Friday, November 20, 2009

Public Authorities To Get Greater Oversight

Maybe We Should Have Asked For The Winning Mega Millions Numbers! ;-)

We asked for it, and the NYS Assembly delivers. Accountability and transparency -- well, at least a bit -- at New York's multitude of Public Authorities.

With billions in debt, and millions in unaccounted for tax dollars, the Public Authorities have pretty much had their way, since the days of Robert Moses, in secretly spending New Yorker's money, and indebting residents, to the accumulated tune of $150 billion.

The Assembly has acted to curb the enthusiasm at many of these quasi-state agencies, overseeing contracts, and opening up the authorities to public audit.

The NYS Senate is expected to follow suit in passage of the measure.

The legislation is far from perfect, and still leaves New Yorkers with far too much government, and way too much debt to pay off, but it is a welcome start.

As Governor Paterson suggests, "today we're turning the lights on" at Public Authorities, which, since inception, have largely operated in the dark.

It is still a pretty dim bulb, but given Albany's propensity to perpetuate the status quo, the move to open up the Public Authorities -- making them more public and less authoritative -- takes New York light years in the right direction.

And what next for this special session of the NYS Legislature? School finance reform? Property tax relief? An even bigger and still better bottle bill?

Don't stop now, folks. You're on a roll!
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From the Governor's office:

Governor’s Program Bill Establishes Independent Budget Office to Improve Oversight; Sets Higher Standard for Authorities’ Operational Transparency
Agreement Protects Authorities’ Ability to Promote Economic Development

Governor David A. Paterson and Legislative Leaders today announced an agreement on legislation to reform New York’s public authorities. The measures include the creation of an independent Authorities Budget Office with expanded regulatory responsibilities and subpoena power to improve the oversight of authority operations. The New York State Comptroller will also be empowered to review certain noncompetitively procured contracts for more than $1 million. The reforms, while raising transparency standards, will maintain the authorities’ ability to promote economic development.

“For too long, public authorities have operated in the dark, under little or no public scrutiny. Today, we turn the lights on,” Governor Paterson said. “The reforms will ensure that authorities have an independent auditor to examine how they operate and that they best serve the interest of the public. While achieving greater oversight, we also preserve and even enhance the authorities’ critical powers to promote economic development throughout the State. The people of New York deserve to know that their government is operating transparently and effectively. I thank my partners in government for working to finalize these significant reforms.”

The reform legislation will:
-Establish the creation of an independent Authorities Budget Office to oversee authority operations;
-Allow for Comptroller review of certain noncompetitively procured contracts for more than $1 million;
-Mandate enhanced financial reporting, mission statements and measurement reports by public authorities, so that the State and the public know what authorities are doing, as well as their financial condition;
-Strengthen the rules governing the disposal of property by public authorities to prevent the give-away of public property to private developers;
-Strengthen the rules governing contact between lobbyists and employees of public authorities;
-Regulate the formation of subsidiary corporations and the issuance of debt by subsidiaries in order to place limits on the amount of debt issued by those corporations;
-Require board members of a public authority to perform their duties in good faith, in the best interest of the authority, its mission and the public in order to ensure that public authorities act responsibly; and
-Create a Whistleblower Access and Assistance Program to protect those individuals who report wrongdoing.

A number of cases of misconduct at public authorities that occurred earlier in the decade made it clear that many of these entities were operating without adequate accountability mechanisms. A public outcry led to the passage of the Public Authority Accountability Act, which Governor Paterson helped push through as Senate Minority Leader in 2005. Soon after passage, though, the Commission on Public Authority Reform found that the 2005 law, while a good foundation for greater oversight, did not go far enough. Many of the Commission’s suggestions were included in the Governor’s program bill and in those that passed the Senate and Assembly earlier this year.

Ira Millstein, who led the Commission on Public Authority Reform, said: “I congratulate the Governor and the Legislature for having agreed to this historic legislation, which will benefit the citizens of the State of New York. I do so on behalf of all those who have worked so hard over the years to bring this legislation into being.”


  1. Every party has a pooper and that's me. I can't get real excited about this until I see actual results in the form of dramatically reduced costs. That's not necessarily going to happen as a result of greater oversight. It'll actually require something that is sorely lacking in Albany - a little backbone on the part of our elected "leaders", when it comes to confronting the various groups who have a vested interest in the public authorities themselves. Chief among these will be the politically active public employee unions as well as many others.

  2. QA,

    "more oversight" is like locking the barn door after the horse has taken off. the only thing that will work in the end is:



  3. Yeah and consolidate school districts too. By the way, once a horse has left the barn, what are you usually left with? Answer: pretty much the same stuff that comes out of Albany every year.

  4. QA,

    everyone is for school consolidation-unless it happens to be their own district.

    connecticut and florida have the state fund their schools. why on earth ny didnt take this route years ago when times were good-beats me.

  5. And those are not the only states. You're right, everybody's for consolidation until it means that it might impact their Johnny or Jane, and then all of a sudden it's a bad thing. People need to hear that consolidation can be undertaken without degrading their child's educational experience. The crazy quilt system of school districts that we have on Long Island is actually NOT the norm.