Brodsky, Perkins call for increased MTA oversight

By · Published in 2009

Citing the need to “assure the kind of quality mass transit that our economy and our communities demand,” Assembly representative Richard Brodsky, State Senator Bill Perkins and 12 other assembly members have called on Gov. David Paterson to reform the MTA finances.

In a public letter to the governor (available here as a PDF), the two representatives, heads of their chambers’ respective Committees on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, want to see real financial reform from the beleaguered transit agency.

“The fundamental problems of transparency, accountability, Board responsibilities and functions, oversight and public trust have become slogans that we all speak, but have not yet enacted,” they wrote. “We write because we strongly believe this financial crisis is an opportunity to, at least, fundamentally reform the MTA.”

The problems, according to Perkins and Brodsky, start at the top. “We need to open up the operations of the MTA, to provide regular outside overisght, and to ensure that the MTA and its Board are required to fulfill their mission. While this sounds simple and obvious,” the letter says, “it has become clear to us that the MTA and its’ (sic) Boards have not been able to meet these standards.”

Brodsky and Perkins’ ideas are mostly sound and most tame, considering the rhetoric in the letter. They write:

1) Board Members of the MTA should be subject to a statutory fiduciary duty to the mission and purpose of the MTA, as set forth in existing statutes.

2) There should be created a MTA/Authority Accountability Office to oversee that fiduciary duty and MTA operations, to recommend to the Legislature effective reforms of debt, compensation, MWBE, property disposition and other issues, to inquire into MTA activities and resolve complaints, and to receive and publish MTA documents. This is modeled on the successful NYC Budget Office.

3) The MTA should be required to publish, in real time, its finances, policies, plans and decisions. The current system relies heavily on post-facto audits. These do a reasonable job in telling us what went wrong. They do little to stop mistakes. Real-time review by the public, the Legislature, and the Authority Accountability Office could prevent problems not just explain why they happened.

4) The Comptroller should be empowered, consistent with the constitutional duties of the Office, to review selected contracts issued by the MTA.

My concerns about this proposal though stem not from their aims or ideas but rather from their misguided critiques of recent MTA problems: “Recent events at the MTA including the 2 Broadway deal, the 7 Line extension, the failure to publicly acknowledge cash resources, the failure to seek state and city support before voting for fare increases, and the focus on non-essential matters such as EZ-Passes for Board Members, has left the public with little confidence in the MTA.

Those aren’t recent events at the MTA, as Brodsky and Perkins allege, but recent news coverage of the MTA. As Chris O’Leary noted here yesterday, the myths about the MTA’s finances are largely media-driven, and Brodsky and Perkins are doing nothing to end the misconceptions that have allowed the State Senate to stall on a rescue plan.

Item-by-item: The 7 line extension is fully funded by the city, and the MTA shouldn’t have been blamed for failing to cover cost overruns. The MTA didn’t fail to seek state and city support before voting for fare increases. Rather, the state and city failed to support the MTA and had nearly a year’s notice of impending financial doom. The focus on the EZ-Pass scandal made for some juicy tabloid coverage but had little to do with the actual operations of the MTA. If the public has no confidence in the MTA, it is because the MTA is losing the public relations battle.

Brodsky and Perkins could have gone after the MTA for legitimate reasons. They could have examined issues concerning budget transparency, union relations and a bloated bureaucratic management structure. Instead, they chose to focus on the same old non-issues that make for good headlines and have little to do with the ingrained problems plaguing the MTA.

The Senate and Assembly should have more financial oversight of the MTA but not until the legislatures have shown they know what to do with that responsibility. Nothing I’ve seen out of Albany over the last month lead to believe any state representative could handle that duty.

Categories : MTA Politics

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