After months of political grandstanding by New York State’s elected officials, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced today that he will begin a forensic audit of the MTA’s finances. As DiNapoli recently found systematic abuses of overtime, the comptroller’s probe will focus on work rules and overtime oversight but will explore the entire MTA financial picture. “Something is wrong with a system that allows more than 140 people to double their salaries through overtime,” DiNapoli said on Monday. “It’s hard to justify repeated fare hikes, layoffs and service reductions when New Yorkers believe the MTA isn’t controlling spending and restraining costs. For too long, the MTA has had a culture of acceptance when it comes to overtime abuse. That has to change.”
DiNapoli says he will target “excessive overtime” in this audit and recognizes that the MTA’s new leadership is committed to fiscal responsibility as well. “There is a relatively new leadership there,” he said. “They said they’re going to do a top-to-bottom review of operations. We want to be sure that overtime is a key part of what they are reviewing.” For its part, the MTA said it won’t resist the comptroller’s probe. “We welcome the controller’s assistance as we continue to fulfill our commitment to reduce overtime,” Jeremy Soffin, MTA spokesman, said to The Daily News.
DiNapoli says he’ll refer his report to state prosecutors if he uncovers any potentially illegal wrong-doing, but I’m more concerned with the state’s legislative response than I am with its criminal response. A so-called forensic audit that uncovers systematic overtime abuses would be news worthy of a “dog bites man” headline, and New York’s politicians are sure to fault the MTA for any widespread examples of waste. But the true test will be in the state’s actions. Since the MTA is a creature of the state, its politicians can change work rules that lead to rampant overtime — if rampant overtime abuses indeed exist. The politicians can change the structure of the MTA to better consolidate its various subagencies. The politicians can enact better fiscal management and more thorough oversight. They can grandstand all they want, but without real action, the structural problems of the MTA will continue ad infinitum.