Stringer proposes NYC charter revisions

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New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer urged the 2019 Charter Revision Commission to make 65 changes to the city’s constitution in a set of proposals he released at a hearing late Thursday.

Over 90 residents from Manhattan signed up to speak before a commission meeting on Thursday night, the last of the panel’s five-borough public hearings.

Several City Council members, including Speaker Corey Johnson, and Manhattan Borough President Gayle Brewer also spoke before the panel.

The commission, created by the City Council, was assigned to overhaul the city’s main governing document and present a revised version that will be put before the voters. The State Legislature created the charter in 1897, and the document’s last major revision was in 1989, when the entire system of city government was overhauled.

On Thursday, Stringer called for hiring a chief diversity officer in every city agency, giving greater urban planning expertise to community boards, strengthening building code enforcement, and establishing procurement time frames.

“Since the last major charter revision nearly 30 years ago, New York City has grown by 1.2 million people and the world has changed around it, yet its charter is not prepared to meet the needs of today’s challenges,” Stringer said. “The charter review commission is an opportunity for us to build a better government that takes aim at our affordability crisis and builds a fairer city by giving a voice to New Yorkers.”

In a report he gave to the commission, Stringer said the city’s budget and financial plans are good tools for maintaining sustainable spending and revenue and ensuring accountability over the use of public money. However, he said that annual budget presentations lack critical information, limiting public participation and the council’s ability to carry out its role in the budget process.

“To provide more transparency in the budget process for elected officials and the public, the comptroller’s office finds an updated city charter must be overhauled in order to improve transparency, accountability and control in the city budget,” he said in the report entitled A New Charter to Confront New Challenges.

The comptroller focused in on the city’s capital budget, which funds the building of schools, paving of streets and ensuring a clean and reliable water supply. Stringer said the capital budget needs a substantial overhaul so that the public can understand the cost and status of projects vital to the city’s future.

Stringer’s suggested reforms include:

  • Structuring the capital budget to allow the public to identify and understand the cost of individual capital projects;
  • Providing better and more comprehensive information about the condition of capital assets; and
  • Reporting on the changes in the cost and status of capital projects.

Stringer also wants a requirement that money borrowed to finance housing development be used for only housing development

“A basic principle enshrined in the city charter is that debt should not be used to finance the operating expenses of local government. However, in contravention of this principle, the city can and does borrow money, lends it for housing, secures the loan with a mortgage, sells the mortgage to a city-controlled entity (that in turn sells bonds to buy the loan), and then uses the sales proceeds for operating expenses,” the report said. “These transactions convert capital borrowing for housing into expense budget funding, and leaves two sets of taxable bonds outstanding for the same assets. While this appears legal under existing law, it is a poor use of city resources and a missed opportunity to increase funding for affordable housing, without further increasing the city’s debt burden.”

The city’s general obligation bonds are rated Aa2 Moody's Investors Service and AA by S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings. As of June 30, NYC’s outstanding GOs totaled $38.63 billion.
Stringer also proposed to create a chief diversity officer position in the Mayor’s cabinet and in each city agency. In that role, the CDO would oversee minority and women business enterprise programs, track and measure diverse talent and encourage MWBEs to bid on city contracts.

“New York City agencies spend almost $20 billion a year on goods and services, yet the comptroller’s office has found that less than 5% of those contracts are awarded to MBWE firms, thwarting the city’s ability to fully invest in its businesses, build wealth in local communities, and foster competitive procurements that ensure taxpayer dollars are spent most efficiently,” the report said.

“We’ve seen firsthand in the comptroller’s office that a chief diversity officer helps break down walls and transform how agencies invest in city businesses with an eye toward equity,” Stringer said.

Stringer also pushed for a requirement that the mayor designate a chief information security officer responsible for overseeing the city’s cybersecurity operations, including developing the city’s cybersecurity program, maintaining and testing that program, leading incident response, and training relevant city employees on ways to mitigate cybersecurity risks, among other duties.

The charter commission includes members appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, all five borough presidents, the city council speaker and the comptroller. After it has gathered public input and reviewed the charter, the commission will propose its recommendations for a public vote in November 2019.

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Budgets MWBEs Infrastructure Scott Stringer Corey Johnson City of New York, NY New York City Pension Funds New York City Health + Hospitals New York City Industrial Development Agency New York City Housing Development Corporation New York City Transitional Finance Authority New York City Municipal Water Finance Authority New York City Housing Authority New York City Transit New York