It's Time to Fix NY's Shadow Government

It's been called New York’s shadow government.

And, indeed, it is.  There are about 800 quasi-private authorities in this state that run many activities, including transportation and housing.  These authorities operate in virtual secrecy. They issue bonds. They impose tolls. They spend the taxpayers’ money. But they are not beholden to the taxpayers.

Fiinally, the Legislature has passed a bill to make the authorities more transparent, to enable the public to know what these agencies are up to. The legislation would give the state comptroller the power to review large contracts. It would set up an independent budget office to keep track of the expenditures of the shadow agencies. 

And, now,  Gov. David Paterson must decide whether to sign this legislation into law or veto it. In the past, the Governor strongly favored this reform. But he is under heavy pressure from Mayor Bloomberg to reject the bill. The Mayor believes that this legislation will curtail his powers, including efforts to create projects to build affordable housing and business developments.  

Westchester Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, co-author with Harlem  Senator Bill Perkins of the bill, has tangled with the Mayor before. He fought Bloomberg successfully on congestion pricing and sharply criticized the financing of the new Yankee Stadium.

‘"He is trying to block the single greatest reform in state government in two decades. This is about power and the Mayor’s desire to control everything. He will not succeed," said Brodsky in denouncing the Mayor: 

Brodsky says the Mayor is putting ‘’enormous pressure’’ on the Governor to veto the bill. The legislation has yet to reach Paterson’s desk. Brodsky is holding it up, temporarily. During the next few days, he wants to rally people who favor the bill to make their voices heard.

The New York Times says  the Mayor’s main complaint is that the bill requires authority directors to pledge to do their ‘’fiduciary duty’’ by protecting their authority’s finances. ‘’He seems to think,’’ said the Times, ‘’the directors should listen more to politicians---like himself---who appoint them.’’

The Governor’s office is concerned about a provision that would require the comptroller to review authority contracts of more than one million dollars. Another provision would have authorities disclose all contacts with lobbyists.  

It goes way back in New York history. I remember when Gov. Nelson Rockefeller gave the authority idea its greatest impetus. He created the monster agency called the MTA to run the metropolitan transportation system. Before the MTA, the city government ran the transit system and, before that, the subway lines were in private hands. 

Little by little the authorities spread in influence. The diffusion of power took the heat off elected officials like governors and mayors. But that didn’t lessen their desire to have the authorities do their bidding, and they let the directors know that by direct contact.

Now, at long last, there’s legislation to curb the abuses of non-elected agencies that spend the taxpayers’ money. The shadow government must be curtailed. It’s time to let some sunshine in.    

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