Albany Reaches Deal on Authority Reform

Finally, New York's shadow government may see some light

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Two state officials said Wednesday that the Legislature and Gov. David Paterson have agreed to landmark reforms of public authorities after years of failed attempts to force greater accountability on the entities that have been involved in some of New York's biggest scandals.

    The state officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk about the deal until after an official announcement expected later Wednesday. The measure still subject to a vote in the Legislature and the governor's signature.

    Long called the state's "shadow government," public authorities operate many of the major services in New York City and statewide, including the city's mass transit system, the state Thruway, and the Port Authority.

    A document outlining the reform says the authorities will open their financial records to independent review and become more accountable to the public than to the governors, mayors and legislators who appoint their members.

    Authorities created by the state, counties and municipalities statewide have long been plagued by scandal and allegations of secrecy, which led to initial reforms in 2005. As examples of abuses, sponsors have cited previous increases in Thruway tolls and New York City subway fares when it wasn't clear they were necessary. They also noted that development rights along the Erie Canal were almost sold in 2005 for $30,000 to a politically connected developer.

    Authorities were created by the Legislature to provide a more efficient, apolitical way to run essential state services.

    The reform would require more background information on officers who run the authorities and require them to have a fiduciary responsibility to the authority, not the official or government that appointed them. The measure would also create stronger oversight over when authorities borrow money, requires a record of contacts by lobbyists, and protects employees who are whistle blowers on problems including corruption.

    The latest state records show authorities in total are responsible for $140 billion in debt.

    Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.