Talking money with the City Comptroller
by Holly Tsang
Aug 10, 2010 | 4353 views | 0 0 comments | 64 64 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Eight months into his tenure as city comptroller, John Liu is still standing by his promise to bring transparency to city government. He invited reporters to his 1 Centre Street office on Thursday, speaking candidly about anything and everything relating to the public's interest.

“I am optimistic about where the city is and where it is heading,” said Liu. “Some of the economic indicators are turning positive after two years of declines.”

Liu recently opened a bond offering to 14 companies and sold $962 million in bonds using an open competitive process, saving taxpayers $82 million. The highest-evaluated proposal was submitted by Loop Capital Markets, a minority-owned business.

He also pointed out that the city unemployment rate has dropped to 9.5 percent and is on par with the national rate.

Despite the positive indicators, he pointed out that as of the first quarter of 2010, foreclosures in New York City have increased by 16 percent – the majority of which are in Queens and Brooklyn. Asked what his office could do to get banks to change their mortgage agreements, he said he has given lenders a September 1st deadline to explain their loan modification procedures and what they will do to prevent further foreclosures.

“We're significant investors and clients of these banks,” said Liu. “We do have leverage over these banks and I intend to use as much of it as possible to affect change.”

He said that Checkbook NYC, an online database of the city's expenditures, has received thousands of hits a day since its launch last month. Information about $40 billion in transactions for 2010 alone is available at the click of a button.

“It's like looking at the city's checkbook online, which of course is really your money because it's the taxpayers' money the government is spending,” he said. “It makes all of us in government more judicious in how we spend taxpayer dollars.”

Liu noted that in some of the transactions, the name of the payee is excluded for privacy reasons (i.e. the name of a police informant or someone who is receiving AIDS treatment) and was necessary in winning the cooperation of other city agencies.

“I have no qualms about auditing city projects and agencies,” he said, citing his investigation of the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which was caught hanging onto money it should have turned over to the city.

As the person responsible for awarding billions of dollars in city contracts, Liu plans to channel the city's purchasing power to create more jobs and eliminate disparities in communities across the city. He also hopes to bring more banks into areas that rely heavily on check-cashing institutions that bilk customers out of their hard-earned dollars.

“Saving taxpayers money and expanding equal opportunity – that's what the focus of my office will continue to be,” said Liu.

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