Wednesday, June 8, 2011

News & Notes from NYS Comptroller Tom DiNapoli...

June 2, 2011

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has proposed legislation to codify his ban on the involvement of placement agents, paid intermediaries and registered lobbyists in investments with the New York State Common Retirement Fund (CRF). The CRF became the first public pension fund in the nation to ban placement agents when Comptroller DiNapoli issued his Executive Order in April 2009. His proposed legislation would make the ban part of state law.

If enacted, it would be the first time such a ban on placement agents was codified into law in the United States.

Since I took office, we’ve worked to implement reforms that will help restore integrity and trust in this office and the pension fund,” DiNapoli said. “Banning placement agents and lobbyists from involvement in investments was a big step. Now it’s time to make that ban a permanent part of New York State law.”

As long as I’m in office, I will never allow placement agents in CRF deals. But we have to eliminate any potential for abuse in the future. This bill will make sure that the Fund is protected no matter who is comptroller.”

Immediately after he took office, Comptroller DiNapoli began instituting a series of reforms to address the misdeeds of the previous administration. He has increased transparency, enhanced ethics reporting and worked with the Insurance Department to strengthen oversight of the pension fund. Among his top priorities has been to restore the public’s confidence in the integrity of the Fund’s investment decision making process and in the operations of the Retirement System.

The legislation, which would add a new Section 425 to the Retirement and Social Security Law, is sponsored by Assemblyman Peter Abbate. The bill defines a “placement agent or intermediary” as any person or entity, including a registered lobbyist, that is directly or indirectly engaged and compensated by an investment manager to promote investments to or solicit investment by the CRF, whether compensated on a flat fee, a contingent fee, or any other basis.


Supports Probe of Possible Energy Market Speculation
May 31, 2011

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli repeated his warning to New Yorkers that another gas price hike this summer will stall an “already slow” economic recovery. DiNapoli said: “There’s no question it will cause a setback.”

Speaking to Susan Arbetter on The Capitol Pressroom radio show Monday morning, DiNapoli said that government regulators should rule out improper speculation in oil commodities that could further harm the economy. New York Sen. Charles Schumer recently called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the possible manipulation of gas prices.

report released Friday by the Comptroller details the effect of price hikes on residents, government and businesses.

DiNapoli is the sole trustee of the $140 billion New York
State Common Retirement Fund. He noted that his approach to energy investing is to protect the state’s fund while also working for the greater public good. Last year, DiNapoli helped secure the resignation of Massey Energy Company Chairman Don L. Blankenship for his “callous disregard” of employee safety prior to the disaster at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine which killed 29 miners. New York’s Common Retirement Fund holds about $14 million in Massey stock.

May 27, 2011

Paying more at the pump may slow New York’s fragile economic recovery, according to a report issued today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The rising price of oil—which tripled to over $100 per barrel since hitting a $30-per-barrel low in December 2008—has driven up food, transportation and heating costs for consumers, businesses and government agencies.

“The sprouts of economic growth we’ve seen recently may be mowed down by high energy costs,” said DiNapoli. “It’s costing a lot more to fill up your tank, and price hikes for oil and gas also mean more expensive food and rising heating costs. If the current upward trend holds, it’s also going to cost more to run basic government services like the MTA. All this could put another chill on the economy just as it’s starting to thaw. If we need another reminder, here it is: we need to find alternatives to the expensive, pollution-heavy fossil fuel energy we rely on.”

DiNapoli’s report estimates that the average cost of driving a car in New York totaled $1,646 during the April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011 period, which was $288 more than during the prior twelve-month period. If current prices are maintained over the next twelve months, the cost of driving a car could increase by another $523 to $2,169. This would represent a two-year cumulative increase of $811, or 60 percent. The increase would be even higher for SUVs and light trucks.

Similarly, the
statewide average cost to heat a home by oil was $2,757 during the April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011 period, which was $492 more than the prior twelve-month period. If current prices are maintained over the next twelve months, the cost of heating a home by oil could increase by another $535 to $3,784. This would represent a two-year cumulative increase of $1,027, or 45 percent. The cost increase would be higher in colder regions of upstate New York.

DiNapoli’s report cites a New York
State Energy Research and Development Authority study that named New York the most energy-efficient state in the nation, due to a widespread public transportation system and the state’s highly-urbanized population. Despite its efficient use of power, New York remains the fifth largest consumer of energy in the nation.


New DHCR Commissioner Darryl Towns Supports Recommendations
May 26, 2011

Mitchell-Lama housing companies in New York City failed to provide disabled war veterans with priority consideration for housing as required by state law, according to an audit released by New York StateComptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli at a news conference today. DiNapoli was joined by Darryl Towns, Commissioner of New York State Homes and Community Renewal (NYSHCR).

“By law, disabled veterans are supposed to be given a preference to Mitchell-Lama housing,” DiNapoli said. “What has happened is unconscionable. These vets have made unimaginable sacrifices for our nation; they shouldn’t be penalized when they come home.

“So many New Yorkers are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. NYSHCR has to make and enforce immediate changes to ensure these men and women – and their families – aren’t turned away from the housing that they deserve and the law says they should have. Commissioner Towns has only been on the job a short while, but he’s already stepping up to implement our recommendations and protect veterans’ rights.”

Commissioner Towns said: “NYS Homes and Community Renewal is dedicated to increasing transparency and accountability in our programs and procedures. The audit released today indicated that practices that occurred in this agency under previous administrations did not adequately relay information about housing preferences to some disabled veterans on housing waiting lists. Actions that our administration has already
initiated, and steps that we have since developed with the Comptroller’s office, will fix this problem.”

According to the law sponsored by Towns, a former assemblyman, housing companies must provide disabled veterans with a preference in admission to Mitchell-Lama housing developments. In advance of that law’s enactment, NYSHCR issued a memorandum in 2007 instructing housing companies on how they should implement the law. Since then, NYSHCR has required housing companies to revise their tenant selection procedures, marketing advertisements, outreach letters, and apartment applications to give disabled veterans, and their families, priority consideration for available housing.

In addition, the housing companies were to notify existing waiting list applicants of this new priority.

The audit covered the period November 2007 to September 2010. The law was subsequently expanded to include all wartime veterans and their spouses.

Auditors examined 18 housing facilities in the New York City area. Among the findings:

· Of eight developments required to have a tenant selection plan, three had not updated their plans to include a veteran preference.
· Of six that had placed advertisements for vacancies, five did not mention the veteran preference, even though NYSHCR approved the ads.
· Eight of the 17 developments that had open waiting lists had not updated their applications to include the veteran preference.
· NYSHCR reviewed tenant selection plans and prepared reports on 14 of the developments. These reports failed to mention deficiencies at 13 of those developments that DiNapoli’s auditors later discovered.

DiNapoli recommended that NYSHCR

· Train Housing Management Representatives to properly review housing company compliance with applicable laws and division guidance; and
· Increase monitoring of housing company compliance with applicable laws and division guidance.

DHCR generally agreed with DiNapoli’s findings and indicated they would take corrective action.

The full audit can be read here:

Currently, there are 175 DHCR-supervised Mitchell-Lama developments in New York
State, with approximately 73,000 units. There are approximately 695,000 wartime veterans who are residents of New York State, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

May 26, 2011

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) today released a video featuring New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli expressing his strong support for legislation to legalize same-sex marriage.

Common decency, human dignity and basic equality are still in short supply in New York,”

DiNapoli said. “Until the relationships of gay men and lesbians are respected and recognized by New York State, we cannot call New York a true democracy. Gay couples should not have to jump through legal hoops just to protect their loved ones and their property. New York should legalize same-sex marriage now.”

We’re very grateful to Comptroller DiNapoli for joining the mainstream majority of New Yorkers who endorse marriage equality,” said HRC’s Senior Strategist for New York, Brian Ellner. “Now is the time to get this done and let all loving and committed couples marry the person that they love."

DiNapoli is a long time supporter of marriage equality and has repeatedly demonstrated his support since becoming comptroller in 2007. The New York State Common Retirement System recognized same-sex marriages conducted in Canada under the principle of comity, a legal doctrine that has been followed by New York State for many years. In September 2007, DiNapoli directed the Retirement System to recognize same-sex marriages conducted in any jurisdiction where they are legal.

As Comptroller, DiNapoli is sole trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund. He has consistently advocated for corporate recognition of same-sex partner rights in the work place and protection from corporate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender. In addition, DiNapoli created a section of his Your Money New York Web site that provides lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) New Yorkers with essential resources to help achieve financial stability. The section offers access to reliable information on legal rights, on domestic partnerships and programs of interest to the LGBT community, and on other resources that can support individuals through tough economic situations.

The Human Rights Campaign represents a force of more than one million members and supporters nationwide. As the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, HRC envisions an America where LGBT people are ensured of their basic equal rights, and can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community. The DiNapoli video is part of an on-going series featuring prominent Americans promoting marriage-equality.


Standoff on Poor Ecological Record Bad for Business
May 25, 2011

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and a coalition of investors today released a letter to oil giant Chevron urging the company to settle its 20-year legal battle with indigenous populations in the Amazon rainforest. The long-running court case alleges that Texaco, which merged with Chevron 10 years ago, destroyed huge tracts of the rainforest by dumping billions of gallons of oil waste products over several decades. Citing the “grave reputational damage” Chevron has suffered due to the lawsuit, DiNapoli and other investors called on the company to promptly negotiate a reasonable settlement to prevent further shareholder damage.

“It’s time for Chevron to face reality,” said DiNapoli, trustee of the $140.6 billion New York
StateCommon Retirement Fund (Fund), which owns 7.5 million Chevron shares worth an estimated $780 million. “The effects of this horrific, uncontrolled pollution of the Amazon rainforest are still being felt today. Investors don’t derive any benefit from this never-ending courtroom drama.

“The entire case is looming like a hammer over shareholders’ heads. Chevron should start fresh with a new approach that embraces environmental responsibility and risk management as part of its corporate culture. More legal proceedings will only delay the inevitable.”

For nearly 25 years, beginning in 1964, Texaco and its joint venture partner Petroecuador dumped nearly 16 billion gallons of oil waste products into the Amazon rainforest. The two companies also spilled nearly 17 million gallons of oil from their trans-Ecuadorian pipeline operation between 1971 and 1991 —50 percent more oil than was spilled by the Exxon Valdez crash.

In a letter sent in November 2008, DiNapoli called on Chevron’s board of directors to come to an equitable settlement in order to avoid substantial penalties in an Ecuadorian court. Chevron refused to negotiate, and in February, 2011 the Ecuadorian Provincial Court awarded plaintiffs nearly $18 billion in compensatory and punitive damages. The Ecuadorian court judgment is the second-largest of its kind, topped only by BP’s $20 billion fund established to settle claims stemming from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. DiNapoli is co-lead plaintiff in an
ongoing class action lawsuit filed against BP last year.

In an effort to improve Chevron’s environmental policies, DiNapoli has co-sponsored a proposal calling for the appointment an independent board director with a high level of environmental expertise. Shareholders are expected to vote on the resolution at Chevron’s annual meeting today (May 25).