Clifton Answers More Questions from the Comptroller Debate, Pt. 2

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More of John Clifton’s answers to the debate questions asked at the 10/15 NYS Comptroller debate:

  • Working with the Governor: Why has the Governor declined to endorse the incumbent Comptroller, both in 2010 and currently? Why no joint campaign appearances, etc? Does this situation impact the Comptroller’s ability to audit executive agencies, or worsen the relationship? How do you [DiNapoli] navigate these rocky shoals, since the Governor is very powerful and has a long memory?

New York needs a less self-serving and more accountable chief executive, such as Michael McDermott, the LP candidate for Governor. The truth is, there are ‘clans’ or factions inside both major parties. Andrew Cuomo has been part of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s network of surrogates since the mid ‘90’s, while DiNapoli is an unaligned machine Democrat who got into office without their involvement or help. Coumo’s decisions have more to do with pleasing his clan, shunning non-clique members in his own party, or positioning himself and his team for higher office, than with serving New Yorkers.

  • Subpoena Power: The Attorney General has recently piggybacked on the Comptroller office’s ability to issue subpoenas in public corruption cases.  He has asked for that power, along with his predecessor Andrew Cuomo (when he served as AG), but Coumo has not given him this power since becoming Governor. Should the AG get it? Should the AG-Comptroller collaboration continue?

Subpoena power, and the power to confer criminal jurisdiction, curiously lies with the NYS Comptroller. Of course, a state Attorney General should have subpoena power to pursue state corruption issues, as there is plenty of it to pursue. The Governor understood this when he was AG, but apparently only wanted the power for himself, as he has cynically dropped his support once he became Governor. I would work with the AG to support providing subpoenas as needed, until this power can be given to that office outright.

  • Shareholder Activism: Would you base your investment decisions on your political ideas? What comes first, investment returns, or political principles? As in investing, no matter what the company is doing, or not? And would acting on a company’s activity be an investing decision, or a policy decision?

To repeat, Libertarians believe in fundamental reform or repeal of public pension programs.  We oppose government funding of businesses (i.e., subsidies) or corporate welfare.  If I was investing monies as a private fund manager, investing considerations would come first. But because “investing” public funds is not a proper function of government, as a principled public figure I would put principle first, and advocate not doing so.

  • Struggling Municipalities: Local governments upstate are feeling financially squeezed. They say the combination of an erosion of their industrial base, an imposed 2% cap on property tax increases, as well as flat levels of state aid have led to some pretty tough choices. Cuomo has responded by creating a fiscal restructuring board, and proposes an unprecedented $500 million next year to incentivize consolidations and mergers by local governments. As Comptroller, would you push for either course of action, or for a different course? Should the state share more of its revenues with cash-strapped municipalities? Has the state done enough to help? What is the role of the Comptroller here?

As a Libertarian, I see the explosion of taxation, regulation, unfunded mandates and other government  force as the main factor behind the erosion of the state’s industrial base. The problem is not the absence of state subsidies, but too many subsidies and spending going on in all directions. A net 300,000 former New Yorkers have moved away from the state in the last few years, due to the negative impact of all the government overhead. Thank the heavens for the 2% cap on property taxes, otherwise those taxes would be increasing to the point where still more residents would be fleeing from the state.

The answer is also not adopting a policy of “austerity” via consolidations, or drastic cuts to essential services in the local governments (that is, basic government functions that Libertarians believe are justified as they protect the life, liberty and property of New Yorkers). The “austerity” that is needed is a radical reduction in non-essential state government spending, taxation, and borrowing. The state should be returning its excess revenues back to the taxpayers who were robbed in the first place. Audits and reports I would prepare as Comptroller would outline where fundamental  reductions in the size and intrusiveness of government can be made, including ending taxes, regulations and mandates, along with other fiscal changes that will convert the state from being a fiscal basket case, into the economic breadbasket of the Northeast.

  • Capital Plans: There are several big capital plans being discussed that have big numbers missing. That includes the Tappan Zee Bridge (with no indication of what the toll might be), and a 32 billion dollar MTA capital plan with only half of the funding designated. Does the state run an economic risk by launching major projects without the funding or those numbers fully in place, and if so what actions or warnings would you use as Comptroller, to warn against or curb the practice?

It is often said that elections are advanced auctions on stolen goods. The examples of capital plans just cited show how hopelessly committed legislators are to overspending, to the point where they commit to projects without a clue as to how to cover them. Of course this is a hazardous path economically, as it contributes to causing people to leave the state over the largess. My audits would expose this practice of “spending without figuring out how to mug the taxpayers first,” and recommend a solution (stop committing to unfunded projects, and only devise funding plans that are truly temporary, or automatically sunset). E.g., why are people told that tolls are imposed to pay for building a bridge, only to see the tolls never, ever end after the bridge is constructed? This overspending and overcharging of New Yorkers must end!

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