2010-04-28 / Political Page

Let Comptroller, Not Public Advocate, Succeed Mayor In Emergencies

City Comptroller John Liu has presented several New York City Charter changes to the revision committee presently sitting. The most interesting of them calls for making the comptroller the temporary successor to the mayor if he or she could no longer carry out their duties.

Presently, the Public Advocate is designated as successor to the mayor.

But in a statement to the Charter Commission, Liu declared: “In an effort to preserve operational continuity in our city agencies, the Commission should consider amending the Charter to identify the city comptroller as the public official who would temporarily assume the duties of the mayor, if he or she could no longer carry out the responsibilities of the office.

“Having the city’s independently-elected chief financial officer step in to assume the duties of the mayor for the brief period until the special election is the best option to ensure that vital services are not disrupted during what surely would be a time of tumultuous transition.”

“The comptroller’s office has the ability and expertise to set their projections, and having an independently elected official, such as the city’s chief financial officer, assume this role would streamline the budget process and eliminate wasteful spending.” “The comptroller’s office has the ability and expertise to set their projections, and having an independently elected official, such as the city’s chief financial officer, assume this role would streamline the budget process and eliminate wasteful spending.” Three other recommendations which involve mayoral duties were also made by Liu.

•Permitting the comptroller to set binding revenue projections.

•Permitting the comptroller to set his or her office’s own budget.

•Absorbing the Independent Budget Office (IBO) into the Comptroller’s office.

Liu argued, “So long as the mayor has the unilateral authority to set the revenue projections, it is inevitable that an annual ‘budget dance’ will take place.

“The comptroller’s office has the ability and expertise to set their projections, and having an independently elected official, such as the city’s chief financial officer, assume this role would streamline the budget process and eliminate wasteful spending.”

He noted that two city legislators, state Senator Diane Savino and Councilmember Vincent Ignizio, recently advocated for such changes.

Regarding Liu’s proposal to have the comptroller set his office’s own budget, he stated: “Simply put, having an independently elected office such as comptroller, which is mandated by the Charter to oversee and audit city government operations, [while at the same time beholden to the mayor’s budgetary authority, undermines the role of the comptroller’s office.”

Furthermore, Liu continued, “The mayor’s control over the comptroller’s budget essentially gives those being audited power over the auditors. This is an external impairment to independence which, according to the Yellow Book, must be avoided in fact as well as appearance.”

Previously, Liu had stated that under Section 93 (c) of the City Charter, the comptroller is required to comply with “Yellow Book Audit Standards”, otherwise known as generally accepted government auditing standards. Liu added: “The Yellow Book requires the audit organization to be independent and free of external impairments.”

Liu summed up, “Providing the comptroller with control over its [sic] own budget can therefore be seen as necessary to comply with the City Charter and would result in the office’s increased ability to root out waste in government.

“This Commission should know that any budget setting model used by the comptroller’s office would be one of fiscal conservatism with the focus on maximizing the ability to identify areas of waste.”

Getting to his third major recommendation, absorbing the Independent Budget Office (IBO) into the comptroller’s office, Liu stated it would be an effort to conserve resources and eliminate redundancy in services. IBO would thus become a “working arm” of the Comptroller’s Bureau of Fiscal and Budget Studies.

“There is no question that these two agencies provide similar services, especially as it relates to the overview of the mayor’s budget,” Liu said. “In reality, the comptroller already acts as the ‘Independent Budget Office’ in matters of reviewing the mayor’s budget. A more fiscally sensitive role for the IBO would be to augment the comptroller’s office in the area of budget studies.”

One final recommendation made by Liu would seek to control the issuance of bonds by not-for-profit corporations established by the mayor where repayment involves the commitment of city support or city resources without the approval of the Comptroller.

Liu had previously noted that according to the Charter and various provisions of state law, “the mayor and comptroller are jointly responsible for issuance of New York City debt”. But the mayor had not followed this rule and acted independently in issuing bonds for the non-profit corporations, Liu said.

To repair the situation, Liu proposed: That not-for-profit corporations established to lessen the burdens of government “shall not issue bonds, notes, or any type of obligations to be paid from revenues that would otherwise accrue to the city unless terms and conditions thereof have been approved in writing by the comptroller”.

Requiring the comptroller’s approval, Liu said, would be consistent with existing approval requirements of the city’s General Obligation, Transitional Finance Authority and Water Authority debt issuance.

MAYOR, GENNARO LOOK LIKE WINNERS: Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Councilmember James Gennaro have been strongly opposed to plans by major natural gas companies to use a controversial new method of drilling in the Catskills where New York City’s water reservoirs are located.

Both were naturally pleased when the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued a ruling last Friday that stopped just short of outright banning the drilling, but came up with regulations so cumbersome that the gas companies might not want to get involved in that area at all.

The DEC ruled that any company that might want to drill a well in the 2,000- square-mile area will have to conduct a separate environmental impact review for each prospective well.

The initial reaction from the gas companies was that the rules appear to be too cumbersome a system to follow so they might just as well forget about searching for new sources of gas in the watershed.

The DEC ruling was merely preliminary. A final ruling on the drilling will come by the end of the year. But Bloomberg, who was faced with the possibility of having to spend billions of dollars to build a filtration plant to protect the city drinking water supply from any ill effects of the new drilling process, continued to insist: “Drilling cannot be permitted in the city’s watershed.”

Looking ahead, he stated: “The official reviews now required for any drilling proposal in the watershed will lead the state to that same conclusion.”

Gennaro (D–Fresh Meadows), a geologist and leading environmentalist, was among the first to warn that the new drilling system, called hydraulic fracturing, could contaminate the water supply.

Referring to the DEC rule, he stated: “We have something that’s tantamount to a ban. I just don’t think anyone’s going to drill when there are such better opportunities elsewhere in the state.”

SCHUMER, WEINER CLASH WITH OBAMA ON ISRAEL: President Barack Obama is due to meet with strong supporters of Israel any day now. It should be a very tense meeting, judging by how far apart all parties seem to be at this point.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D–New York), a staunch supporter of Israel, said the president shouldn’t have come down so hard on Israel for approving plans to build 1,600 new Jewish housing units in the Arab half of Palestine.

The controversial project caused the Palestinians to stop peace talks with the Israelis. Schumer then reacted angrily for what he perceived as the Obama Administration siding with the Palestinians in the housing dispute.

First, Schumer said the U.S. shouldn’t set conditions for Israel to meet before the talks can start up again.

Schumer told reporters, “You have to show Israel that it’s not going to be forced to do things it doesn’t want to do and can’t do.”

Responding to Schumer’s remarks, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, “I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we don’t agree with what Senator Schumer said in those remarks.”

This brought Congressmember Anthony Weiner (D–Queens/Brooklyn) into the verbal dispute on Schumer’s side. Wiener stated: “Israel is our closest ally in the region, yet they continue to receive more criticism than deserved and less support than is required.

“Instead of continuing to lash out publicly at our closest ally, the Obama Administration should be listening to what Schumer says. Schumer is right, and the White House is wrong on Israel.”

We can’t wait to hear the Obama Administration’s response to that flat out remark.

VISAS EXTENDED FOR TEACHERS FROM GREECE: Teachers from Greece who participate in cultural programs in America will now be able to extend the maximum duration of J-1 visas to five years instead of three, according to a recent announcement by the U.S. State Department, according to Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan).

Maloney had urged the State Department to extend the visas to five years last November, and now that the action has been taken, it will “allow Greek teachers more time in America to complete their teaching contracts”.

Maloney added: “Teacher exchange programs help deepen the ties between America and Greece and are greatly beneficial to both countries.” Maloney, co-chair and co-founder of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, acknowledged assistance from the World Council of Hellenes Abroad and the Federation of Hellenic-American Educators in securing the favorable action from the State Dept.

CONSERVATIVES ENDORSE MILANO: Queens County Conservative Party Chairman Tom Long announced that his organization has endorsed Dr. James Milano to run against Congressmember Gary Ackerman (D–Bayside/Long Island) in this year’s election.

In accepting the endorsement, Milano said he would support the repeal of the recently enacted healthcare program if elected. Milano, a physician, said he was

also opposed to bailouts and subsidies.

Ackerman represents the 5th Congressional District which extends from Bayside and Northeast Queens into adjoining portions of Nassau County.

Meanwhile, Michael Long, chair of the state Conservative Party, announced the endorsement of Harry J. Wilson as the party’s candidate for state comptroller.

Westchesterite Wilson is a 38-year-old Harvard graduate and former financial executive. He has also been endorsed by the state Republican organization.

O.K. STAVISKY’S FOSTER CHILDREN HEALTHCARE BILL: The state Senate Democratic Majority has passed Senator Toby Ann Stavisky’s bill, which would evaluate the quality of healthcare services received by foster children in New York state. The bill calls for a study of whether the Medicaid per diem and fee-for-service systems, which presently cover foster children’s health care, are sufficient in meeting their needs. Currently, about 70 percent of voluntary agencies use the per diem system while the remainder use the traditional feefor service method. When both systems are used, Stavisky said, the health care received is inconsistent.

Stavisky (D–Whitestone) said the subject is one of her highest priorities. “By authorizing this study, we can be certain [foster children] are receiving all of their necessary medical services,” she said.

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