Public Authority Reform Bill May Lose in City Hall

Why hasn't the bill made it to the governor's desk?

A bill to overhaul hundreds of state authorities is heading toward Governor Paterson's desk but the question is: why hasn't it reached him yet?
The bill passed by sizable majorities in both houses of the Legislature. Reliable sources in Albany say the Mayor has weighed in against the legislation, putting pressure on the Governor to veto the bill.  City Hall says the Mayor is indeed against the proposed legislation and for good reasons.
The bill would set up an independent budget office with powers over the authorities, including the ability  to issue subpoenas to compel witnesses to testify. Authorities would have to turn over their financial records to this budget office.
A spokeswoman for the Governor says the bill hasn't been officially received yet. In the Albany ritual, although the Legislature and the Governor are only one floor apart in the State House, the bill has to be carried to the Governor's office. That hasn't happened yet and, when it does, the Governor will still have 10 days to decide whether to sign it.
Authorities were first created many years ago as entities not directly responsible to the public or the governors and mayors who appoint their members.  Setting up an authority has been used as a device to diffuse responsibility for particular actions like raising tolls or subway and bus fares.

It's much more difficult to turn your anger on a body with a dozen members than against one chief executive   An authority can raise money by issuing bonds. In a sense, authorities are little fiefdoms, not subject to direct supervision by an elected official or the voters.
The mayor's press secretary Stu Loeser said Bloomberg was opposed to this legislation for two main reasons, ''It sets up another level of bureaucracy,'' he says, ''and it requires people who sit on authorities to often consider only what's best for the authority.''

Loeser says that in the case of the MTA, for example, ''the mayor expects the four members he appoints to act in the best interests of the city, not the MTA.''
Also, as City Hall sees it, the bill awaiting Governor Paterson's signature would straight jacket authorities in such matters as disposing of assets. Thus, the MTA, if it wanted to give some non-profit organization a piece of property for, say, an art center, the authority could sell it to the group only at ''fair market value.'' 
Assemblyman Richard Brodsky,  co-author of the bill, says the market value provision is there to protect the riders, so assets aren't diverted to insiders and favorite developers.
He says the Mayor's contention that the members he appoints are supposed to vote in the city's interest ''breaks the law.''  Brodsky insists the members must all vote in the interest of their authority. He asserts: ''The Mayor is wrong.''  Brodsky says: ''This is the biggest reform of state government in 25 years. These authorities have long operated in secrecy. It's a situation crying out for reform.  If the Mayor wants to put himself in the way of reform it's up to him.''
From my own experience as a reporter in covering government for half a century, I think Brodsky is correct in pointing out that the bureaucracies run by authorities are neither accountable nor transparent and they conduct much of their business in secret. It's in the public interest to have these bureaucracies accountable.
Secrecy and lack of accountability, we have seen over the years, can result in sweetheart deals with developers, mismanagement and mountains of debt. Government may not borrow money. But authorities do and there's the rub.     

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