DiNapoli: May Tax Revenues Higher Than Projected

The state took in $3.9 billion more in tax revenue than initially estimated last month, while collections overall this fiscal year are $142.3 million more than initially projected, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found in a report issue on Friday.

The extra cash was attributed to “robust” personal income tax collections.

At the same time, the state has collected more than $1 billion in unanticipated settlement money, the report found.

“Personal income tax collections were robust through May and New York’s finances remain solid two months into the new fiscal year,” DiNapoli said. “New York has also collected more than $1.5 billion in settlement dollars that are not yet appropriated. These funds should be used to fix New York’s crumbling infrastructure or for other non-recurring purposes and not to support ongoing expenses.”

May 2015 by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli Writes To Oil Companies On Transportation Safety

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has written letters to more than a dozen energy and transportation companies seeking information on what safety measures they are taking when it comes to shipping petroleum by train.

“Rail lines carry petroleum crude oil through communities large and small, across important agricultural lands and other vulnerable natural resources,” DiNapoli said in a statement on Monday. “Recent rail accidents resulting in catastrophic losses from oil spills pose serious risks for the public, the environment, and the companies involved. We need to know what companies are doing to safeguard against future mishaps which can lead to serious legal liabilities for the companies. As trustee of the state pension fund, I am concerned that future liability claims may harm the interests of the retirement system’s members, retirees and beneficiaries.”

Among the companies DiNapoli wrote to include top oil companies Exxon Mobil Corp. and Hess Corp. as well as CSX Corp., the rail firm.

All together, DiNapoli wrote to 14 companies seeking an assessment on whether the recent derailments of oil-transporting trains have led to an elevated financial risk and asks them to describe the point in the transportation prcoess in which the companies take ownership of the crude oil being shipped.

DiNapoli is asking for details on their polices that ensure oil-carrying cars are safely maintained and inspected as well provisions they have made for liability and loss for accidents and injuries.

The letters come during a period of heightened awareness over oil train safety following the 2013 derailment of a crude-oil train in Quebec that killed 47.

Oil Transport Letters by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli: In-Depth Inspections On Canal System Needed

The state Canal Corp. has not conducted in-depth inspections needed for structures along the 524-mile system of waterways throughout the state, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found in an audit released on Tuesday.

Routine operational checks do occur along the Canal Corp’s structures, but the audit found 38 percent of the system’s critical structures, or 792 in total, have not been inspected within the last five years. Of those, 163 structures have never had an in-depth, above-water inspections as required.

The audit also determine 430 high and intermediate importance structures have not had an inspection within the last two years.

For the 1,068 structures in need of below-water inspections, 832 have not received one in the last five years, the audit found.

“There are significant canal structures that have not been inspected in many years – and some not at all, possibly elevating risks to the canal system, canal users and those who live by it,” DiNapoli said. “Because the canal system depends on aging hydraulic structures and includes many other structures that are exposed to the elements, regular inspections are essential to ensure safety. Canal officials should immediately seek all available funding for infrastructure repair, make sure all inspections are getting done and the system’s greatest repair needs are being met. It is encouraging that in response to the audit, canal officials largely concur with our recommendations.”

The Canal Corp. is a subsidiary of the state Thruway Authority that was created in order to operate and maintain the canal system. The canal system itself, once a major way of trafficking goods through the state’s ports, has since become more of an attraction for recreational boaters.

State law requires in-depth inspections of structures along the system over a two-year cycle.

The audit recommended a series of fixes for the Canal Corp’s inspection routine, including entering into a formal agreement with the Department of Transportation to handle inspections for all state-owned canal bridges.

At the same time, the Thruway Authority is being instructed to develop a long-term financial plan that’s aimed at improving the overall infrastructure along the canal system.

Updated: Canal spokesman Shane Mahar responded to the audit in a statement.

“The continued safe operation of New York’s Canal system after nearly two centuries is the best indication of the Canal Corporation’s successful inspection and maintenance programs, and we will be working closely with the Thruway Authority to further enhance the way we manage and conduct inspections and to ensure that all available resources are used to maintain our canals,” he said.

14s45 by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli: Pension Fund Hits $183.5B

The state’s pension fund has hit a record estimated value of $183.5 billion at the end of the state’s fiscal year in March, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Friday announced.

The fiscal year runs from April 1 through March 31.

“The Fund performed well over the past year despite the challenges in the market,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “We achieved a solid return on investments in the midst of global volatility thanks to our talented investment staff and our diversified asset allocation.”

New York maintains the third-largest public pension fund in the nation with one million state and local government employees, retirees and beneficiaries.

The pension fund’s long-term rate of rate is expected to be at 7.5 percent, DiNapoli’s office said.

DiNapoli Report: Tax Exemptions Up, Job Gains Down At IDAs

Tax exemptions doled out by Industrial Development Agencies jumped $105 million in 2013, but estimated job increases were down by 23,000 from the previous year, a report from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Monday found.

“Although the amount of tax breaks IDAs provided to private companies noticeably increased, job gains did not keep pace,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “IDAs can be an important catalyst for economic development in our state, but I urge local officials to improve their scrutiny over projects so that taxpayers know if their community is receiving promised jobs and economic benefits.”

Overall, IDAs in New York provided $660 million in net tax exemptions and reported a total of 644,080 full-time jobs created through IDA projects — a median cost of about $2,095 per job gained, the report found.

And despite the weaker growth in jobs, the 109 active IDAs in the state gave away $1.38 billion in total total exemptions in 2013, which were partially offset by $723 million worht of payments-in-lieu-of-taxes.

Overall, there are 4,709 IDA-backed projects in 2013 that are valued at $76.8 billion, a 4.8 percent increase over the previous year.

The highest number of jobs created in 2013 was on Long Island: 851 total.

Ida Performance by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli Pushes Aetna On Political Disclosure

Insurance giant Aetna Inc. is the latest company to fall under scrutiny from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli for not disclosing its political giving.

DiNapoli on Thursday announced he had issued a shareholder request that would lever the state’s pension fund investment in the company to disclose political giving by Aetna.

The state pension fund holds 1.2 million shares of Aenta, a $135.6 million value, the comptroller’s office said.

“In the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, investors and the public are too often in the dark on corporate political spending,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “We need to know whether Aetna is using our investment in ways that benefit long-term value or if it is putting the company’s reputation and its bottom line at risk. Aetna should join the growing ranks of major corporations that have chosen to pull back the curtain on their political spending.”

Along with Aetna, DiNapolis also seeking disclosure through fund leverage with four other companies the state fund is invested in: NextEra Energy Inc., Raytheon Company, The Travelers Companies Inc. and Western Union.

DiNapoli over the years has used the pension fund as leverage to gain disclosure from more than two dozen companies.

DiNapoli: ‘No Tangible Results’ From ESDC Advertising

The state’s $211 million advertising campaign to promote economic development programs and attract businesses to the state has not produced any “tangible results” in terms of generating new jobs and business for the state, an audit from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found.

The long-awaited audit, released on Monday, critiqued the advertising campaign from Empire State Development Corp., which has had a near ubiquitous presence on cable television over the last several years.

Critics of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration had seized on the campaign — which aired both here in New York and in other states — as a back-door way of promoting the governor, though Cuomo himself by law cannot appear in the state-founded ads.

The advertising campaign has not shown any ability to boost job growth in the state or attract new businesses.

ESDC itself has insisted to the comptroller’s office that the program shouldn’t be measured against goals set for the various ecnoomic development programs, while the advertising was not intended to “directly produce positive economic benefits.’

Still, DiNapoli’s office found the efforts measure the effectiveness of the program are not strong enough given the cost of the campaign.

“When government spends hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to send a message that New York is a place to visit and open for business, it should have clear objectives and show the public actual results,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “ESDC’s attempts to measure the results of this advertising campaign were weak at best, leaving real questions about whether the results justify the cost.”

The impact of the economic development advertising was singled out for concern: ESDC had received more than 18,000 applications for state-backed support, but only 10 percent of those businesses that applied were actually eligible.

Overall, auditors pegged the amount of advertising money spent for each promised job to be created at $25,000.

Updated: ESD responds.

“It’s disappointing that the Comptroller’s Office, which spent close to a year on this audit, has chosen to ignore every metric put into place to measure the effectiveness and impact of the multiple advertising campaigns run by ESD. The facts, as confirmed by ongoing independent quantitative research, show our efforts have made great strides in improving perceptions of New York State, creating greater awareness of our economic development programs, increasing the perception that New York is a good or excellent place to do business by 122 percent among executives from out of state, as well as attracting more tourists to spend their vacations here. Despite these glaring omissions, the Comptroller’s primary finding was that ESD has effectively managed this contract. We agree.”

14s10.pdf by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli Finds Some Faults With ‘Timely’ Budget

A report on the approved 2015-16 state budget issue on Tuesday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli raise concerns with the amount of new debt being taken on by public authorities and the use of “lump-sum appropriations.”

At the same time, DiNapoli’s report criticized the budget process for introducing changes to the state’s education policy just hours before state lawmakers approved the budget bills.

The report refers to a “timely” budget or one that was approved “essentially on time” that reflects a significant improvement in the state’s fiscal picture since the end of the economic recession.

Still, the report finds trouble spots with $7.4 billion in new state-backed borrowing. That’s a 6.4 percent increase over last year and a 40 percent hike from what Gov. Andrew Cuomo intitally proposed in his spending plan in January.

The debt is being taken on by public authorities, quasi-public entities that can borrow outside of the normal bonding process.

“All the new debt would be issued on behalf of the State by its public authorities,” the report states. “Such “backdoor borrowing” circumvents the State Constitution’s requirement that State debt be approved by voters, and public authority debt is subject to fewer controls regarding issuance, structure and retirement than voter-approved State General Obligation bonds.”

The report is critical of the decision to not further shrink the state’s debt burden by using the extra cash from the windfall settlement money, the bulk of which is going to competitive economic development projects and the state Thruway Authority, as well as the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project.

“Given the State’s limited resources, shrinking statutory debt capacity and unmet capital needs, it is critical that New York prioritize its use of debt and capital resources, including the resources deposited in the DIIF and the other settlement resources, to ensure that they are used as effectively as possible,” the report found.

And DiNapoli notes that state lawmakers had little time to consider changes to the state’s education policy — which included measures aimed at new teacher evaluation criteria, changes to teacher tenure and plans to close schools deemed to be struggling or failing.

The broad framework of what was approved was largely what Cuomo had proposed in January. Still, the negotiations on education went right up to the end of the budget process, with lawmakers voting on the measures the same day they were committed to paper.

“While this year’s budget was adopted essentially on time, major policy changes in education and other areas were introduced only hours before legislative action, leaving little time for the public and its elected representatives to consider the implications of important new laws,” the report states. “Future budget negotiations should include adequate time for review and consideration by lawmakers and interested New Yorkers.”

The budget was approved during the early hours of April 1, the first day of the new fiscal year.

DiNapoli’s report finds total spending — including federal pass-through aid as well as money to enact the Affordable Care Act — in the budget is $150.3 billion, a 5.1 percent increase over last year.

2015-16_enacted_budget.pdf by Nick Reisman

County IDAs Not Verifying Job Creation Goals, DiNapoli Says

County-level industrial development agencies are not verifying job creation goals with business that receive tax breaks, a package of audits from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found.

“These audits highlighted what is both right and wrong with IDAs in our state,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Too many communities are left with unanswered questions about the effectiveness of providing costly tax breaks to private companies. IDAs owe it to taxpayers to appropriately track whether companies are delivering on their promises and take back benefits if they are not. My office will continue to scrutinize the operations of these entities so that residents can better determine if their local IDA is fulfilling its mission.”

The audits considered IDAs in Cattaraugus County, Orleans County, Oswego County, Schenectady County and Schuyler County.

In several instances, the auditors found officials at the IDAs were either not holding businesses accountable through recouping tax breaks such as abatemements.

In Oswego County, for instance, auditors found no formal process for comparing current and estimated job creation during the time between when the application was submitted and jobs were actually created and retained.

In Schenectady County, 10 projects aided by the IDA found only one business met its goal of job creation, while five others failed to reach their targeted goal. At the same time, auditors there were not able to determine the economic impact of four other projects due to a lack of documentation.

Cattaraugus County’s IDA did not verify investment and job creation data provided by a business when it applied for financial assistance.

As such, DiNapoli issuing a series of general recommendations for the IDAs, including a review of annual job creation reports, ensuring all project agreements have a recapture close to recoup some of the incentives provided to businesses and establish criteria for project approval and monitoring.

DiNapoli Versus Cuomo Administration, Yet Again

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office this week once again found itself in a dispute with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration over the contents of a critical audit.

This time, it was a report released by the comptroller’s office that drew on more than 70 audits of the state’s handling of the Medicaid program.

The Department of Health moved to swiftly rebut the concerns raised by the report, which pointed to hundreds of millions of dollars in improper payments, along with missed revenue opportunities.

In a lengthy statement, the DOH pointed to the Cuomo-led effort to redesign the state’s costly Medicaid program, which has resulted in a flattening of spending.

At the same time, the DOH noted that many of the issues raised by the report date back several years and have been corrected.

“In the few instances where funds have not been recouped, DOH will recoup or collect them through its strong enforcement effort,” the department said in a statement. “DOH and OMIG are committed to recouping or collecting all overpayments identified in any OSC audit.”

In response, DiNapoli’s communications director said the reaction from the DOH misses the point of the report.

“It is an expensive program, and our auditors have found problems,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Freeman. “Instead of being so defensive, in the interest of taxpayers, the department should consider our recommendations.”

This isn’t the first time DiNapoli’s office has debated the contents of a review of administration policy and spending with the Cuomo administration.

DiNapoli and Cuomo have sparred over the finer points of the state budget as well as the moving of funds within the spending plan after approval.

Two years ago, the comptroller sparred with Cuomo’s budget office over the borrowing in the state budget. That, too, resulted in a back-and-forth with the administration and DiNapoli.

Later, the Department of Financial Services wound up auditing DiNapoli’s office as well, issuing a critical report of the comptroller’s computer system.

Cuomo declined to endorse DiNapoli in 2010; he did endorse his re-election in 2014.