Towards A Better New York

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To promote civil rights and fight discrimination, the Funds have successfully convinced a number of Fortune 1000 companies to amend their employment policies and include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

[Comment: On New York City]

This Saturday will mark my 100th day as New York City Comptroller. It’s been an incredible ride.  I’m energized by the achievements thus far, intent on strengthening public confidence in government and appreciative of my top-flight leadership team who have brought more than just their formidable resumes, but really an unwavering commitment to getting things done.

We move each day knowing that this office should be measured not by rhetoric, but by results. And so for this
morning, let’s just put aside the political prose, and let me cut right to the chase and report to you how we’ve sharpened and used the tools of the Comptroller’s Office since January 1.

To root out waste and inefficiencies, I’ve restructured the office and elevated the audit functions as its own department. I’ve empowered it under a newly created Deputy Comptroller position, to be the most aggressive and active in recent memory.  To date, we have completed 13 audits and initiated another 14 — and, in the process, identified many millions in savings in New York City government.

Already, one of the audits has uncovered $8 million dollars in lost revenue at a City agency due to careless accounting practices. Another audit has uncovered poor procurement practices that paid out nearly $152 million through non-contracted, unwritten “handshake” agreements.

To eliminate undue influence or even the perception thereof, we’ve started in our own house and asked everyone in the Comptroller’s Office to raise the bar for all of New York City government, implementing a total, no-gift policy for all employees within the office– yes, of course, including myself.  And no, not even a cup of coffee.

To maximize pension investments, we brought on a seasoned investment professional — Larry Schloss — to serve as the Chief Investment Officer.  And, working with Trustees, we have proposed far-reaching reforms to eliminate pay-to-play, and to ensure both best practices and the highest integrity in our investment-making process.

Larry and I are certainly mindful that should the Funds underperform, the shortfalls will have to be shouldered by our taxpayers. As such, we’ve already terminated a number of investment managers due to poor performance. Their allocations were redirected to other asset classes and investment managers where the expected return on investment is higher. And, in several cases, we’ve renegotiated the management fees for more favorable terms on behalf of our pension funds.

To demand accountability to shareholders, and to ensure that corporate contributions are aligned with shareholder interests, we worked together with the Bank of America to disclose and publish its political expenditures online.  And, by doing so, the Bank of America is now helping to lead the way toward restoring public confidence in Wall Street.

To strengthen government spending accountability, we launched “My Money NYC”, a powerful online tool to provide unparalleled access to the City’s finances.  It happens to be one of the most comprehensive initiatives of its kind in the nation, and will soon allow New Yorkers to view – indeed, shed light – on every single City expenditure.  Yes, it will satiate curiosities, possibly even some of yours. But more importantly — for City government — the spotlight on our finances will create both inherent incentives for proper conduct, as well as disincentives from potential abuse.

To stop out-of-control projects, we’ve tossed out the rubber-stamp that accepts mediocrity and the status quo.  We rejected a “moneypit” contract associated with the CityTime project — the cost of which has mushroomed from an original $68 million dollar estimate to now more than $738 million dollars.

To get a better deal for taxpayers while meeting the infrastructure needs of tomorrow, we’ve sold over $3.9 billion dollars in bonds, including the first-ever competitively-bid “Build America Bond” sale. I’ve always said it’s important to competitively bid our bonds every so often to make sure that we are indeed getting the best rates.

To further save taxpayers money, we completed two refinancings which generated over $60 million in present value savings.

To promote civil rights and fight discrimination, the Funds have successfully convinced a number of Fortune 1000 companies to amend their employment policies and include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

And to ensure equal opportunities, we’ve undertaken a thorough review of City agencies’ performance under Local Law 129, specifically with regard to eliminating significant disparities in government contracting opportunities for minority- and women-owned business enterprises.

To protect hard working New Yorkers, we’ve insisted on compliance with prevailing wage laws, collected hundreds of thousands in back wages and penalty fines from municipal contractors and debarred companies who just don’t want to play by the rules.

To secure capital funds for public schools, we successfully argued for a 100% subsidy rate for Qualified School Construction Bonds.  This essentially serves as a zero-interest financing tool for the construction, repair and rehabilitation of our public schools.

And to improve the public school system itself, we’ve started by examining the process for school closures, including a detailed audit of the Department of Education’s School Progress Reports.

And finally, to examine publicly-subsidized economic development, I’ve launched a Task Force to draft a framework on a more effective and equitable process to guide such development.  Public benefit agreements have too often proven to be great tasting but less filling.

They are in need of mechanisms to ensure a fairer and more predictable process for developers, and to ensure that the promised benefits to the public and community — such as jobs, housing, parks — actually get delivered.

These are some highlights of our accomplishments since January 1.  But make no mistake: there is still a lot more work to do.  Every day, I am grateful to New Yorkers for this incredible opportunity to serve.

The Commentary was excerpted from the Keynote address Comptroller of New York City John Liu made at a Breakfast Forum hosted by Crain's New York Business and the Partnership for New York City.


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