Thomas DiNapoli, the 54th comptroller of the state of New York, encouraged civic engagement and promoted fiscal responsibility in a Cornell Institute of Public Affairs lecture Friday.
As the state chief fiscal officer in charge of managing state payroll, operating the state retirement system and auditing government activity, DiNapoli has spoken out against the government’s inefficient use of public resources. Since he began work in 2007, he said he has also reformed the state pension system, making it sustainable for the retirees of future generations.
DiNapoli began his colloquium at CIPA by applauding MPA student attendees for seeking a degree in public affairs.
“These skills will serve you well in many future careers,” DiNapoli said. “You never know where your education is going to come in handy, but you are always going to have that credential and it’s only going to help you.”
DiNapoli also expressed the importance of proper government financing. He said that, in order for the country to operate effectively, it is imperative that the government be “critical about spending.”
DiNapoli said he and his 2,600 person team often work alongside the attorney generals at the state and federal levels to make sure government money is not misspent.
“We won’t tolerate corruption,” DiNapoli said. “People need to be held accountable so we don’t waste taxpayer dollars.”
The comptroller’s office is viewed as the least partisan, in part because it focuses on long term projections, according to DiNapoli. Workers collect unbiased data on specific issues such as student loans and public health. The information is then compiled into public reports so that both state officials and ordinary citizens can access and interpret the data themselves.
Much of DiNapoli’s early interest in government and policy was influenced by the political and social changes dominating American life when he was in high school, during the Vietnam War.
“You had to be 21 to vote, but 18 year old men were drafted to war and many families were affected,” DiNapoli said. “Young people wanted change but had no voice in making policy.”
DiNapoli said he joined the fight to lower the voting age. The year he graduated high school was the first year 18 year olds could vote. That same year, he ran for his town’s school board.
“I had the unique experience that the very first time I voted, I voted for myself.” DiNapoli said. “A few hours later I found that I had won.”
DiNapoli said he hopes that more people get involved in government and vote this November, not only because it is their civic duty, but due to the unprecedented nature of this particular election cycle.
He said although Trump is the Republican nominee, he has been rejected by many citizens, including many Republican party members. However, he pointed out that Trump was not just appointed the nominee, he won his status democratically, under party guidelines.
“Trump didn’t select himself,” DiNapoli said. “He is a reflection of the people who chose to vote this year.”