New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli offered an optimistic take on the state’s fiscal health, countered challenges to his office’s oversight power and emphasized the importance of maintaining the public’s trust in a discussion with City & State last week.
DiNapoli sat down with City & State Editor Morgan Pehme for an interview in midtown Manhattan at a July 19 Newsmakers Breakfast Series event, cohosted by the accounting and financial-professionals member organization ACCA USA.
At the event DiNapoli defended the importance of his office’s oversight powers in the wake of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s usurpation earlier this year of the comptroller’s authority to preaudit some state contracts. DiNapoli said that the changes to the review process “made no sense” because they rendered it more readily subject to abuse, as there would be fewer eyes vetting the contracts in question.
He also disputed the idea that preauditing only adds to government bureaucracy. “I think that the argument that the comptroller’s review slows down the process is really not based on the track record of the office,” DiNapoli said, noting that in many cases the review of contracts takes two weeks, and sometimes a matter of days.
DiNapoli added that the comptroller’s staff frequently works with state agencies to resolve potential areas of concern in a contract instead of blocking it completely. Without preauditing authority, he said, his office can only identify a problem after the fact.
The comptroller also weighed in on a new report co-written by former Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch and former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker, saying he agreed with those findings projecting significant financial problems for states that did not adjust their spending.
It’s no surprise that states continue to struggle with the uncertain status of their federal funding and the ballooning costs of funding healthcare and other benefits, he said. But he also noted that New York has fared the best of the six states studied in the report.
“The Ravitch report pointed out that we’re going to start to see a leveling off of the pension hit that we’ve had over past few years, and [it] pointed out that New York is in the best shape,” DiNapoli said. “We were the only one of the states studied that had a fully funded state pension plan.”
Reflecting on the fact that his immediate predecessor, Alan Hevesi, is now in prison for abusing his position, DiNapoli stressed the need to earn the public’s trust.
“It is a bit sobering, the notion—especially when you’re in a public office, you reflect on the fact that the person who was there before you is sitting in a jail cell,” DiNapoli said. “It’s a stark reminder of how fragile notions of trust and perception are, and how important it is to safeguard them.”
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