Editorial: Thomas DiNapoli for comptroller

The Editorial Board

Buffalo News

Oct 26, 2018

State comptroller is an elected office, but it’s no popularity contest. The comptroller monitors the state’s finances and is the chief fiscal officer, overseeing audits of state and local agencies and authorities.

Thomas DiNapoli has held the job for 10 years, and is running for a third full term. He was a popular Assemblyman from Long Island when his fellow legislators picked him to succeed Alan Hevesi in 2007, after Hevesi was forced to resign. DiNapoli has kept New York’s fiscal house in order and deserves to remain on the job.

DiNapoli is a Democrat who has made both friends and foes in both parties. The comptroller was pressed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to divest all fossil fuel stocks from the state’s pension fund. DiNapoli refused, saying he respected environmental concerns about climate change, but did not want to lose the state’s seat at the table in fossil-fuel company board rooms.

One of DiNapoli’s duties is paying state employees. Earlier this year he stripped away thousands of dollars in stipends that five state senators — including Patrick Gallivan of Elma — had been receiving for committee leadership positions that they did not hold. The stipends, known as “lulus,” were being paid to the five senators as committee chairs, when in fact they served as vice chairs of those committees, an unpaid designation.

The comptroller is the sole trustee for the pension fund. Thanks in part to the roaring stock market, the plan finished the last fiscal year with a gain of 11.35 percent. DiNapoli’s office says the plan is 98 percent funded, making it one of the country’s best-funded state plans.

The Republican challenger, Jonathan Trichter, is practically a single-issue candidate, with a laser focus on the pension fund. Trichter, a former public finance banker at J.P. Morgan, says the fund pays too much in fees and that DiNapoli’s forecast of the fund’s performance is too rosy. If DiNapoli prevails, he might want to hire Trichter to help oversee the fund, sort of the Abraham Lincoln “team of rivals” approach. But we won’t hold our breath.

As remedies for some of the corruption infecting Albany, DiNapoli has urged the legislature to pass a bill restoring his office’s oversight for certain state contracts, as well as one creating a “database of deals.” The Republican-controlled Senate passed them, but the Democratic-majority Assembly bottled up both. The bills deserve to become law, giving DiNapoli — or his successor — a greater role in stopping dirty dealing in state government.