes to negotiating the state budget and other issues on a temporary basis.

The push to make the change comes as Silver faces corruption and fraud charges.

Stringer said today, however, that Silver should stay in power through the retention of his title.

“Allow a new leader to come forward, a new leader who can fight for the interests of working people,” Stringer said. “That’s what the assembly’s always been – it’s the people’s house. And I think we should stop trying to process this, make this a process game. And let’s get on to the budget, and the things we have to do. Were it not for the snow, I would be going to Albany with the mayor, testifying on the budget. that’s going to happen in the next few days. And when we get there, that’s the time we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and do some business.”

Stringer said that if Silver is cleared of the charges it’s up to the members to determine whether the Manhattan Democrat should get the post back.

But he was hopeful a strong leader could potentially emerge to take control of the Assembly during an unusually turbulent time.

“I think there’s a real chance that by the time we testify in Albany, it just seems to me that one strong leader will emerge,” Stringer said. “I’m not going to comment on who I would like. I think it’s really up to the members to caucus. As I said, we do not give credit to the talent that we have in the state assembly. Both members that are in leadership positions, but also if you look at the new leaders who are just getting elected. They are independent, they are ready to work in Albany. They worked very hard to get elected. I think we should give them a chance.”