What do you feel has been the most significant accomplishment during your tenure as Comptroller of the State of New York?
My top priority when I took office was restoring ethics and integrity to the Office of the State Comptroller. The state Common Retirement Fund has been and continues to be rated among the best funded in the nation, but it's not enough to talk about performance. We need to set the bar high for integrity. I’ve taken significant steps toward increasing transparency and ensuring ethical management of the pension fund while making sure we have the investment flexibility we need to maintain the fund's strong performance, its integrity and its autonomy. I have introduced a series of strong reforms, including mandatory ethics training for all employees, the appointment of an Inspector General and a Special Counsel for Ethics, greater disclosure of all activities of the pension fund, and the banning of paid placement agents, to name a few. These reforms also helped set a tone for transparency and accountability across the office. Even with all we’ve done, I’m still looking for ways to make New York’s pension fund even more transparent and put the scandals of the previous administration behind us for good.
You are hailed for progress around the promotion of diversity and inclusion at the Common Retirement Fund – why is this such a priority for you?
I promote diversity and inclusion because it’s the right thing to do. Growing up, I was inspired by Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement, and I think that ongoing struggle to realize our ideals of freedom and equality remains one of the great stories in American history. In today’s volatile market, we need new vision and ideas to maximize returns. New York’s tremendous diversity is one of our greatest assets to achieve those ends. I know that by hiring the best and brightest, those with the intelligence, work ethic and desire to succeed, that we can both level the playing field for all and at the same time deliver a winning formula for the fund’s bottom line. The CRF’s Emerging Manager program is an outreach program. We open the door to minority and women-owned firms and give them an opportunity to perform. Emerging managers represent a tremendous opportunity to generate new ideas and build significant, long-term gains for the fund. By leveling the playing field and making opportunities more widely available, we’re also fulfilling our obligation to our retirees.
*What will be your primary focus next year – and during another term – if New York voters return you to office?
My primary focus next year and for the foreseeable future will be to get key reforms enacted to the state budget process. State spending continues to grow faster than revenues. This guarantees the state’s fiscal problems will continue year after year. New Yorkers cannot afford this kind of unsustainable spending. We have to take immediate steps to live within our means.
My Strategy for Fiscal Reform would impose fiscal discipline and add full transparency and accountability to the budget-making process. I would require the governor and the Legislature to identify all revenues that are available for spending and require the governor to identify actions to close out-year gaps.
We need to restrict the use of one-shot revenues to pay for ongoing expenses; prohibit blanket sweeps; and end the back-door borrowing that is contributing immensely to our debt service payments. I would prohibit borrowing for operating purposes; and increase transparency in the budget process and budget documents. It is only with measures such as these that the state will once again stand on solid financial footing.
What is the most misunderstood perception of the Comptroller’s Office?
I think many people associate the Office of the State Comptroller almost entirely with the management of the State pension fund, without realizing that OSC is a large, multi-service agency largely dedicated to protecting taxpayer dollars. We administer the State’s payroll, produce financial reports, review state contracts, provide training and technical assistance to local governments, and hold unclaimed funds for their rightful owners. All of these tasks are done by a professional staff that does not get enough credit for the hard work they do to make sure the state runs smoothly.
Name one thing most New Yorkers do not know about Tom DiNapoli.
I love my job – I love being the Comptroller!
* Comptroller DiNapoli granted this interview shortly before his re-election at the November Mid terms