NYS Comptroller DiNapoli visits Yates County

John Christensen
New York Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (center) talks with Yates County Democratic Chair Carolyn Schaeffer and Demcratic Commissioner Robert Brechko

New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli visited Yates County Sunday, Aug. 3 on his reelection campaign trail. Speaking to the Yates County Democratic Committee and the public on the front porch of the Anthony Road Wine Company in Torrey, DiNapoli assured the mostly retirement age listeners of his efforts to restore and remake the state pension fund. DiNapoli said he and his staff have worked to correct more than $20 million worth of mismanagement by his predecessor, Alan G. Hevesi, who was forced to resign in 2006 and was convicted of corruption afterward.

DiNapoli, who is running for re-election in November 2014, was listed as the eighth most powerful administrator in Albany last year by City and State newspaper. As New York’s chief fiscal officer, he manages the state’s pension fund, which is financed through contributions from public employers and employees and from investment earnings. His other responsibilities include monitoring the state and local retirement systems, and auditing local governments and state agencies.

On top of this, the pension fund lost 26 percent of its value in the financial crisis of 2008. DiNapoli says his job has been to restore the reputation and standing of that fund and his office. Now restored beyond that loss and standing at a historic high of $176 billion, New York’s pension fund is one of the largest in the country.

DiNapoli says the pension fund paid out more than $9 billion last year in pensions, which average at just over $20,000. His office has calculated that 80 percent of that money remains and is spent within the state. The fund invests in 270 New York companies, with Rochester and the Finger Lakes regions getting most of the activity recently, averaging a 20 percent return on that investment in the last five years. That investment in the state has encourage job growth, he says, citing the 360,000 jobs lost in the recession that have rebounded to over 500,000 jobs gained since.

The bond rating of New York has been rated at the top across the board by all firms for three reasons, says DiNapoli: the improvement in New York’s economy, the strength of New York’s budget position, and the 90 percent funded state pension fund.

DiNapoli says that with retirees now living to 90 and beyond, “With more and longer paid pensions, we’ve got to do something better for people than a 401K.”

Speaking of the Comptroller’s role as auditor of the state and municipalities, DiNapoli believes good government requires checks and balances to make sure that taxpayer money is well spent. “We want to keep the Comptroller’s Office a positive element in the progress of New York. We want to give local officials the tools they need to do a good job and manage their affairs. We identify the municipalities that are in trouble, but we’ve never had one municipal bankruptcy in New York,” he added with some pride.

Agreeing with a comment from Yates County Legislator Mark Morris, DiNapoli admitted that the current rate of local tax increases is unsustainable, saying, “New York has never found the right way to fund schools.”

With thanks to the people and Anthony Road’s John and Anne Martini, DiNapoli remained to speak with people on their individual concerns. Yates County Democratic Committee chairwoman Carolyn Schaeffer said, “It’s not often that Yates County voters have an opportunity to meet and talk with our elected state officials in an informal setting.”

Monday, Morris told fellow legislators that he had received a call from one of the comptroller’s staff in reference to a conversation he had with DiNapoli about the county’s financial burden for the local share of flood damage repairs. While FEMA funds are likely to pay for 75 percent of the costs, local governments will be responsible for a large portion of the remaining 25 percent.