Vanity Fair Report Sparks Renewed Interest In OSC Audit

A Vanity Fair article about Tesla’s solar operation in Buffalo has again sparked interest in an Office of the State Comptroller audit into New York State’s high tech projects.

OSC confirmed the audit which several media outlets, including WIVB and the Times Union, have previously reported is ongoing and has been for several months.

“Because the audit is underway, we cannot provide any further details on the scope of the audit or our findings so far,” spokesperson Jennifer Freeman said.
The Comptroller’s Office did not specifically name Tesla but it would appear the review would touch several Buffalo Billion projects including the state’s $750 million investment in the RiverBend technology hub where the Tesla factory is located.
Thursday, in response to the Vanity Fair piece, Erie County Legislator and County Executive candidate Lynne Dixon asked the comptroller for a full audit of the program and plans to introduce a formal resolution. She said while the audit has been “rumored,” no details have been widely released.
“Taxpayers spent $750 million on SolarCity, helping build the plant and paying for the equipment, it was one of the largest ever commitments to a single project in the history of Western New York. We were given the promise and expectation of thousands of jobs and a generational boost to our local economy. To date we haven’t seen that, and we have seen no transparency or accountability from Tesla. They deflect, they blame and they continue to partake in a level of secrecy they don’t deserve considering the commitment from taxpayers to this project.  It’s time we start to get answers about what our money was spent on,” Dixon said.
The Republican-endorsed candidate also suggested Tesla open its doors to media, which it has only done once before and with many restrictions.

Comptroller Report: Farms Generate $5.7B For NY

A report released Thursday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found farms in New York generated $5.7 billion in revenue in New York in 2017.

The report reviewed the economic impact of 33,400 farms in the state, which employed more than 55,000 workers in the studied year.

Farms cover nearly 23 percent of New York’s total land area. Almost all, 96 percent, are family owned.

“Agriculture is an essential part of New York’s economy,” DiNapoli said. “Farms generate billions of dollars in sales, provide jobs and enhance our quality of life. But farmers face challenges including fluctuating milk prices, threats from a changing climate and disrupted trade relations. We need to build on our previous actions to make sure that agriculture can thrive in the Empire State for generations to come.”

Farms have struggled in recent years, showing a decline in both farms and acreage between 2007 and 2017. Farmers are also facing new labor regulations that will require them to pay workers overtime and allow them to collectively bargain.

Still, the number of certified organic farms have grown by 60 percent between 2012 and 2017.

New York remains a top producer in areas like dairy production, ranking third in sales nationwide in 2017. New York is second in the production of apples and maple syrup, and third in grapes and 11th in beer sales.

Comptroller Audit Finds Errors Leads To Cost Overruns At MTA

An audit released Monday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found errors in a half dozen MTA New York City Transit capital projects have led to delays and increased costs.

The audit, which reviewed six projects with a combined budget of $815.7 million, found design-related issues during construction in four of them, which led to delays and additional spending.

In one case, a project to install elevators and make a platform comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, had a design that did not raise the platform edge for passengers who use wheelchairs. The mistake led to an additional $617,000 for the project’s total cost.

The MTA has a total capital projects budget of $33.27 billion, with New York City Transit’s share at $16.74 billion.

“This audit found numerous problems in the MTA’s capital projects pipeline that led to delays and cost overruns,” DiNapoli said. “These are red flags that fall within the MTA’s power to fix. As the MTA strives to improve the system for riders and overhaul its operations, we hope it takes a close look at what we found in this report and our recommendations.”

The audit was released as problems continue to the plague the troubled New York City subway system, leading to delays for riders and increased fare costs.

Some projects were understaffed and contractors’ scheduled workers were not necessarily present.

Auditors recommended the MTA determine the root cause of design errors or omissions and create action plans to keep them from re-occurring. The report also recommended quality assessments are performed and documented. Construction managers should also document specific “lessons learned” notes on additional work orders.

Audit: Mental Health Facilities Need To Strengthen Abuse Reporting

Mental health facilities have failed to ensure parents and guardians are properly notified of abuse and neglect, an audit released Friday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found.

A 2007 law named for Jonathan Carey, who died while in the care of a state facility, required the expansion of access to records relating to abuse and neglect incidents for parents, including physical, sexual or psychological.

“Vulnerable patients are at greater risk when their parents and family members are kept in the dark,” said DiNapoli. “Jonathan’s Law can only help prevent tragedies if abuse and mistreatment in mental health facilities is properly reported and actions are taken. State officials must do more to ensure facilities are meeting requirements.”

The audit, which covered a period of April 2015 through Jan. 9, 2019, reviewed eight of the 24 mental health facilities managed by the Office of Mental Health. Four were operated by the state and four facilities were under the operation of licensed providers.

The audit found the Office of Mental Health did not implement processes that effectively monitor whether the state or privately run facilities are complying the law’s requirements.

Facilities do have established practices for notifying parents or guardians within 24 hours, but 20 percent of the incidents reviewed showed a lack of support showing that the required notification had been made.

And the facilities do not provide all records to parents or guardians when requested on a consistent basis.

DiNapoli’s office recommended the OMH add reporting actions to comply with Jonathan’s Law and have the office track efforts to meet the requirements. The audit also recommended the office provide updated guidance to their facilities to remind them of what is required under the law.

Tax Cap Will Remain At 2 Percent, DiNapoli Says

The state’s cap on property tax levy increases will remain at 2 percent for the 2020 fiscal year, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office said Thursday in an announcement.

The announcement affects local governments — counties, towns, fire districts, 44 cities and 10 villages — that have their fiscal year end Dec. 31.

The cap is tied to either the rate of inflation or 2 percent, whichever is lower.

In the early years of the tax cap, allowable property tax growth was under 2 percent given the relatively flat rate of inflation.

“The allowable levy growth will be 2 percent for the second year in a row, however, mixed economic signals may require local governments to respond to changing financial conditions,” DiNapoli said. “Local officials should remain vigilant when crafting their budgets.”

DiNapoli Report Raises Concerns Of Long-Term Budget Balance

The state’s economy is doing well and jobs continue to grow, but Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office has concerns about the long-term balance of the state budget, a report released Tuesday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found.

The blame is large part is placed on the effect of federal policies, which have led to making it harder to predict tax revenue.

The report pointed to the budget relying on $8.3 billion in temporary resources. The budget, as usual, relies heavily on revenue from the personal income tax. The current fiscal year spending plan counts 64 percent of its revenue from the tax, which is at the mercy of economic volatility. Projects from the personal income tax have varied from year to year due to federal tax law changes.

“While New York’s economy continues to expand, gains in jobs, personal income and wages are projected to slow,” DiNapoli said. “The Enacted Budget plan addresses risks such as downturns in tax receipts and federal aid, but other, more unpredictable impacts on state revenues may require more action. While rainy day funds were increased, building more robust reserves should be a top priority.”

Budget gaps in the coming years of 2020-21 will reach $3.9 billion and $.7 billion in 2022-23 before any spending or revenue actions are taken.

State-supported debt outstanding is expected to increase by $1.36 billion, but capacity under the state’s debt cap is due to declined by $107 million in the coming years.

DiNapoli: Pension Fund Valued At $210.2B

The state pension fund ended the fiscal year with a 5.23 percent return on investment, growing from $207.4 billion to $210.2 billion, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Thursday announced.

The common retirement fund weathered a roller coaster swing in the markets in December amid broader concerns of an economic slowdown in 2019.

“The Fund’s value continued to grow during its 2019 fiscal year and remains well positioned to meet its long term return expectations and provide retirement security for our members, retirees and their beneficiaries,” DiNapoli said. “It was a tumultuous year in the markets that fortunately came with more ups than downs, including a swift recovery from December’s significant correction.”

The state’s fiscal year runs from April 1 through March 31.

The final pension fund value could change once returns are fully audited, the comptroller’s office said.

Ulster County Comptroller To Depart For DiNapoli’s Office

Ulster County Comptroller Elliot Auerbach has been appointed to a deputy comptroller post overseeing local government and school accountability in state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

DiNapoli announced the appointment to the $150,000-a-year job on Thursday, which takes effect May 16.

“Having served four terms as Ulster County Comptroller and as a village mayor, Elliott has first-hand knowledge of the challenges faced by local governments,” DiNapoli said. “He has aggressively pursued fraud and waste in county operations and understands that strong fiscal controls ensure that taxpayer resources are used efficiently and effectively. He is the ideal choice to lead my efforts to hold local governments accountable, while offering them a helping hand to better serve taxpayers.”

Auerbach has served as the Ulster County comptroller since 2009 and previously served for three terms as the mayor of the village of Ellenville.

Auerbach is the latest Ulster County official to depart for a job with the state. In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo nominated Ulster County Executive Mike Hein to serve as the commissioner of the Office of Temporary Disability Assistance.

DiNapoli: Budget Picture Improves

New York’s $175.5 billion spending plan deposits the first rainy day payment of $250 million in four years, but also increases the practice of “off-budget” spending, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found in a report released on Wednesday.

The annual report assessing the state budget determined the budget will generate an additional $1 billion in revenue and helps bolster the state’s finances for health care and education.

But at the same time, the state remains vulnerable to shifts in the financial markets and the broader economy.

“New York is beginning the new fiscal year in a better position than projected,” DiNapoli said. “However, continuing concerns regarding revenue volatility, the forecast for a slowing economy and detrimental federal fiscal policies leave open questions going forward. The recent addition to the Rainy Day Fund is a good first step toward building more robust reserves before the next economic downturn.”

DiNapoli had backed using additional revenue in March to deposit into the state’s rainy day fund to guard against a recession, which some economists believe could begin as early as next year.

But the budget also expands the use of “off-budget” expenses, such as a shift of MTA-related state resources of about $547.5 million in the current year. The move, along with other measures in the budget, has the effect of limiting or bypassing current law to ensure oversight over state procurement.

Here is the full report.

DiNapoli: NYC Economy Continues To Boom

New York City’s economy continues to be a strong economic engine, according to a report released Wednesday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

The city’s employment level reached 4.55 million jobs last year, the highest level evver.

In the 10 years since the economic recession of 2008, New York City added 82,0400 jobs, more than every state in the country outside of California, Texas, Florida and New York itself.

The technology sector has also increased by 80 percent to 142,600 jobs.

The report released Wednesday comes after Amazon decided to back away from a project to bring up to 25,000 jobs to Long Island City in Queens, which would have been linked to $3 billion in tax credits and other incentives.

“New York City is experiencing its largest and longest job expansion since the end of World War II and the city has been the driving force behind the state’s employment gains,” DiNapoli said. “While job growth remains strong, there are national and global risks that could affect the pace of future growth.”

In the current expansion, there are 91,200 jobs being added each year, with business services, tourism and health care sectors making up 60 percent of the growth in the last 10 years.

Wall Street, however, remains smaller than it did by 4 percent since 2007.

Overall, the unemployment rate fell from 10.1 percent in October 2009 to 4.1 percent last year.

Immigrants make up 42 percent of the workforce and their unemployment rate is below the overall city rate.