Keeping Tabs on New York's Invisible Government

By Gabe Pressman
|  Tuesday, Aug 17, 2010  |  Updated 7:46 PM EDT
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Keeping Tabs on New York's Invisible Government

AP

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, D-Elmsford, laughs while working in the Assembly Chamber at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., Monday, May 4, 2009.

There is a shadow government in New York State but, at last, some sunshine seems to be piercing the darkness.

The governor has about 131,000 employees under his direct control. And the Times reports there are perhaps 163,000 other people working for independent public authorities and agencies. That’s just an estimate because authorities have not been required to report payrolls to a central state agency for years.

But, in March, a new law laid down restrictions on what authorities can do, and mandated a greater degree of transparency for these mysterious agencies.

A commission appointed by Governor Paterson has just urged that governors and mayors should stop meddling in the affairs of public authorities: Their report suggested that politicians who appoint board members should not improperly influence their appointees.

The Times says the proposed new regulations are unlikely to be greeted “with enthusiasm by many politicians, including Mayor Michael R.. Bloomberg, who has often seemed to expect that his appointees carry out his policies particularly those he’s named to the board of the MTA.”

Many New Yorkers are not familiar with the details of the new law. It promises much greater accountability by the authorities, which number in the hundreds. Their very lack of accountability is rooted in the motives under which they were set up---to escape great scrutiny by the public and the regular government.

Among reforms the new law mandates are: restrictions on no-bid contracts; protection of people who blow the whistle on corruption; a requirement that authorities make public their debt; a requirement that authorities publish their payrolls; and an Authorities Budget Office has been set up to make their revenues and expenditures public.

Another new provision: that bonuses to staff are made public. In the past some were concealed.

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, who carried the ball for authority reform in the Legislature for the last five years, told me: “Real change is in the air. I think these reforms are long overdue.”

The taxpayers, the people of New York, can hope that is true. It will take a while before we know whether the promise of reform is kept. At least we’re making a start.

A bit of sunshine may be breaking through the shadow government.

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