Editorial endorsement: Thomas DiNapoli for NYS Comptroller

The Editorial Board

The Post-Standard

Oct 30, 2018

New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a Democrat, is seeking his third four-year term. The comptroller is the independent auditor of state and local governments, and sole trustee of the $207 billion state pension fund.

DiNapoli has managed both jobs well. He earns our endorsement over three challengers - Republican Jonathan Trichter, Green Party candidate Mark Dunlea and Libertarian Cruger Gallaudet.

DiNapoli touts his office's work in saving taxpayer money and fighting corruption in partnership with the New York Attorney General. He claims a hand in 190 arrests. His office's audits have identified billions in waste and potential cost savings for local governments, state agencies, public authorities and state contracts.

So why didn't DiNapoli spot the pay-to-play shenanigans involving SUNY Poly and developers in Buffalo and Syracuse? The comptroller blames the Legislature's decision to yank his power to pre-approve contracts let by SUNY. The comptroller has been pushing a bill to restore that oversight, which we support.

Trichter, DiNapoli's main rival, doesn't buy that explanation. Trichter, a Wall Street investment banker, says the comptroller should have audited the corrupt payments after the fact. DiNapoli disputes that, saying he could have pointed out where taxpayer money was wasted but could not have gotten it back.

DiNapoli was appointed comptroller in 2007 after a corruption scandal engulfed his predecessor. When DiNapoli ran for his first full term in 2010, the state was reeling from the financial crisis and the pension fund had lost a quarter of its value. It bounced back the next year, and has been up and down since then. For the past two years, the fund's investments have earned a rate of return of over 11 percent.

The pension fund's liabilities were 98 percent funded in fiscal year 2018, according to the Comptroller's Office. The pension contributions charged to local governments - a big driver of local property taxes -- has gone down six years running, DiNapoli said.

Trichter also criticizes DiNapoli's management of the pension fund, saying its investments have underperformed their targets. DiNapoli acknowledges that the fund's assumed rate of return is too high, and is likely to be reduced again.

Trichter also slams DiNapoli for paying billions in fees to hedge fund managers; he favors investing in low-cost index funds instead.

DiNapoli rejects Dunlea's strategy of divesting from fossil fuel companies to attack climate change. He believes he can do more to force the issue through shareholder activism and investments in an index fund that emphasizes environmental sustainability.

Under DiNapoli, the Comptroller's Office also does the routine things well. Because the comptroller was paying attention when the Syracuse Chiefs baseball team was sold to a group of investors, thousands of community baseball shareholders were able to claim a share of the $18 million payday when the New York Mets bought the team. They walked away with more than $1,000 per share, rather than $19 per share.

The affable DiNapoli says he prefers not to be confrontational with his fellow office-holders because he wants to preserve the comptroller's credibility. After more than 10 years in the job, he can afford to spend down some of that goodwill by taking a more aggressive posture against corruption. We think voters should give DiNapoli another four years to test his limits.