Accountable Authorities -- It's About Time!

By Gabe Pressman
|  Wednesday, Nov 18, 2009  |  Updated 8:00 PM EDT
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Accountable Authorities -- It's About Time!

The state legislature deserves an A for its effort to reform New York's "authorities," like the MTA.

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The Governor and the Legislature should be congratulated for agreeing on a new law to regulate public authorities.

In an era when there's been precious little to cheer about over accomplishments in Albany, finally the legislators and the governor have taken meaningful action on long-needed reform.  Although while the agreement is in place, the state Senate failed to actually take up the vote on the reform bill late Wednesday -- it should pass on Thursday.

For years, "authorities" have existed in a world of their own. They have handled billions of dollars of the people’s money. They have negotiated contracts without competitive bidding. There’s been neither transparency nor oversight of these agencies that do pretty much as they please without scrutiny by the state government.

The new law will go a long way to remedying that situation. The finances of authorities will be monitored. The State Comptroller will scrutinize the actions of authorities just as he exercises oversight over the agencies of state government.

The authorities have existed for many years as, in effect, independent governments. They have deliberated usually in secret and taken actions without consulting with the public or the public’s elected representatives.

The Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver hailed the bill for shedding light on an area that has long been in the dark, providing accountability at last.

The comptroller will be able to review contracts of more than one million dollars and create strict rules to control public authority debt.

There will be an independent budget office for the approximately 700 public authorities. The rights of whistle blowers who try to point out unjust or illegal practices by these institutions will be protected. The rights of minority and women businesses that deal with these authorities will be protected too.

Democratic Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, who has worked hard for many years to get this legislation passed, was elated.

As he hurried to the Governor’s office for the bill signing, he told me on his cell phone, "This will go a long way to eliminating much of the Soviet-style bureaucracy that these authorities represented. It’s the most fundamental reform enacted by the Legislature in decades. This will open much of New York's hidden government."

Brodsky deserves high praise, as other legislative leaders pointed out, for his tenacity over the years in pushing for this important reform.

At the bill signing, Brodsky thanked the legislative leaders for their support of this ground-breaking law. Governor Paterson was enthusiastic too about finally making the authorities open to public view.

If nothing else, today’s action makes it clear that Albany can accomplish something meaningful if it wants to.

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