New York State Comptroller H. Carl McCall said yesterday that a proposal by Gov. Mario M. Cuomo to overhaul the state's much maligned borrowing practices should be reshaped to include reforms advocated by his office.
Speaking in New York City before a state legislative committee on debt reform, McCall said the Cuomo proposal "does not adequately address our need for reform."
The governor's plan, which he made public during the past legislative session, attempts to answer critics of the state's borrowing practices by creating a new form of state debt through a constitutional amendment.
The new bonds would largely replace appropriated debt, which the state issues through a myriad of bonding authorities. Appropriated debt does not require voter approval but can carry heavier interest charges than state general obligation bonds.
Credit agencies often rate New York's appropriated debt below its GOs, which are rated A by Moody's Investors Service. A-minus by Standard & Poor's Corp., and Aplus by Fitch Investors Service.
The amendment, which in March received first passage by state law-makers, must gain state legislative approval one more time before it can go on the ballot. The earliest the voters would see the measure is November 1995.
In its current form, the amendment would cap the state's new form of debt at 5% of New York's total personal income, or about $25 billion, with any amount above that requiring voter approval. Under current conditions, the state could go 10 years before reaching that limit, analysts say.
The amendment would also force the state to develop a multiyear capital plan and allow the governor to place more than one bond issue on the ballot for voter approval.
But during yesterday's hearing. which also featured a number of fiscal experts from around the state, McCall called for an initial issuance threshold of 2% of total personal income, or about $10 billion.
McCall said the state should also require a vote of the Legislature before raising the threshold, with 4% of total personal income as the absolute limit.
"The phase-in of a cap that I am proposing today is designed to impose discipline upon the debt issuance process, to demonstrate to the voters our commitment to prudent debt authorization, and to use the legislative process to continue providing voters a voice in the debt process." McCall said.
McCall also called on the governor and the Legislature to place in the amendment a present-value test for all bond refundings. He said the amendment should close several loopholes that allow the state to issue debt through its bonding authorities, and require the state to hold public hearing before it issues debt.
In addition, McCall said he has asked his staff to work on a "coordinated disclosure document" that would combine information on all state bond offerings. This action, he said, "would respond to recent calls for increased disclosure from the Securities and Exchange Commission and Congress. "
John Clarkson, a spokesman for the state budget division, said he could not comment on the matter yesterday. In May, Rudy F. Runko, then the state's first budget director, said at conference sponsored by Empire State Report, a monthly magazine covering state finances and politics, that the 5% threshold would allow enough issuance for the state to meet its growing financing needs.
Runko, who recently replaced Patrick J. Bulgaro as state budget director, also said during the May conference that despite the 5% allowance, the state would have to place bond acts on the ballot or face using up its bonding authority.
Still, McCall was not the only speaker at yesterday's event to criticize the governor's proposal. Cynthia B. Green, senior research associate for the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit watchdog group for state and New York City finances, said "the current amendment does not effectively limit the total amount of non-voter approved debt."
Green said the governor's proposal "would permit state officials virtually to eliminate reliance on voter-approved general obligation debt, and shift most, if not all, borrowing to the new revenue bonds, which do not require voter approval."