DiNapoli Approves More Moreland, Sexual Harassment-Related Contracts

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Tuesday announced it had approved hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending related to legal services for the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption as well as funds for the state Assembly to defend itself in sexual harassment lawsuits.

The comptroller’s office announced $150,000 had been approved for legal services for the firm Kirkland & Ellis to represent the state Senate in the Moreland Commission-related inquiries.

A $150,000 contract with Loeb & Loeb was also approved for the Independent Democratic Conference in proceedings related to the now shuttered anti-corruption panel.

Meanwhile, in the state Assembly, a $397,000 contract with Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman LLP was approved for outside legal services as well as a $177,000 contract for defense work in sexual harassment litigation with the firm Hogan Lovells.

A $59,000 contract with Rossein Associates was approved with the state Assembly in order to develop sexual harassment policy and to conduct investigations.

And a $15,000 contract with Whiteman Osterman & Hanna LLP was approved for outside counsel for the Assembly to work on the appeals process for Assemblyman Micah Kellner, who is fighting sanctions issued by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office.

DiNapoli Report: DEC Doing More With Less

As the Department of Environmental Conservation has had new responsibilities heaped on it, the agency has undergone a series of staff cuts and “constrained” funding over the last decade, a report from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found.

The report issued Wednesday found funding for the DEC has remained more or less flat compared to the rate of inflation while new responsibilities are being added its purview, including the Brownfield Cleanup Program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and the Waste Tire Recycling and Management Act.

Those responsibilities could grow should the Cuomo administration give the green light to high-volume hydrofracking.

Environmental advocate as well as officials at the DEC have often cited the need for more staff to potentially regulate the controversial natural gas extraction process. A long-awaited Department of Health review is expected to be released this month on the impacts of fracking on human health.

“DEC’s staff has declined while funding has barely kept pace with inflation and now is projected to decline,” DiNapoli said. “Our natural resources are major assets for the state’s economy and New Yorkers’ health and quality of life. We must continue to safeguard these assets.”

DiNapoli’s office found that spending at the DEC in 2003-04 fiscal year was $795.3 million, a budget that has grown to $1 billion a decade later.

Still, that’s a 1.7 percent increase over that decade when adjusting for inflation.

Meanwhile, the size of the DEC has decreased by more than 10 percent, from 3,256 full-time equivalents a decade ago to 2,917 full-time equivalent workers in 2013-14. The agency reached a peak of 3,779 employees in 2007-08, but a round of budget cuts and hiring freezes reduced that number.

Environmental Funding Nys 2014 by Nick Reisman

Despite Falling Short, Antonacci Backs Public Financing Statewide

Republican Bob Antonacci struggled to qualify for matching funds under the public financing system created for the state comptroller’s race this year.

But even though Antonacci fell short in total dollars raised in order to access the money, he said in a phone interview that a statewide public financing program could work.

“I have to tell you I think it will create opportunities for those who are not millionaires,” Antonacci told me. “I think will stem the tide of special interest money in politics.”

He added that a public financing program could be paired with a “complete ethics reform package” that includes term limits for statewide elected officials.

“I certainly think term limits and encouraging participation in the political process and the barrier being who can raise the most money shouldn’t be one of them,” he said.

Republicans generally are opposed to public financing, who express an unease with using taxpayer money to fund political activity.

Efforts to create a public matching system have fallen short in Albany in recent years in the face of opposition from Senate Republicans.

The public matching program for the comptroller’s race was created in the budget agreement in March to the chagrin of advocates who wanted a broader, statewide program.

As for his won campaign against Democratic incumbent Tom DiNapoli, Antonacci said his effort was challenged in part by starting relatively late in the cycle and working to comply with the recently created public financing program.

DiNapoli himself didn’t compete in the program and blasted it for coming in the middle of the election cycle.

Still, Antonacci ended the race with more than $100,000 left in cash on hand. Antonacci said today he didn’t want to “waste” the money — essentially knowing he was going to lose to DiNapoli.

“I couldn’t waste somebody’s money. We knew the writing on the wall,” he said. “If we spent that money it would have been a waste of time and money.”

Antonacci plans on using the left over funds to run for re-election as Onondaga County comptroller, undertake special projects or donate it to charity, he said.

Antonacci’s Money On The Table

From the Morning Memo:

Republican candidate for comptroller Bob Antonacci this year struggled to meet the requirements under the public financing system.

Though Antonacci did meet the threshold for matching dollars with the necessary number of donors, he did not raise enough cash to qualify for the public funding.

Qualifying for the public matching funds bedeviled Antonacci’s long shot campaign against Democratic incumbent Tom DiNapoli, who cruised to a third term last month.

(DiNapoli did not participate in the public funding program, which was created as a compromise in the state budget and derided by good-government groups and public financing advocates as being even less than half a loaf).

Nevertheless, Antonacci left a good chunk of money on the table, his campaign filing showed.

Antonacci’s filing on Monday revealed he had $102,613 in cash on hand at the end. To put it another way, that’s nearly twice as much money as the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee, Rob Astorino, had at the conclusion of his campaign.

Antonacci could have spent that money, public matching dollars or not (he admitted at the end of the campaign that qualifying for the money was not going to happen).

Instead, he spent relatively little money: $21,367 in the final days of the campaign and immediately after.

His filing on Monday showed that his biggest expense at the end of the campaign was for a mobile billboard, which cost $3,200.

DiNapoli: Despite Extra Cash, Deficit Remains

The state has extra money, but don’t think of it as a surplus, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli cautioned on Monday.

“I wouldn’t call it a surplus. It’s really more of an unexpected windfall, it’s unexpected money that comes out of the surplus,” DiNapoli said.

DiNapoli, re-elected to a third term earlier this month, told reporters at the Capitol that the money should be treated as essentially a one-shot windfall.

“It’s not the surplus in a sense that we’ve gone through the budget year and we have money that wasn’t expended or the traditional revenues have produced more than anticipated,” DiNapoli. “I think you have to look at it as a one-time opportunity and treat it as such.”

The state has at least $5 billion of extra cash following a series of massive financial settlements with major banks.

Naturally, a major fight is brewing in the coming legislative session on how to spend that money, with a major push from construction interests being seen for infrastructure investments. Indeed, the trades organizations want all of the money spent on infrastructure projects.

Outside of that money, DiNapoli’s office continues to project a deficit of under $2 billion for the 2015-16 fiscal year, with larger gaps in subsequent fiscal years. The state’s fiscal year runs from April 1 through March 31.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, before the financial settlements came in, had projected a surplus assuming that state spending stayed under a 2 percent increase from the following year.

Budget hawks are also warning that money shouldn’t be using on so-called “recurring” expenses, with more money for schools following into that bucket, a sentiment the comptroller said he agrees with.

“I think the bottom-line is the overriding principle should be do not use this non-recurring revenue for recurring expenses,” DiNapoli said. “I think that should limit the number of expenses.”

DiNapoli said he supports using the money for infrastructure projects as well as creating a trust fund in order to shore up retiree health-care costs.

“What kind of decisions can we make today that will put us in a better financial position tomorrow?” DiNapoli asked.

Cuomo, meanwhile, has hinted at proposals for the spending that could include infrastructure, helping local governments consolidate and upstate economic development.

DiNapoli Backs Commission For Legislative Pay Raise

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli would not say outright whether he believes state lawmakers deserve their first pay raise since 1999, but instead backed the formation of a commission that would review the issue.

DiNapoli, speaking to reporters at the Capitol on Monday, punted when asked about the question of a pay raise, which has been rumored to be under consideration for a special session this month.

“That’s something they’re going to have to decide,” DiNapoli said. “It’s been a long time since they’ve had one, but I’ll leave that to them to work out.”

DiNapoli is a former member of the Legislature himself, having served in the Democratic-led Assembly representing Long Island before he was selected to serve out disgraced former Comptroller Alan Hevesi’s term.

Though sympathetic to raising the question of a pay raise, DiNapoli said it makes “the most sense” to have an appointed panel to meet periodically to consider pay raises.

“I think this question as other governments have done probably would make the most sense to have a commission take a look at that question,” DiNapoli said, adding that it would remove the “horse trading” from the issue. “It probably should have been done a long time ago.”

Lawmakers last received a pay increase in 1999 when then-Gov. George Pataki agreed to increase their salaries to $79,500 along with expanding charter schools in New York City. The agreement came with a stipulation that lawmakers would not be paid when a state budget was late.

This time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo may be interested in trading a legislative pay hike in exchange for increasing the salaries of his commissioners, which is also set by law.

Legislative leaders have expressed a willingness to raise pay along with overhauling the per diem system, which has come under scrutiny following the arrests of several lawmakers for allegedly abusing it.

“I think they need to tighten up their procedures in that area as well,” DiNapoli said, though he declined to say what reform in that area he would support.

Pension Fund Posts Negative Return

The total value of the state’s pension fund fell in the second quarter following a broader under performance of the financial markets, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Wednesday announced.

The fund’s rate of return was a negative 0.52 percent, taking the pension fund’s estimated value to $178.3 billion.

At the start of the state’s fiscal year, April 1, the fund was valued at $176.8 billion and had grown to $180.7 billion.

DiNapoli blamed the fund’s poor performance on “challenges” in the various markets, including small cap stocks and central banking decisions that led to market volatility overall.

“On the heels of a robust first quarter, the second quarter presented investors with challenges,” DiNapoli said. “As always, our diversified investment allocation positions us to maximize long-term value.”

State Pension Fund Commits $50M In New Investments

The state pension fund has committed $50 million in additional investment funds that will go toward state-based companies, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli announced on Tuesday.

The investment is part of the In-State Private Equity Investment Program, which DiNapoli said has been a success with a rate of return of $293 million while also boosting growht in the local economy.

Investments being made in the companies is being overseen by Graycliff Partners.

“This $50 million commitment to Graycliff will help to keep the state pension fund strong for the more than one million retirement system members and retirees as well as promote growth in our local economies,” DiNapoli said.

Overall, the state has invested $760 million in nearly 300 state-based companies, which the comptroller’s office says has either created or retained 4,000 jobs as of September.

The September report on the equity program can be found here:

Investing in NY Report 2014 by Nick Reisman

Comptroller: Tax Collections Higher Than Estimated

A report from state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found tax collections were $610 million higher than initially estimated, while the state’s finances are buoyed by $3.5 billion in one-time financial settlements.

The report examined the state’s financial situation six months in to the fiscal year, which runs from April 1 through March 31.

“Midway through the fiscal year, New York’s cash position continues to improve,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Tax collections are outpacing projections and settlement revenue is boosting state coffers. In the short term the state’s fiscal outlook is positive.”

New York has benefited from an avalanche of settlement money, including $2.2 billion from BNP Paribas, as well as $715 million from Credit Suisse.

The report concludes that the state’s general fund ended September with a $8.1 billion balance — more than two times higher than initially projected at the start of the year.

Nevertheless, these funds are considered one-time resources and the state’s revenue position is not expected to be as good this time next year.

While the employment picture nationally and in New York has improved, trouble signs continue, including the current Wall Street dip.

“For example, volatility in the major stock-market indices may have negative implications for the financial sector, which drives a significant share of the State’s tax revenues,” the report found.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed to use the state’s surplus in part to strengthen government consolidation and shared service programs, as well as invest in infrastructure programs as well as more education spending. On the last point, Cuomo has added the stipulation that the added education spending will be targeted toward performance.

2014-15 Midyear Report by Nick Reisman

Debate in State Comptroller’s Race Set for Oct. 15 (Updated)

Time Warner Cable News and NY1 are pleased to announce that Democrat Tom DiNapoli and Republican Bob Antonacci have agreed to a live, televised statewide debate in front of an audience at Baruch College on Wednesday, Oct. 15th.

The hour-long debate will be moderated by NY1 Political Anchor Errol Louis, who will be joined by panelists Liz Benjamin, the host of “Capital Tonight” on Time Warner Cable News; Juan Manuel Benitez of NY1 Noticias; and Jimmy Vielkind, the Albany Bureau Chief of Capital NY.

The debate will be held at 7 p.m. in Baruch’s historic Mason Hall and will be seen across the state on Time Warner Cable News, NY1 and with Spanish translation on NY1 Noticias. The debate will be held with NYC Votes, the voter engagement campaign of the New York City Campaign Finance Board. The debate will be free and open to the public.

Register here.