By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
NOTE: This is the first article in our series devoted to our exclusive sit-down interview with New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
At the Park Plaza Diner in Brooklyn Heights, newly elected New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer on Thursday gave the Brooklyn Eagle an inside look at the functions of his office, which includes overseeing budgets of city departments, auditing these department and overseeing the city’s contracts with outside entities.
The city’s first order of business, Stringer says, should be to resolve and renew the approximately 150 union contracts that were left expired and unsigned at the end of the Bloomberg administration.
Asked how the union contracts were left expired, Stringer declined to be specific but said, “There was too much negotiating through the media and not enough negotiating around the table.”
While Stringer admires Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed budget, he feels that the matter of the unresolved, expired contracts should be resolved first, so the city can see exactly how much money it has.
As comptroller, Scott Stringer plans to continue predecessor John Liu’s stringent oversight of city contracts with outside vendors, and to champion the use of city employees where possible.
“We have a great city workforce, and they should be used when possible,” he said. “We just went through some Department of Education contracts, and some of them were being administered from as far away as Colombia – not Columbia County but Colombia.”
On his office’s well-publicized uncovering of possible collusion among three providers of milk to city schools, Stringer said that in such cases, the city loses out because prices are set higher than if genuine competition occurred. For example, the two companies, Beyer Farms and Elmhurst Dairy, who won the “lion’s share” of milk-distribution bids in 2008 subcontracted the majority of that work to Bartlett, a former competitor.
“As a result of that subcontracting,” Stringer’s office said in a press release, “Bartlett’s percentage of milk delivery rose from 6 percent to almost 70 percent, all before the first carton of milk was delivered.”
The Comptroller’s Office’s audit of the Department of Education, Stringer told Eagle staffers, “shows that we’re not afraid to take back a contract.” The comptroller, a former Manhattan borough president and assemblyman, said that the milk contract affair was referred to the U.S. Department of Justice, “and that’s all I’m able to say.”
To help prevent similar problems, Stringer said his office plans to be involved in the pre-bid process for city contracts as well as conducting post-bid audits. He also plans to have staffers “on the floor” during city budget negotiations.
On the subject of city budgetary needs, Stringer, in a written statement, said he wants to restore revenue sharing to the city, claim the city’s share of the $8 billion federal Medicaid waiver, reform tax expenditures, draw down federal Medicaid funds for special education services, collect education funds owed to the city under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and more.
The comptroller also has taken his fiscal “show” on the road, traveling to Albany with Mayor de Blasio to argue for more funds for pre-K and for the right to institute a city minimum wage that would be higher than that of the state.
“One size doesn’t fit all – it costs 80 percent more to live in New York City than to live in Buffalo and 70 percent more than in Rochester,” he said. He added that his views on the minimum wage were challenged by Republican state legislators who said that a higher minimum wage would lead to loss of jobs. However, Stringer cited national studies that say job losses due to a rise in the minimum wage are “statistically insignificant.”
Also on the subject of state-city relations, he said he plans to conduct audits of the MTA, a state agency with city input, in conjunction with state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
All in all, he added, “We give $5 billion more in revenue to the state than we get back.”