‘I’ve done the job, and done it well’
Sep 23, 2018
HORNELL — Weathering major storms that included a global recession, serving as a check against corruption in government and growing the state’s pension fund are the pillars Democratic New York State Comptroller is hanging his hat on prior to November’s re-election bid.
DiNapoli was appointed comptroller in 2007, and has been successfully re-elected twice. Ask him why he should be elected to a third full term, and it boils down to a single point: “I’ve done the job, and I’ve done it well. What you see is what you get. We’ve gotten strong results.”
DiNapoli’s tenure has survived despite examples of corruption and political tumult infiltrating Albany governance, with three governors, eight attorney generals and several lieutenant governors coming and going quite literally by hook or by “crook.”
“We’ve been the steady hand. We make sure the contracts get paid, that the pension checks arrive on time and all the back-operation of state government. Given all the turbulence, it’s been positive for this office that there’s been a steady hand keeping it going in the right direction,” DiNapoli said.
In his assessment, the fiscal state of New York continues to rebound, highlighted by bond ratings improving, and a pension fund that is 98 percent funded and paying $1 billion in benefits each month.
Of course, DiNapoli acknowledges that he didn’t do it alone, crediting his staff of auditors, accountants and analysts for maintaining tight day-to-day operations.
However, DiNapoli says a number of potential threats continue to call for steady guidance. The list includes a possible Wall Street correction following a long upward trend, looming state budget gaps and uncertainty at the federal government level over healthcare, education and housing funding.
“No one has a crystal ball,” he said.
As sole fiduciary of the state’s 1.1 million member pension system, DiNapoli faces high pressure, but welcomes scrutiny of his record.
His opponent Johnathan Trichter has made sustained claims of an under-performing pension fund, but DiNapoli claims the critiques are intentionally misleading, unfairly pinning a global financial crisis on him.
“While I may have great powers and responsibilities, I was not responsible for the global financial crisis in 2008,” he said facetiously. “My opponent either doesn’t know what the office is about, or deliberately tries to confuse people.”
The comptroller pointed to the fund’s rebound, rising from $109 billion in the depths of the recession, to $209 billion today.
Accusations that he had used threats of fund divestment from companies to leverage social and political outcomes like ensuring diverse boards, environmental responsibility and fairness to all classes of New Yorkers, DiNapoli said was part of his fiduciary responsibility.
“We don’t just put our money blindly out there. When we invest in a company, we have to assess risk ... We’re not bullying. We’re shareholders. We have the right to raise issues,” he said.
The policy has seen divestment from entities related to Iran and Sudan on human rights grounds, as well as private prisons and gun manufacturers.
On the other hand, state pensions funds remain invested in fossil fuels, weighing the health of the $5 billion energy portfolio.
“We determined we would lose money if we sold those shares. We also want to have a seat at the table, to say that climate is an issue and we must support the Paris Climate Change agreement,” the comptroller detailed. It remains a long-term goal of DiNapoli to “de-carbon” the fund.
When it comes to holding local governments accountable by way of auditing their fiscal practices, DiNapoli says he’s made it a focus of his office, especially scrutinizing local school districts, which are now audited on a six-year cycle.
“In this era, where people are very concerned about how taxpayer money is spent, it’s more important than ever. At the local level, we are often the only independent review that goes on,” he noted.
DiNapoli says that his office has fought the trend of Albany partisanship, to deliver oversight and accountability.
″(Our auditors) are all civil service employees. I don’t know if they’re Democrats or Republicans, many were there before I got there, and many will be there after I’m gone, but they’re part of a professional team there to look out for the taxpayer’s interests,” he said. “We simply shine sunlight on an issue.”
The comptroller expressed pride in “restoring the integrity of the office” after his predecessor Alan Hevesi was indicted and jailed on corruption charges.
“Ethics, transparency and getting good results at being well funded is what I’m most proud of,” he said.
Additionally, DiNapoli says that he’s gone to battle with the governor on several issues to defend the integrity of his office.
“Whether it was Eliot Spitzer, David Patterson or Andrew Cuomo, there have been very clear disagreements with the executive, often relating to state budget and finance issues,” he said. “There is a natural tension between the governor and comptroller. That’s a good thing and I think we have clearly maintained our independence.”
Notably, during the last budget cycle, a disagreement over out-year budget spending saw DiNapoli and Cuomo dueling in press releases. Critical statements also came on the subjects of the StartUp NY program, Power for Jobs, the Excelsior tax credit and a variety of others.
“We call it as we see it and we don’t take political shots,” he said.
DiNapoli asserted that his experience is better suited for the job of comptroller than his Republican opponent Johnathan Trichter, who he painted as politically interested.
“Despite a short time at JP Morgan and some time working as a political operative for Democratic candidates, he’s chosen to leave the party he’s always been in to secure a nomination ... I don’t know that that shows a lot of commitment or consistency of values. A lot of what he’s said is wrong and opportunistic. I’ll hold up my record as a school board trustee, state legislator and comptroller against his experience.”
DiNapoli claimed that his motivation in seeking re-election is driven by one thing: “I want to continue moving the office and by extension, the state, in the right direction,” he concluded.