Tom DiNapoli

DiNapoli: Travel Ban Hurts Economy

President Donald Trump’s ban on travel and refugees is hurting the state’s economy, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said in a radio interview on Thursday, pointing to the broader impact the moratorium could place on tourism.

“You’ve already seen some of those numbers go down,” he said on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom. “People are getting concerned, if I go there, will I be able to come back? So, I think there are so many negative connotations about what the president is proposing.”

Trump announced this week he had signed a revised executive order blocking travel from six predominately Muslim countries, while also banning refugee travel. Upstate New York, in particular, has seen an influx of refugees over the last decade.

State lawmakers are pushing for the budget to include funding for refugee centers that could be lost once the refugee ban is in effect.

DiNapoli, in the interview, decried what he said was rhetoric that is disparaging of immigrants.

“So much of the hyped up rhetoric that we’re disparages immigrants, it’s not new, but it’s certainly at a hyped up level since the campaign,” he said. “In New York, where would be without our immigrant communities? It’s a strength. It’s an economic strength.”

DiNapoli Urged To Back Helicopter Purchase As Safety Is Questioned

The president of the union that represents members of the State Police on Monday urged Comptroller Tom DiNapoli in a letter to approve the purchase of a $12.5 million helicopter.

The purchase of the Sikorsky S76-D, which would be used for both the State Police and to transport Gov. Andrew Cuomo around the state, was rejected by DiNapoli’s office last month.

But in a letter from the Police Benevolent Association of the New York State Troopers, President Thomas Mungeer writes that the purchase of the helicopter would help the state aircraft fleet return to “full strength.”

“The last helicopter purchase was in 2002, making even the more recently acquired aircraft in the fleet almost 15 years old,” Mungeer wrote in the letter, which was obtained by Capital Tonight. “This situation puts the safety of our members at risk and is not acceptable.”

The Cuomo administration has insisted the purchase is still underway and is answering questions raised by DiNapoli’s office over the contract.

The issue surrounding the purchase as exacerbated an already contentious relationship between Cuomo and DiNapoli.

An administration official on Monday raised pointed safety concerns with the delay in the purchase, knocking both DiNapoli and his deputy, former Assemblyman Alexander “Pete” Grannis.

“Tom DiNapoli and Pete Grannis are still politicians at heart and the fact that they are so clearly playing politics with essential public safety equipment is reprehensible,” the source said. “They better pray there are no accidents.”

In a statement, DiNapoli spokeswoman Jennifer Freeman said it was necessary for their office to conduct the needed due diligence in evaluating the purchase.

“We are evaluating a multi-million dollar helicopter purchase with taxpayer money. Our job is to evaluate whether an entity has done its due diligence, which did not happen in this case,” Freeman said. “We appreciate getting feedback from the groups affected, such as the PBA. However, we have a number of remaining questions on this procurement and are still waiting to receive written documentation and information to address our concerns. We are an independent agency charged with protecting the taxpayers, and we don’t rubber stamp contracts.”

At the same time, Freeman took note of the timeline: No new helicopters have been purchase in 14 years, while one was lost in 2012. The budget appropriation for a new helicopter was approved in 2013. The comptroller’s office received the sole-source request for the helicopter on Sept. 30.

“If there are serious safety issues,” she said, “why did the state wait so long?”

TomLetterToDiNapoliDec12.2016 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

After Challenging Year, Pension Fund Posts Gain In Q1

From the Morning Memo:

Amid a challenging market place that includes economic uncertainty here at home and overseas, the state pension fund made modest gains during the first quarter of the state fiscal year.

“It’s been a tough investment climate, no doubt about it,” Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said in an interview. “There’s a lot of volatility in the markets.”

The pension fund produced a return of 2 percent during the first three months of the state’s current fiscal year, with a value of $181 billion.

That comes after a year in which the fund grew by less than one percent — one of its worst performances since the end of the recession.

“Two percent was certainly stronger than how we ended the year,” DiNapoli said. “We’re now up to $181 billion in total value of the fund. We’re already starting to see some recovery in the markets.”

Most states have struggled in recent months with their pension fund investments amid an overheated Chinese economy as well as the fallout from the vote by Great Britain to leave the European Union’s common market.

Interest rates in the U.S., meanwhile, remain low even as jobs numbers have rebounded and the stock market volume continues to post gains.

The health of the pension fund is key, especially for local governments and taxpayers. Last year, DiNapoli announced the percentage local governments contribute to the fund would decrease — saving them money in the process.

Last year, DiNapoli announced the state would once again reduce contributions from 18.2 percent of payroll to 15.5 percent. The average rate of contribution for the police and fire retirement system declined by 2 percent — from 24.7 percent to 24.3 percent.

But that’s unlikely to happen this year, he said.

“Where I think we’re headed — again, these are not the final numbers — is probably to essentially a flat or stable rate for the coming year,” DiNapoli said. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to have that decrease three years in a row.”

A formal announcement is expected sometime around Labor Day.

Local governments have struggled in the wake of the recession with depleted rainy day funds and a cap on property tax increases, while state aid hasn’t increased.

“Our goal obviously is to maximize those returns so we can bring down that contribution rate,” DiNapoli said. “It did spike up significantly after the market collapse. We know it’s been a burden on local governments.”

The target of hitting a seven percent return for the pension fund will be difficult, but isn’t impossible, he said.

“There’s no doubt it’s a lower return environment and I think in the short run it’s going to be a challenge to meet our long term number of seven percent,” he said. “But we’re a long term investor, we have confidence in the long term ability of our allocations to meet that number over the long haul.”

Buffalo Billion Payments Are On Time This Month

It appears the state may have finally figured out the cash-flow issues that have plagued the Buffalo Billion RiverBend project. Lead contractor LPCiminelli said it received the latest round of payments, $31.5 million dollars for April’s invoice, late Monday.

Two weeks ago, the state comptroller’s office approved roughly $33 million of the lump sum $154 million requested by Empire State Development for the project. The comptroller wired the money to LPCiminelli, narrowly avoiding layoffs.

“We determined that this initial amount would hold vendors harmless, while we continued to seek information in support of the payment request,” OSC press secretary Kate Gurnett said.

The comptroller’s office said it was withholding the rest of the money because ESD had failed to provide all the necessary information mandated by the governor and the state legislature. Gurnett said OSC approved the remaining $121 million on June 17th after ESD “finally” answered the lingering questions.

The situation earlier this month was the second well-documented late payment by the state this year. In February, subcontractors temporarily laid off about 200 construction workers because they hadn’t been paid.

LPCiminelli said May’s invoice will be due around this time next month.

DiNapoli Criticizes Process That Led To Buffalo Billion Payment Delays

At the beginning of this month the New York State Comptroller’s Office approved the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York as the funding source for more than $82 million for late payments to contractors on the Buffalo Billion RiverBend project. The last second infusion of cash allowed about 140 construction workers who were temporarily laid off to return to the site.

“The money did get out the door and we certainly played our role to fulfill that. We know that economic development’s been a key priority here in Western New York both for the Governor and for the Regional Economic Development Council and for Empire State Development,” Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said during an interview in Buffalo, Friday.

But DiNapoli also said if his office had a more active oversight role in the state’s economic development programs, the delay may have been avoided in the first place. The comptroller said has office has been concerned that contracts handled through authorities and non-profits set up by the state are not getting enough direct review.

“We’d like to see more transparency and accountability so people know where the money’s coming from and where it’s going and that it gets there on time and I think that’s going to be an ongoing concern,” he said.

DiNapoli said more oversight for his office would actually make the process more efficient, not less. He said when payments are made through authorities like DASNY, they are in essence operating like shadow governments.

“The Dormitory Authority is a case of an authority that in many ways has gone way beyond its initial mission and so much of the borrowing that’s done for the state now is done through authorities, Dormitory Authority being one of them.”

State Launches $2 Billion Index for Low-Polluting Companies

dinapoli 1The state will invest $2 billion from the $184.5 billion pension fund into companies that produce low carbon emissions, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli announced today. The new investment will be weighted toward carbon-cutting businesses, and will reduce or exclude investments into high-carbon companies.

This comes on top of $1.5 billion that the state had already invested into sustainable strategies across the state.

The Comptroller initially announced the investment in Paris, where he’s participating in a panel at the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference this week.

“Low-carbon, sustainable investments are key to our future,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Our pension fund has long-supported climate aware strategies, and this expansion of our commitment offers a sensible solution that will protect the Fund’s investments.”

The announcement does not mean that the state has completely divested from companies that produce high carbon emissions. There is a bill in the legislature that would require the state to divest from companies that produce fossil fuels, but it has not gained support among both majority conferences.

DiNapoli also announced an additional $1.5 billion toward the pension fund’s Sustainable Investment Program. That brings the Fund’s total investment in sustainable business to the $5 billion mark – an all-time high.

Pension Contribution Rates And Rate Of Return To Decrease

dinapoliThe employer contribution rates for the state pension fund in the coming 2016-17 fiscal year will once again decrease, but so will the assumed rate of return for the fund overall, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli on Friday announced.

The reduced contribution rate — good news for local governments that pay into the state pension system for their public employees — was long anticipated from DiNapoli.

The assumed reduction in the overall rate of return for the fund, which was valued at the close of the 2014-15 fiscal year on March 31 at $184.5 billion, comes after weeks of volatility in both foreign and domestic markets.

The overall employee contribution rate for the common retirement system will decrease from 18.2 percent of payroll to 15.5 percent — a roughly 15 percent decrease. The average contribution rate for the police and fire retirement system will decline by 2 percent — from 24.7 percent of payroll costs to 24.3 percent. More >

Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Party May Not Be Legal

A technical glitch has emerged in the formation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Party that could open the newfound political organization to legal challenges if it seeks to operate in next year’s elections.

Last week, documents were quietly filed with the state Board of Elections to formally constitute the party, which was created in 2014 when Cuomo won just over 50,000 votes on its line – the required threshold to qualify for ballot status for the next four years.

The documents named three of the party’s top five officers, including former DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala, a Democrat and ex-Broome County executive, as interim chair, but left the positions of vice chair and treasurer blank.

Cuomo and LG Kathy Hochul – both of whom ran on the WEP line last fall – signed the documents, which is where the trouble starts.

A spokesman for the state Board of Elections confirmed that Section 6-128, Subdivision 4 of the state Election Law requires a “majority” of the candidates who ran on a party’s line agree on the rules of that party.

AG Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli also ran on the WEP line last year, but neither of their signatures appear on the documents on file with the board.

Spokespeople for both the AG and the comptroller confirmed that neither had signed off on the WEP’s rules and interim leadership, but declined to provide any additional information – like whether they had been formally asked to sign, or why they decided not to.

It would take three signatures – not two – to constitute a majority of WEP candidates. So, technically speaking, the party’s rules and structure are not legal.

This could provide fodder for anyone – say, the Republicans – seeking to challenge actions (like endorsements?) taken by the WEP in the next election cycle.

Also worth noting: Becoming a leader of a party requires that an individual change his or her registration to become a member of that party, which, presumably, Fiala et al have done or are planning to do soon.

This requirement may have served as an impediment to former NYC Council Speaker Chris Quinn taking on a leadership role with the WEP, which she spearheaded during the 2014 elections on Cuomo’s behalf.

“Christine Quinn has always been – and always will be – a Democrat,” a spokesman told Capital NY last November.

Quinn is now serving as an advisor to Cuomo, earning $1 a year.

Cuomo’s decision to create a women-specific party was a divisive move that was criticized by some female Democrats as a craven political effort to maximize support among a key voting bloc.

Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, called creation of the WEP a “mistake” that could marginalize women voters and perhaps draw votes away from the Senate Democratic candidates at a time when they were trying to re-take the majority – an effort with which Cuomo was supposed to be helping, not undermining.

It was not lost on observers that “WEP” is just one letter off from “WFP”, which stands for the Working Families Party – a liberal and labor-backed organization with which the governor is often at odds.

After much upheaval, and despite the fact that Cuomo’s Democratic primary opponent, Fordham Law Prof. Zephyr Teachout, also sought the line, the WFP endorsed Cuomo’s re-election bid last year. Had Cuomo attracted less than 50,000 votes on the WFP – due, in part, to confusion with the WEP also on the ballot – the party would have lost its ballot line and official status for four years.

That did not happen in the end, much to the relief of WFP officials and their supporters.

The WEP was ostensibly created by the governor to highlight women’s issues – particularly his 10-point Women’s Equality Act, which was opposed in its entirety by Senate Republicans due to the presence of an abortion-rights plank.

This year, Assembly Democrats decided to follow the Senate Republicans’ lead and break the act into free-standing bills, nine of which – minus the abortion piece – were passed by the Legislature without much fanfare or controversy. At least one has already been signed into law.

Cuomo to Convene Email & FOIL Policy Confab

In the wake of AG Eric Schneiderman’s announcement that he is suspending the controversial 90-day email purge policy put in place by his predecessor, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the governor’s spokeswoman announced he will “convene a meeting” with representatives of the Legislature and fellow statewide elected officials to come up with a uniform email and FOIL policy that applies to all of them.

Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa reminded everyone in a statement released early this evening that the email policy in question – for which the governor has been weathering considerable criticism – was put in place in 2007 by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer and “expanded” to include the AG’s office (held by Cuomo at the time) that same year.

“We believe the policy should honor transparency while maintaining efficiency,” DeRosa continued. “To that end, as the Attorney General and the legislature appear open to revising their policies, the Governor’s office will convene a meeting with representatives from the legislature, the Attorney General and the Comptroller to come up with one uniform email retention and FOIL policy that applies to all State officials and agencies.”

(For the record, while the AG’s office did adopt the purge policy, the state comptroller’s office did not, and, according to his office, neither storage nor slowness caused by too many emails clogging the system has never been a problem).

Hours before Schneiderman’s announcement, several members of the Legislature introduced email retention policy legislation – most of it based on the federal government’s policy, which requires emails to be preserved for at least seven years.

The Cuomo administration has suggested that if this issue is going to be broached, it should also include discussion of making the Legislature subject to FOIL, which it currently is not. The bill proposed by Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell and Sen. Liz Krueger, both Manhattan Democrats, does just that.

Another bill proposed by Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz, a Bronx Democrat, addresses issues raised by the Hillary Clinton email scandal by requiring state officials to use government email accounts – not personal accounts – for official business.

DeRosa did not set a timeline for the email/FOIL meeting. But the governor is clearly trying to get out from under an issue that has generated a lot of negative attention, thanks in part to the greater-than-usual interest in all things email-related, thanks to the revelation that Clinton used a private server based in her Westchester County home for emails when she was serving as secretary of state. Earlier this week, Clinton finally held a press conference to address the controversy, and revealed she and her team had deleted some 30,000 emails deemed “private and personal.”

Clinton said that she had used her private system out of “convenience,” and admitted that using two different phones – one for private communication, the other for business (and, in her case, national security matters) – would have been smarter. “I thought one device would be simpler; obviously, it hasn’t worked out that way,” she said.

Siena Poll: Hawkins Could Eat Into Cuomo’s Final Tally

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to hold a double-digit lead over his Republican opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, with less than two weeks to go before Election Day, according to a Siena College poll released this morning.

The poll found Cuomo leading Astorino, 54-33, with Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins receiving 9 percent of the vote.

The result is a slight dip for Cuomo from the previous month, when Siena College found the governor leading Astorino 56-27, with Hawkins at 7 percent.

With Hawkins gaining some ground in the polls, it’s possible the Green Party candidate can eat into a chunk of Cuomo’s overall total come Election Day.

“If Hawkins does that well on Election Day – something third party candidates often don’t do – then it will almost certainly make this year’s race closer than four years ago and keep Cuomo well below his total vote from 2010,” said Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg.

Cuomo received 63 percent of the vote against Republican Carl Paladino in 2010.

Hawkins is a proven vote getter for the Green Party. He received more than 50,000 votes in 2010 to give the party automatic ballot status this election.

Hawkins is hoping to tap into liberal dissatisfaction with Cuomo, and gain some of the supporters of Fordham Law School professor Zephyr Teachout, who ran a surprisingly strong primary challenge to the governor in September.

Still, the poll shows Cuomo blowing out Astorino in New York City, where he leads 72-16. He also has the support of 79 percent of self-identified liberal voters.

Upstate, Cuomo’s lead is smaller: He leads Astorino 47-38.

The race is closest in the suburban counties, where it is a virtual tie. Cuomo is actually trailing Astorino 44-46.

And the governor, who has pushed hard on his 10-point Women’s Equality Act, leads Astorino among female voters 65 percent to 25 percent, according to the poll’s crosstabs.

Cuomo has a favorability rating of 54 percent, compared to 43 percent of voters who do not have a favorable view of him – the highest unfavorable rating he’s garnered from Siena to date.

Astorino, a first-time statewide candidate, continues to show a high negative rating: 41 percent of voters have an unfavorable view of him, compared to 32 percent who view him favorably.

In the other statewide races, Democratic AG Eric Schneiderman holds a 20-point lead over his Republican challenger, John Cahill, 55-35. Schneiderman’s lead grew by 5 percentage points from last month – likely thanks to the fact that the AG is now running TV ads.

Meanwhile, in the race for state comptroller, incumbent Democrat Tom DiNapoli leads Republican Onondaga County Comptroller 58-31 – the largest gap of the three statewide races.

The poll of 748 likely voters was conducted from Oct. 16 through Oct. 20. It has a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.

SNY1014 Crosstabs by Nick Reisman