Home MTA Politics Albany-enforced oversight, but is it what the MTA needs?

Albany-enforced oversight, but is it what the MTA needs?

by Benjamin Kabak

With little fanfare last week, the State Senate and New York Assembly passed a bill to reform the way New York State Authorities — including the MTA — do business. Ostensibly, the purpose of the bill is to create an independent budget office with a variety of powers over authorities, but I have to wonder if it’s the right type of oversight for the MTA.

Currently, the bill is sitting on Gov. David Paterson’s desk, awaiting action, and as The Times’ Danny Hakim reports, his approval is no sure thing. Governors, after all, can exercise significant power over state authorities, and the state’s top executives have been loathe to hand over any of their power to the (dysfunctional) legislative branch.

For now, though, the bill’s fate is neither here nor there. Let’s instead take a look at how this act — full text available here — will impact the MTA. Hakim writes:

The legislation would create an independent budget office with an array of powers over authorities, including the ability to issue subpoenas as part of investigations. Authorities would also be required to turn over financial records to the budget office.

Contracts awarded by authorities over $1 million would have to be reviewed by the state comptroller. New limits would be placed on the ability of authorities to issue debt, a major area of concern among financial watchdogs.

The legislation makes clear that those who serve on authority boards have a fiduciary responsibility to the authority and its mission. Spelling out this duty holds directors to a defined standard of conduct and is aimed at curbing favoritism and corruption.

The Straphangers Campaign issued a press release late last week praising the Senate and Assembly for passing this measure. The PIRG also explained some of the logistics:

The bill (Assembly bill 2209 and Senate bill 1537) would create a new Public Authorities Budget Office directly responsible for monitoring and reporting on the State’s public authorities. A similar agency in New York City (the Independent Budget Office) has helped hold City government accountable. In many cases, its agreement with the City has enhanced the City’s credibility. The director of the State Public Authorities Budget Office would be appointed by the Governor and served for a fixed four-year term.

If anything, this act sounds as though it would simply create another layer of red tape for the MTA and similar public authorities. I don’t have enough knowledge of the city’s IBO and its impact to assess how a similar body on a state level would function, but I believe the MTA needs a greater level of oversight than that offered up by this act.

As I mentioned earlier today, the MTA needs to be held accountable for its failures. That public undertaking needs to extend far beyond a rubber stamp for high contracts and a symbolic slap on the wrist by yet another state organization. How that potential MTA oversight board will look is frankly outside the scope of my expertise, but this state Public Authorities Budget Office doesn’t sound as though it will do the job.

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