Comptroller John Liu unveiled a bundle of plans to cut waste, improve the pension system and stimulate job growth in the five boroughs at his premier State of the City address last week.
Liu held the address in City College’s Aaron Davis Hall on West 135th Street in Manhattan on the rainy morning of Thursday, February 16.
“As we all work to move New York City forward, you can expect me and my office to work vigorously to discharge our duties,” he said to the crowd, which filled the auditorium.
“Expect us to be objective and diligent,” he added. “And expect us to defy conventional thinking and past practice when we feel it necessary.”
Among the goals Liu unveiled is what he called a “Four Point Campaign to Cut Waste,” which he said is based on insight given by the public at town hall meetings he held around the city last year.
First, it would establish a 212-NO-WASTE hotline, coupled with a Web site, where citizens could report possible wasteful practices they see around the city.
It would implement Checkbook 2.0, a new version of his Web site that provides financial transparency from city agencies.
His plan would also improve the city’s Information Technologies system and calls for a new program to track government subcontracting.
“Smarter government compels us to think outside the box,” Liu said,” to look at processes that have been in place forever, but may no longer work well.”
For example, Liu cited the 70-year-old asset management of the city’s pension system. He said the city should invest another $1 billion of its pension capital, since its current $1 billion in investments financed more than 38,000 jobs and affordable housing units in New York City in the last few years.
Since one-third of New Yorkers can’t afford to retire and 60 percent don’t have access to employer-provided retirement packages, he unveiled a plan to provide Personal Retirement Accounts for private sector workers, to be overseen by the same staff that oversees the city’s pension funds.
“There’s another way to create jobs in New York City,” Liu said. “Our pension funds have been at the forefront of making what are called economically targeted investments, which means that they plow money back into the economy.”
In addition, Liu called for an income tax hike for those making more than $500,000 annually, and relief for those making less.
“For the 99 percent,” he said, receiving a loud applause from the audience.
He suggested the city accelerate construction projects to pave the way for future employment, provide more small business loans, foster green jobs and provide further assistance to minority and women-owned businesses.
Liu also applauded the upcoming construction of an engineering school from Cornell University and Israel’s Technion Institute on Roosevelt Island.
“Let’s make New York City the education capital of the world,” he said. “Let’s attract universities and colleges from across the country and the globe to open up facilities and campuses here.”
In addition, to foster educational progression, he said the city’s young people need more assistance, and proposed creating a food assistance-type program to make the Internet available to low-income households.
Liu also cited accomplishments his office achieved in the last year, including stopping the City Time Scandal and rejecting a $286 million backup 911 call center.
He identified individuals in his office who played large roles in cutting waste around the city, including Deputy Comptroller Geneight Turnbull, and The New School’s Dr. Teresa Ghilarducci, a pension expert, who helped them assess the city’s retirement issues.
After the event, Assemblyman David Weprin, one of the few legislators in attendance at the speech, said he appreciated that Liu broke down his office and explained how its different mechanisms work.
“I particularly liked him highlighting the various divisions in the Comptroller’s office and what they do and some of the innovative things they’ve done and some of the saving of city money,” Weprin said. “The audit function in particular, in saving a lot of money, reducing the outside contracting budgets and trying to get New York City employees to do more.
“I thought that was all very positive,” he said.
Councilman Daniel Dromm remarked that the comptroller was well-supported at the event.
Liu received a standing ovation when he entered and exited the auditorium.
“I think that he’s right when he says that the problems with the pension system are not due to runaway costs, that they are more due to the dip in the economy,” Dromm said.
“I think he has a very large agenda,” he added, but “I think moving forward he’s determined to make sure that he does get things done.”