Meet the Comptroller Candidates

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The Office of Comptroller of New York City is our chief fiscal officer and chief auditing officer. Their job is to make sure that state and local governments are using your tax dollars efficiently and ethically. The comptroller is elected, citywide, to a four-year term and can hold office for two consecutive terms.

Who is running 

There are 14 candidates running for the seat, according to the latest campaign finance filings, which includes Senators Brian A. Benjamin and Kevin S. Parker; Councilmember Brad Lander, Speaker Corey D. Johnson, Assemblymember David L. Weprin, and community leaders Zachary Iscol, Terri Liftin, Alex K. Pan, Reshma P. Patel, Paul A. Rodriguez, and John Tabacco. 

PoliticsNY sent all of them a brief list of questions, asking them what three areas they’d prioritize funding to, would they raise taxes on the rich, and what they think of early retirement initiatives.

Here’s what those who got back to us had to say:

Brad Lander  

What three areas would you prioritize funding to if elected?

Restore public health and invest in the care economy: NYC’s economic recovery cannot succeed without robust investment in public health — to ensure we get vaccines to everyone as quickly as possible and reopen schools and our economy safely, address health disparities that were so devastating during this crisis, and build on public investment in life sciences to make NYC a hub for next generation leadership in public health. We need to be so much more ready for the next public health crisis than we were for this one. By investing in public health, long-term care, and universal child care, we can build a care economy that nurtures all of us as we face the future.

Infrastructure investments for a green new deal: Investing in our infrastructure can play a vital role in a just recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. Just as the New Deal helped New York City recover from the Great Depression, investing now in our city’s sustainable future can create tens of thousands of good jobs, promote health in the hardest-hit neighborhoods, support new business creation and M/WBEs, and provide a platform for shared economic prosperity in the years ahead. I’ve laid out a detailed plan for how to invest smarter in infrastructure.

Our recovery must prioritize stable, affordable housing, for all New Yorkers. In the short term, we need rent and mortgage assistance to prevent a massive wave of evictions. But to truly confront the scale of New York City’s housing crisis, we need a bold new approach. Building on New York City’s robust history of non-profit, limited and shared-equity cooperative and rental housing, I propose to create a new generation of “social housing” at a range of affordability levels, including a new shared equity homeownership program modeled on Mitchell-Lama, with the goal of doubling the citywide footprint of housing that will remain permanently insulated from the speculation of the real estate market.

Do you support the #TaxTheRich initiative, why or why not?

The American Rescue Plan includes state and local COVID-19 fiscal relief that will go a long way to helping us address the City’s budget deficit without needing to resort to layoffs, short-term borrowing, or cuts to our social safety net. But a one-time infusion of federal cash is not enough to address the biggest economic challenge facing our city and state: growing inequality.

I support raising progressive revenue in Albany by taxing billionaires, closing the carried interest loophole for private equity income, exploring a stock transfer tax, imposing a pied-a-terre tax, and/or restoring the commuter tax. Those resources must be used to restore cuts in foundation aid, public education support, and funding for health and human services to cities, as well as aiding renters and homeowners and workers who have been excluded from federal aid during this crisis.

We must make sure that our long-term recovery focuses squarely on combating racial inequality, and building a city where economic opportunity is genuinely equal across communities. This is not only a matter of justice, it is the key to New York City’s economic future.

Do you support the Early Retirement Incentive to limit the city’s payroll?

I support providing the City’s public employees with incentives for early retirement as a way to provide long-term budget balance and manage headcount. Shortages in essential sectors can be addressed through targeted recruitment of younger workers to backfill positions that are currently in high demand, while still saving the City money. I co-signed a letter in support of early retirement incentives with Councilmember Ampry-Samuel.

Corey D. Johnson

What three areas would you prioritize funding to if elected?

The news we got [yesterday] from President Biden is promising: billions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds are coming to New York. My top priority will be ensuring every single dollar of this federal relief will be targeted to our recovery and gets to the New Yorkers who need it most, especially people of color and low-income New Yorkers who have been hardest hit by the pandemic. I’m also going to protect the pension funds, so that retirees know their hard-earned benefits will always be there, and work to cut down on the sky-high fees we’re getting charged by Wall Street. And I’ll make sure that our economic development and contracting dollars are supporting jobs that lift up New Yorkers, especially at Minority and Women Owned Businesses (MWBEs).

Do you support the #TaxTheRich initiative, why or why not?

I’m a big supporter of the Invest In Our New York Act, a legislative package under consideration in Albany that would raise taxes on big corporations and the wealthiest New Yorkers in order to prevent cuts to social services, like education and healthcare, and ensure we can help vulnerable communities, like essential workers and people with disabilities. Last month, I testified before the State Legislature and urged them to pass this much-needed legislative package.

Do you support the Early Retirement Incentive to limit the city’s payroll?

The COVID-19 crisis has caused massive strain on our budget, even as more people are turning to our city’s social service providers for help. At a time like this, mass layoffs and cuts to city services would create terrible economic hardship for New Yorkers who work for the City government or rely on these services. I agree with my friend Henry Garrido at DC37 that the Early Retirement Incentive is the right approach. It gives hard-working public servants the opportunity to retire with dignity, and creates savings in the budget to help maintain the same levels of city services.

Brian Benjamin

What three areas would you prioritize funding to if elected?

As comptroller I would prioritize police accountability & public safety, protecting NYC pensions, and COVID-19 recovery and economic resiliency. 

Do you support the #TaxTheRich initiative, why or why not?

I have sponsored bills in the Invest in Our New York package and fought for their inclusion in the budget so we can responsibly fund programs to care for the most vulnerable New Yorkers.

Do you support the Early Retirement Incentive to limit the city’s payroll?

Yes. 

David L. Weprin

What three areas would you prioritize funding to if elected?

The three major areas the city needs to focus funding on are middle-class affordable housing,  education, and COVID recovery, specifically health, the economy, and jobs. Using financial incentives and city revenues to help workers keep their jobs, and help small businesses recover is critical. As well, I will open offices in all five boroughs that will be economic empowerment centers, providing access to financial resources to New Yorkers as they recover. Additionally, it also goes without saying that the city needs to devote the proper resources to enhancing our public safety. Making sure our streets are safe should not be a politicized issue.

Beyond emerging from the COVID crisis, we must invest in working and middle-class New Yorkers. That’s why I will use the Economically Targeted Investment function of the Comptroller’s Office to incentivize the construction of middle-class affordable housing. Too often even dual-income City employee households, like teachers, police officers, or firefighters can’t afford to live in this city. I pledge to change that.

When it comes to education, we need schools that educate our children and prepare them for the future. As Comptroller, I will use the office’s investigative and auditing powers to ensure that our tax dollars make their way to our kids’ classrooms not outside consultant sweetheart contracts. 

Do you support the #TaxTheRich initiative, why or why not?

We cannot over-burden working and middle-class New Yorkers while we face a massive fiscal crisis. This means ensuring that New Yorkers who earn millions and in some cases billions of dollars per year pay their fair share. Under no circumstances should we be in a position where we balance the city’s budget on the backs of working and middle-class New Yorkers. Generating revenue to provide for critical programs and services that actually help people is critical. 

This is why I was one of the first legislators to call for the legalization of marijuana, which would generate millions in tax revenue while doing wonders to reform our criminal justice system. I was also one of the first legislators to call for the legalization of online gaming, which would also generate millions annually in revenue. Generating revenue is important, but we must do it in a way that doesn’t impede economic growth or job creation. Raising marginal tax rates on millionaires and billionaires is simply a way to ensure a progressive tax system that winds up benefitting all New Yorkers.

Do you support the Early Retirement Incentive to limit the city’s payroll?

I support the Early Retirement Incentive for any public worker who wishes to participate in that opportunity, but more importantly, as Comptroller I would make it a priority to ensure that we do not eliminate any city jobs. Many of our city employees are on the frontline and essential workers who have risked their own personal health and wellbeing to get us through this health crisis. We should be looking for every way to honor them and keep them in their jobs. 

As Comptroller, I will use the office’s investigative and auditing powers to ensure that our tax dollars are properly spent on our city workers and on the programs and services we deserve and root out waste, fraud, and abuse. 

Reshma P. Patel

What three areas would you prioritize funding to if elected?

As Comptroller, I would first prioritize utilizing the pension fund to make economically targeted investments into small businesses in NYC as our City recovers from the pandemic. In particular, it is critical that we fund the businesses most affected – those owned by women, minorities, and immigrants. I would also focus on accelerating the capital program to fund infrastructure needs across the City which would create high-paying middle class jobs as we work to lower our City’s unemployment rate. Finally, it is critical that we ensure there is adequate and equitable funding for our City’s educational programs including after school and Pre-K. The most critical moments in a child’s learning happen at a young age, and we must make a special effort to provide opportunities for all children in New York City.

Do you support the #TaxTheRich initiative, why or why not?

I absolutely support the spirit of the #TaxTheRich movement. As Comptroller, I would support a tax that ensures that individuals working in NYC are taxed by the City even if they live outside the City. As remote work increases in popularity and scope, we need to ensure that individuals are paying their fair share into the system so that our City is able to deliver critical services to all communities.

Do you support the Early Retirement Incentive to limit the city’s payroll?

I support the Early Retirement Incentive. In the wake of the pandemic, it is critical that the City leverage as many options as possible to both optimize the budget as well as to create job openings for young people who have been disproportionately impacted by the increase in joblessness in 2020. That being said, we also need to ensure that we have institutional knowledge in our government and that we have the ability to appropriately train new members to our workforce. Finally, we would need to make sure that we are managing pension expenses effectively. 

Alex K. Pan

What three areas would you prioritize funding to if elected?

If elected as Comptroller, I will prioritize funding to education, health and mental hygiene, and small business services. From desegregating our high schools, reforming the charter school system, and boosting CUNY access and aid – education is our top priority. In addition to making cuts in this department, we will reinvest those savings into leveling the playing field in terms of funding and extracurriculars, hire more counselors and social workers, and implement restorative justice to disrupt the school to prison pipeline. In terms of public health, we will support additional spending on mental health services, NYC Care coverage, and ensuring the basic right to healthcare is accessible to all New Yorkers. Small businesses from bodegas to mom and pop shops are critical parts of our vibrant city, and they need our help recovering from the pandemic. We will prioritize relief by waiving water and sewage fees in addition to the liquor and sales tax, along with a boost to small business loan programs. Community comes first from bouncing back from COVID to battling systemic racism, and we look to make this clear with our top funding priorities.

Do you support the #TaxTheRich initiative, why or why not?

I support the #TaxTheRich initiative as part of a two-pronged approach to reducing the city’s debt. The wealthy have a role to play, and I believe that they want to be immersed in our cultures and life in ways only New York can. It’s a common argument that they’ll simply relocate across the river, but if our tax hikes are reasonable, the rich will still be able to afford the tax increase while remaining here. Regardless, this is a necessity to make up for lost revenue during the pandemic, and raising taxes is critical to both our recovery and financial health. 

Do you support the Early Retirement Incentive to limit the city’s payroll?

I support the Early Retirement Initiative of the city to limit the city’s payroll. This allows the government to save money as revenue drops due to COVID, providing a stream of income early, and opens options like unemployment instead of mass layoffs or furloughs. It’s a smart move designed to reduce posts in positions that can be eliminated, and could  be part of the city’s initiative to cut future borrowing. There would be a wide array of potential benefits in implementing this initiative, and I’m a huge fan.

Terri Liftin

What three areas would you prioritize funding to if elected?

My first priority would be to ensure that there is enough funding to educate our children. I would examine why we are spending $447,337 a year to incarcerate one person, but less than $30,000 a year per student.  Many of our adolescent students have lost a year of their education at a critical time for brain development.  I will find a way to make sure they catch up, and also provide much-needed support for parents.  

My second priority is affordable housing. I will allocate more funding, both to improve existing affordable units and build new ones. Especially important is to restore funding for supportive units, which are designed to house the most vulnerable of our citizens. Rather than shelters, I will prioritize permanent supportive housing with the attendant onsite social and mental health services. 

Third, but not last, I would increase the City’s contribution to the MTA. Many of our essential workers live far away from their employment and have to commute for hours if subways are taken out of service or just too unsafe.  We should increase the frequency and safety of buses and subways, fund deferred signal and track maintenance, and implement long postponed plans to extend existing lines. 

Do you support the #TaxTheRich initiative, why or why not?

I support the ideals behind the #TaxTheRich initiative: I am in favor of a progressive tax system, and I certainly do not believe we should be cutting funding for Medicaid, the MTA, or education.  As someone who supports a pathway to financial prosperity for all, however, I do not want to raise taxes. We need to keep our businesses here and expand the opportunities so that everyone can participate in the rebuilding and prosperity of our City.  

As a practical matter, a small percentage of wealthy New Yorkers contribute the most to our tax base.  And while many of us are tired of hearing how the rich are leaving the City, the truth is that the middle class has started to leave as well. If our government increases the combined top state and local income tax to a punishing rate of 14.7%, the highest in the country, we will continue to see New Yorkers leave the City.  Rather than suffer the resulting loss of revenue and divide ourselves, let’s find a way to encourage everyone to stay and work together toward a better New York. 

Do you support the Early Retirement Incentive to limit the city’s payroll?

I support an Early Retirement Incentive as a fiscal measure to assist our budget-strapped City government.  It is certainly an attractive alternative to layoffs, which should be avoided as our economy struggles to recover.  To achieve the meaningful savings our City government desperately needs, and avoid over-burdening our workers’ pensions, the program should be targeted to positions that do not need to be refilled.  It is imperative that any incentive be negotiated with the active participation of the respective unions so that all parties agree on the way the program is to be implemented.

State Sen. Kevin Parker

Kevin Parker (Updated)

What three areas would you prioritize funding to if elected?

The COVID-19 pandemic has left New York City in one of the most tumultuous and frightening economic, safety and social crises in our history. Right now, our biggest and most pressing priority is recovering from the pandemic.

Overall issues:

A. Comprehensive COVID-19 pandemic relief (Fixing Economic, Public Health, Environmental, Homelessness, Education, and Housing problems greatly exacerbated as a result of our collective battle with the virus).
B. Affordable Housing.
C. Youth Development and Education.

Do you support the #TaxTheRich initiative, why or why not?

Yes, I support increased taxes on the wealthiest among us. Those who earn higher incomes should pay taxes on a progressive scale, which is fair for everyone. The additional revenues they raise are critical in funding our city’s recovery from the pandemic and our rebuilding in its aftermath, as well as our infrastructure and energy needs.

Do you support the Early Retirement Incentive to limit the city’s payroll?

Short answer: Yes. But we need to make sure we are as fair as we can be to our retirees and seniors.

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