DiNapoli talks state fiscal issues, praises dedication, unity of PEF members
BY KATE MOSTACCIO
New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, the state’s chief fiscal officer, thanked PEF delegates and members employed in his office for their hard work and dedication to the agencies of New York state and he advised them to stay strong and unified in the face of volatile times.
“PEF makes a big difference, making the Comptroller’s Office the strong office that it is,” DiNapoli said at the 41st Annual PEF Convention. “OSC couldn’t function without PEF. Thank you to each and every one of you, and to the men and women you represent. You are truly a union of professionals.”
The comptroller, whose office oversees how effectively and efficiently state and local governments use taxpayer dollars, said the state budget process this year was contentious and tax changes have hit New York hard.
“These are volatile times,” he said. “Where do we stand now? Pretty much on target. But the new normal is the volatility. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the stock market.”
That’s why the 2020 elections will be so important, he said. “New York continues to be a net giver to Washington,” he said. “We have to be united, making sure federal policy doesn’t set us back in New York. We have to be more intelligent in how we budget in New York.”
DiNapoli pointed to consultant services by way of example. “PEF members at OSC has said there are opportunities we can do in-house,” he said. “And you bring the expertise in-house too. It is most cost effective for public work to be done by public employees.”
In the recent legislative session, PEF supported passage of a cost-benefit analysis bill. “[PEF President] Wayne [Spence] and his team have been working hard,” he said. “We see value in that legislation. We are ready to go.”
Also under the comptroller’s oversight is the New York State Common Retirement Fund, which DiNapoli said now stands at $216 billion. “We are a 96 percent funded state pension fund,” he said. “When you’re poorly funded, it hurts everybody. We work very hard with our investment strategy.”
Ten years ago, the fund stood at $154 billion, he said. It then dropped to $109 billion. “Now we are $216 billion,” he said. “We pay out benefits of $1 billion a month, yet we are still growing the fund.”
New York has managed to hold on to its retirees, too, he said. “In New York, close to 80 percent of retirees are not going to Florida,” he said. The money those people are paid from the pension fund remains here. “That’s 80 percent recycled back into our communities.”
To keep the fund moving in the right direction takes smart investing. “We are being a little more conservative now,” he said. “We see the volatility. We want to position the fund of the future. That’s how we’re managing the fund.”
He noted the support of the delegates and reaffirmed his support for PEF. “Thank you for the confidence you’ve shown in my work,” he said. “The Legislature should not be making decisions where we invest our pension fund. I’m always proud to stand with you. It’s a tough time to be a union leader and I commend you for standing up.”
DiNapoli said PEF weathered Janus well. “You’ve reengaged at a grassroots level,” he said. “Membership is up. You helped defeat the Constitutional Convention.”
With his father being a shop steward for the Communications Workers of America and his mother a CSEA member, DiNapoli understands the value of unionism.
“I saw growing up the difference it made for parents in jobs protected by strong unions,” he said. Those unions were looking out for the economic security of families, as well as the families of the future.
“The middle class is under attack,” he said. “Strong unions are good for the U.S. economy, good for the United States. That’s why we’re union strong. Keep in mind, the greatest strength comes from unity. Your strength will be working together as a team.
“We are ready to stand with you.” DiNapoli said. “Be strong and united. Keep doing what you’re doing.”
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