Wednesday, October 10, 2007

NYC Speaker Quinn's Five Fiscal Reforms

The New York State Financial Control Board (FCB), created in 1975 to oversee New York City's finances, sunsets in less than a year. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn this morning addressed the City's fiscal reporting (full text here). She has a five-point fiscal-reform program. All of her points are good ones. She is making one of them effective on her own authority (#4) and is recommending the others to the Mayor, Governor, state legislature and her own City Council colleagues:

1. More accountable independent public entities. The Transit Authority, the Health and Hospitals Corporation, the Economic Development Corporation and the NYC Housing Authority have increased their reporting. Oversight should be even stronger.

2. More accountable budgeting. Short-term debt should be watched because in 1975 the City had $6 billion of it. Oversight over City borrowing should be the responsibility of the City Comptroller. In addition, the city’s tax collection and spending numbers should be reported by the Mayor to the City Council, City Comptroller and the Independent Budget Office.

3. A “rainy day fund.” Surplus revenues can be diverted in good times for use in leaner ones. years. State legislative approval is needed for this. (The averaging of property assessments over five years is in itself a form of rainy day fund. The problem with actual rainy-day funds historically is that they are tempting - they get used up fast at the first sign of morning dew. The criteria for adding to and drawing from the fund need to be automatic.)

4. Disclosure of sponsors of capital projects. Names of council members will now be disclosed along with the capital projects they sponsor. Speaker Quinn is introducing this reform on her own authority.

5. Program budgeting. Department budgets need to be informative and linked to the Mayor's Management Report. This fifth proposal is of particular interest to me. When I was Chief Economist at the NYC Comptroller's Office, I attempted a reorganization of the City's budget - with the help of the Chief Accountant - to conform to the categories of the Mayor's Management Report.