Q: How long do you see yourself in this office?
A: I don't know. Every time I've ever taken a public job, I've never looked at it in terms of how long am I going to be here, or what does it lead to. I intend to run in ~94. What happens after that I don't know.
Q: Why do you want to be state comptroller?
A: Well, if you've been in public service as long as I have been, you're always looking for new challenges. The interesting challenge about this job is that I have the opportunity to really represent the entire state.
Q: Is this position a stepping stone for higher office?
A: I don't, and I can't, look at it that way. I think you really undermine the integrity of the office if you use it for political reasons.
Q: But you do have aspirations?
A: Well, we all do. But you have to do the job. It can only be useful if you do the job well, and that's my approach. I want to be the best comptroller this state has ever had, and we'll see what that leads to. If that leads to something, fine. If it doesn't, okay. [I] can't look at this job from the standpoint of where will this lead me, because I think that will mean that I am not living up to my constitutional mandate and my commitment to serve the needs of people.
Q: What are the most important issues you want to address as state comptroller?
A: One of my priorities is to reform the state's borrowing practices, to bring about an effective package of proposals that will really move us in the direction of a more disciplined fashion of managing the state's debt. Another priority relates to the office's audit function. I really want my audits to be credible, to be fair, and to really have some impact on the way in which services are delivered.
Q: In terms of debt reform, do you think the public ultimately approve whatever plan is finally delivered?
A: The thing is, there are too few people talking about it. Debt reform is not a very sexy subject. So we've got to show people that the present way of managing our debt is harmful and expensive. It means that there is less money available to provide services, and [they] might have to pay higher taxes because our debt burden is becoming so high.
The issues that are confronting the state in terms of how to achieve fiscal stability and also meet the overwhelming challenges of our society are probably the most important issues that we're going to face in our lifetime.
Q: Do you have a blueprint for meeting those challenges?
A: I don't have a blueprint. but I have some ideas. I hope to generate a discussion about [how to solve those problems. My challenge in the job is to be effective. I don't want to be critical [of past comptrollers], but I think that the comptroller has always been kind of the voice out there saying you're not doing things right. I think we've got to do more than that. We've got to be able to translate these concerns into action.
Q: I thought the comptroller's office was designed to audit state agencies, not to provide answers to social problems.
A: I think it's a good place to find answers. This office does have a responsibility. There's an expectation that financial answer will come from this office. such as reconciling the social problems with the fiscal realities of the state.
Q: Do you think this new direction will be popular given the traditional role of the office as a watchdog?
A: I will still be an auditor and a watchdog, but now I'm auditing because I want to make sure that the taxpayers are getting their money's worth, that our agencies, which are spending millions of dollars, are providing the services they should provide.
Q: How, are you implementing this new philosophy, of running the comptroller's office?
A: I'm building a team of people who share my vision and who have the experience to carry out what we need to do. I started off with Jay Feeney [deputy comptroller for audit and accounting], an experienced person who's been with the comptroller's office in a variety of functions for a number of years. The second thing we've done is brought in Comer Coppie as the first deputy comptroller, the person who really runs the agency on a day-to-day basis. Another major appointment we made is that of Rosemary Scanlon, who is the deputy [state] comptroller for New York City. Again, I think we've got a person who is highly respected as a chief monitor for New York City.
Q: A criticism I have heard about Scanlon's appointment is that as an economist by training she does not have the necessary budgeting experience.
A: I think that that's an unfounded criticism. What's the good of simply being a critic, unless you also suggest what might be better. I'm not saying that we're going to go manage the city. But it's very easy to be critical, and to look at the city's books, and say, "You haven't achieved structural balance."
Q: With all the private monitoring of the city, is there any dearth of solutions out there?
A: I haven't seen a lot of them.
Q: How about reports published by groups like the Citizens Budget Commission calling for certain actions?
A: I think maybe we will have a little more credibility in terms of the things we put forward because we do have this mandate to monitor.
Q: Do you have any suggestions?
A: No, but that's why I brought in somebody like Rosemary Scanlon.
We've got 20 people analyzing the city's budget. Let's try to use those people to make some suggestions.
Q: I'm not criticizing your approach, but Regan's style did yield some very positive benefits for the state. As a constant critic of the state's borrowing practices, for example, he forced the state to address debt reform.
A: Look, I don't want to take anything away from anybody. All I'm saying is now we've got to see some things implemented, and it doesn't mean that I'm not going to be critical. But I want to go beyond that.
Q: What do you think about the city's fiscal 1994 budget?
A: The city is facing a situation of declining revenues, and it is trying to make tough choices about how it reduces its expenditures. So far, every time it has come up with a plan, it's clear that it doesn't go far enough. All the monitors were critical of the city's [fiscal 1994] budget. The City Council passed it anyway, in spite of our criticisms. Then the next issue was that Standard & Poor's threatened to downgrade the city's bond rating, which forced the city to revise the budget two days into the fiscal year.
Q: Do you have any ideas about the soundness of the mayor's budget revision? It apparently saved the city a downgrade in its credit rating.
A: I haven't seen it yet so I don't know. Our job will be to analyze whatever plan comes from the mayor's office and then to publish our analysis. I'm prepared to comment and say whatever needs to be said. I think whatever discussions and agreements the mayor has reached with Standard & Poor's will be implemented. I think he knows that if he doesn't do it, the credit rating might be downgraded, and I think everybody understands the dilemma that presents for us. I also think the mayor knows that this office and other fiscal monitors will be very diligent in terms of reviewing the plan and commenting on it, if it doesn't live up to expectations.
Q: Do you think the average man and woman on the street have fully grasped the difficulty the city is facing to achieve structural balance in its financial operations?
A: I don't think they have. Not only do I think it's going to be a difficult period while the city goes through these adjustments, there's nothing on the horizon that's going to bail us out. The federal government isn't going to give us the kind of help we want. The state doesn't seem inclined to do the Medicaid relief, and there's not a new financial services explosion out there ready to provide a new infusion of revenue.
Q: Do you think the Dinkins administration has the political will to achieve structural balance?
A: I don't think there's any way to avoid it. I think the mayor understands that you have to balance your checkbook. And the city's checkbook isn't balanced.
Q: People have been surprised by some of your recent public positions, including your criticism of the city's fiscal 1994 budget given your friendship with the mayor.
A: I think people might think that I'm going to operate in some kind of political fashion, but I'm trying to be totally objective. If you took an objective look at the mayor's budget, you would have to say that it was disappointing and it needed adjustments.