News Column

DiNapoli touts state's financial successes

July 21, 2014

By Amanda May Metzger, The Post-Star, Glens Falls, N.Y.

July 21--FORT EDWARD -- State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, shared an optimistic fiscal outlook for New York's economy after boosts from two major credit-rating agencies last month when he spoke here Sunday.

Fitch Ratings in June upgraded the state's general obligation bond rating from "AA" to "AA+" with a stable outlook. Moody's Investors Service also upgraded the state's bond rating from Aa2 to Aa1 with a stable outlook, the best level since the 1970s. Both agencies pointed to improved fiscal management at the state level and the passage of on-time budgets for four years. The state also has a well-funded pension program, which hit an all-time high estimated value of $176.2 billion in March with an estimated 13 percent rate of return.

"Those are two outside rating agencies saying we're on the right track," DiNapoli said to a crowd of Democrats as the keynote speaker at the Washington County Democratic Committee Annual Picnic Sunday.

DiNapoli, a Democrat, took the office in 2007, when it was "marred by scandal," he said, after Democrat Alan Hevesi admitted taking $1 million from a pension-fund investor for things like campaign contributions and trips.

Republican Bob Antonacci, a certified public accountant and twice-elected Comptroller of Onondaga County, is challenging DiNapoli for his seat.

On Sunday, DiNapoli touted his office's handling of the pension fund with an investment strategy that has produced a rate of return much higher than the 7.5 percent benchmark. He said his office also has used it as an economic engine.

"We have used the state pension fund in new and creative ways to invest more money in our In-State Private Equity Program and small business lending program through New York State Small Business Development lending program," DiNapoli said.

Someone in the crowd had a bottle of Nirvana Water, and DiNapoli pointed out that the Oneida County water-bottling company received the 1,000th loan -- $3.2 million -- from the New York Business Development Corporation.

He also said he's developed a strong partnership with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office to go after illegal activity found in his office's fiscal audits.

Antonacci last week blasted DiNapoli for not launching an audit into the state's "Open for Business" TV advertising campaign sooner.

Gannett News Service in July 2013 made a Freedom of Information Law request for the details on the cost of the ads and how often and where they were aired.

More than a year had passed before the request was granted late Thursday by the Empire State Development Corp., which runs the program that touts the state's tourism and business opportunities.

DiNapoli revealed Tuesday his office already launched an audit into the campaign.

For the past four years, the state Legislature has approved $50 million a year for the marketing campaign.

"Rather than wait a full year and get dragged kicking and screaming into this controversy, I would have marched onto the second floor and demanded that the administration level with taxpayers about how much of their hard-earned money is being spent on these ads. Sadly, Tom DiNapoli didn't have the courage to do that," Antonacci said in a news release issued last week.

When asked about his opponent's comments, DiNapoli said he launched the audit before Republicans "attempted to turn it into a political football."

"It's is a new program, so you can't audit something until it's been in operation for a long time," DiNapoli said.

Critics of the ads -- one features Robert DeNiro -- say they're a veiled re-election tool funded by taxpayers for Gov. Andrew Cuomo while supporters say it's a campaign that helps attract out-of-state tourists and businesses.

Antonacci also said the results of the audit should be issued no later than Sept. 30 so voters "can make an informed decision."

DiNapoli said he didn't know when the audit findings would be complete.

"Audits typically take any number of months," DiNapoli said Sunday.

The well-attended picnic for Democrats featured several other speakers, including Aaron Woolf, who is running as the Democrat in the 21st Congressional District. He discussed his "Women for Woolf" initiative.


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Source: Post-Star (Glen Falls, NY)

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