Interview with State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli: Strong & Independent

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State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli

On Wednesday, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli sat with me for an exclusive interview. The interview covered major issues confronting The Bronx, New York City and New York State.

Sal Conforto and I discussed with him his relationship to the Bronx as our great borough is experiencing a renaissance. The Comptroller stressed his close working relationship with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. He is working closely with the Bronx leadership to attract small businesses to the Bronx and to assist existing small businesses through tax incentives, loans and other small business incentives through his office. The Comptroller is known for his strong commitment to small businesses and to the working people of The Bronx and beyond.

The Comptroller said that he is very happy being Comptroller and the watchdog for the economy of New York and that he has no desire to seek another office. Perhaps we will have the good fortune to have Comptroller DiNapoli serve our state as Comptroller with distinction for more years than Arthur Levitt served. Arthur Leavitt served for twenty- three years from 1955-1978.

Prior to this interview Comptroller DiNapoli addressed the elected leaders of Bronx County, public and party. He stressed his commitment to the Bronx and commended the elected officials some of whom had served with him in the NYS Assembly.

Lewis H. Goldstein: In 2010 Andrew Cuomo did not endorse you and you have had your share of disagreements. Has his office and staff attempted to work with you at all?

Thomas P. DiNapoli: One of the key attributes of being a comptroller is being independent. And I think because of that independence including oversight roles in terms of audits, there is always a natural tension between the executive and the comptroller that is not unique to my tenure. We do have attend to the business of government and certainly it’s always been on a very professional level between the Governor and myself. You’re right, we have had our disagreements and something to be expected. We cannot be fulfilling our responsibilities if we are viewed as the Governor’s comptroller and if we were to ‘rubberstamp’ everything that agencies do then we are not doing our job. As you have seen from the press conference today, I have many strong relationships with different Bronx elected officials on issues that matter to constituents but we bring the power of our office always with the perspective that we are an independent office.

Goldstein: Do you feel that the 2015 NYS AND NYC budgets are based just right or based on too much optimism?

DiNapoli: I think in the short run, both the NYC and NYS budgets are on track. So much does depend on the economic recovery continuing. There are out-year budget gaps at the state and city level, they are smaller and manageable but what it requires from both levels is to identify solutions to those gaps.

Goldstein: Overall, how do you feel about the expansion of casinos in New York State?

DiNapoli: Overall, I did not nor our office take a position on the expansion to ban casino gaming. We did put out a report earlier this year which suggested that those who see the expansion of casino gaming as big revenue generator for the state should perhaps be more cautious. There are many issues in terms of the number of casinos coming in New York but also around the border of New York, like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. This does bring along the concern of oversaturation and what the impact would be for New York. There is also the other concern of people who suffer from compulsive gambling. Short-term this would create jobs and increase revenue for the state but long-term economic impact will be, whether or not this will displace small businesses, remains to be seen. I believe that while we have not taken a position on the expansion of casinos, we did raise appropriate red flags on the issue.

IMG_3668Goldstein: There have been several attempts to change the way the New York State pension fund is structured. What changes would you recommend to improve the current structure of the pension system?

DiNapoli: Well the first thing I want to do is not to change the defined benefit plan that we have, which of course others would like to see. The reality for the New York plan is that we are well-funded at over 92 percent and have among the highest in the country in terms of a funded ratio. There really is no reason to say that we have a crisis like other states that skip payments. Maintaining a smart management of the fund, keeping it well funded, smart investment strategy, making sure we pay our bills, thats my responsibility so that the million of men and women a part of the plan are protected. Beyond that I think we need to have a larger discussion that goes beyond the public employees for those that don’t have a defined benefit program…that don’t have retirement security. That’s a gap and we need a national discussion on. We have been meeting with labor leaders and those on the academic level that agree with that because we have an inadequate retirement security.

People are living longer but do not have enough savings and they are going to come back to the government for support. So it is in all of our best interests to figure out what other vehicles of savings we can create for those who do not have traditional savings. It probably won’t be a traditional benefit plan but it has to be better than a 401k which puts all the risk on the person who needs it.

Goldstein: The Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption has been surrounded by controversy with an investigation being opened on the commission after it was disbanded. What is your feeling on the Moreland Commission and what we are going to do moving forward?

DiNapoli: The U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is looking into this and we are going to have to wait to see what his office goes up with. We were not part of the Moreland Commission. One of the changes that did come out of the commission was public financing for the Comptroller’s office which was not fair to my office or my opponent since it was so late in the game. Here we are, into October, he still has not met the thresholds to get a match. I hope that people do not use as a reason to say that we should not have refinancing reform for public state legislature races.

Goldstein: What do you see looking forward for Tom DiNapoli and do you hope to run for a higher office at some point?

DiNapoli: My first term we were focused on cleaning up the office because of the scandals that were inherited and the impact of the financial crisis. The second term we really stepped up our audit work, rooting out corruption, and making sure the pension fund can recover from the losses of 2008 and 2009. I feel there is more work to be done and I’m hoping to continue into the next term. The issue of retiree health care costs is a growing issue that has not been fully addressed. We keep putting out reports about the lack of adequate support for our roads, bridges, and water systems because infrastructure is still a problem. As I mentioned earlier, the economy and growing jobs is key where we need take time to evaluate the success of programs that create jobs. But for me personally, I love being Comptroller. It’s a great job and a great privilege so I would be very content to continue being Comptroller.

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