Home Public Transit Policy Assembly passes authority oversight measure

Assembly passes authority oversight measure

by Benjamin Kabak

Meet Richard Brodsky. He is an influential Assembly representative from Westchester, and he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. More about him in a minute.

Yesterday afternoon, the New York State Assembly approved a sweeping bill that would bring more oversight to the state’s 700 public authorities. Spurred on in part by rampant construction delays, cost overruns and general mismanagement at the MTA, this measure — soon to be approved by the State Senate — would impose more bureaucracy on the bureaucracy. Jeremy W. Peters of The Times has more:

State authorities — which range in size from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, with an $11 billion annual budget, to small ones like the Binghamton Parking Authority — would have to reveal more detailed financial plans and allow the state comptroller to audit any contract of more than $1 million that is awarded noncompetitively.

Under the measure, certain large authorities, like the Long Island Power Authority and the Thruway Authority, could not appoint leaders without Senate consent. The new rules would also restrict the sale of land at below-market values, a practice intended to spur development that has been abused by authorities over the years.

The legislation makes efforts to rein in the debt that state authorities and their subsidiaries have taken on — around $150 billion is outstanding — by requiring them to produce guidelines to better manage how they borrow.

“This is a massive reform of a system that was in many ways corrupt, inefficient and dangerous,” said [Brodsky, a leader of the ] efforts in the Legislature to impose more control over the authorities. “These were Soviet-style bureaucracies doing the right thing some of the time, but rife with corruption and off on their own, outside the control of democratic institutions…Those days are over.”

Now, this all sounds well and good. There’s no doubt that New York’s public authorities, long a stronghold of the powerful, operate as a quasi-government within the state. Since the days of Robert Moses’ entrenchment at Triborough, New York’s authorities have needed more control and oversight. If this measure prevents sweetheart land deals similar to the one Bruce Ratner may enjoy for the Vanderbilt Yards land rights, I’m a-OK with that. Who can complain about reducing borderline corrupt or shady practices?

What bothers me, though, are willfully ignorant public statements by our elected representatives. In the Daily News coverage of the Assembly’s vote, Brodsky speaks at length about his targeting the MTA with this measure. “This is the most fundamental reform of Albany in decades,” he said. “This means the repeated catastrophies [sic] we’ve seen at the MTA on fare policy, on contract letting, on two sets of books, those days are over,” he said.

Brodsky is doing no one a favor by rehashing the old and tired claim about the MTA’s two sets of books. The charges come out of a 2003 State Comptroller report by Alan Hevesi, the since-disgraced politician. Eventually, not one, but two state courts ruled that Hevesi’s charges were flat-out false. (Click here for Times coverage from 2003.) Yet, the Internet is replete with people too lazy to investigate the truth: There never were two sets of books.

Brodsky was right to push for authority oversight in some form. The system doesn’t work as well as it should. But he has to take responsibility for his words, and the repeating old charges about two sets of books just makes him look petty while creating confusion and sowing ignorance among those he represents. Fix the MTa, but fix problems that exist and not ones that do not.

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