Senate Ends "Shadow Governments"

December 02, 2009

Passes Sweeping Public Authorities Reform

(Albany, NY) The State Senate passed sweeping public authorities reform today fundamentally changing the way these authorities—or “shadow governments” as they are often called—operate.
The Senate’s plan will place stringent public disclosure and reporting requirements on more than 1,000 public authorities across the state, including the New York Power Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
New Yorkers are paying for years of secrecy, lack of oversight, and fiscal recklessness due to prior unwillingness to challenge the autonomy of authorities on spending and budgeting.  The result of past practices: more than $5 billion in debt-service payments on more than $43 billion of authority debt is paid annually according to a 2008 report by the Hugh L. Carey Center for Government Reform at Wagner College.
But after decades of irresponsibility, new leadership has resulted in real change.  Led by Senator Bill Perkins (D-Harlem), Chair of the Senate Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, the Senate was able to secure a wide range of new oversight requirements, including new standards and practices relating to the purchase and sale of state assets and the establishment of an independent Authorities Budget Office (ABO) as a public watchdog.
Among other key reforms, the new law includes provisions:
·         Empowering the State Comptroller with the authority to review and investigate sole-source contracts over $1 million.
·         Mandating Senate approval for the appointment of CEOs of major authorities, including the New York Power Authority, Long Island Power Authority, the Thruway Authority, the Urban Development Corporation and the Dormitory Authority.
·         Amending the confidentiality provision of the whistleblower provisions to allow the ABO to disclose information, where appropriate to the State Inspector General.
·         Requiring the Authority Budget office to consult with the Attorney General to conform to Public Authorities Law Section 2824, which establishes the role and responsibilities of board members.
·         Providing for the transfer of budget appropriations from the Office of Authority Oversight to the Independent Authority Budget Office.
“For too long public authorities have operated as a ‘shadow government,” said Senator Perkins. “I fought for these reforms to keep these state entities honest and make them more responsive to the needs of the public.”
“Given the use of public dollars to maintain the basic functions and administration of public authorities, it was shocking how little of a role we as elected officials had to ensure that money was spent wisely,” said Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), Vice-Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. “This is a win for the public; a win for those of us who believe government, including shadow governments, should be held to the highest of standards; and a win for these authorities who can now move forward without a cloud of doubt over their work.”
“We are committed to bringing greater openness and accountability to the public authorities so they will better serve the people of New York,” said Senator Neil Breslin (D-Albany). “For much too long these authorities operated in secret. The Senate’s bill will clean up decades of mismanagement and make certain that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth.”
“This is a very important issue to me, as we have been working on IDA reform and other ways in which we can help government operate better, more efficient, and more open,” said Senator Antoine Thompson (D-parts of Niagara and Erie Counties). “This is the first step in what will be a ongoing effort to give New Yorkers the government, and services, they need and deserve.”
"The passage of this critical legislation is a big step towards cleaning up a public authorities system that desperately needs reform," said Senator Brian X. Foley (D-Blue Point). "By increasing transparency and holding public authorities accountable, we will ensure that tax payer money is used more responsibly and services are delivered more efficiently."