“This bill is as American as apple pie,” Brodsky (right) said of the Public Authorities Reform Act of 2009. “This is a power struggle between the needs of the people and the needs of a powerful mayor.” The bill has drawn broad support from editorialists and civic groups.
Perkins (left, below) said Paterson should “return to his roots,” noting that, “when the governor had this office [state Senator from Harlem], he was a leading voice for reform.” They spoke at a hastily-called press conference at Perkins’s Harlem office, attended by journalists from the Associated Press, WNYC, and City Hall News, along with AYR. (News of Paterson's reluctance broke Friday.)
While neither mentioned Atlantic Yards by name, Brodsky made what could be interpreted as an indirect reference, noting that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) “has been pressured to... give away property to developers.” Without identifying specific projects, he said such sales represented a violation of the fiduciary duty required in the bill. (Note that the MTA bailout bill this spring allowed removal of board members if they breached their fiduciary duty, but the new bill would make the duty more enforceable, and more explicit.)
In July, Brodsky said that, in the case of AY, the West Side Yards, and the #7 line extension, “it seems to be me provable that... the MTA's fiduciary responsibility to the system and the riders was to maximize the value of the assets it was putting out. It could not do that in many of those cases. That struck me as a violation of the fiduciary duty.”
Perkins said his office was still looking into Atlantic Yards.
(Photos by Steve Soblick)
Provisions in the bill
The pending bill, A2209 would, among other things, establish an independent Authorities Budget Office, or ABO (modeled on the Congressional Budget Office and the New York City Independent Budget Office); require far more transparency from the hundreds of state and local authorities; require board members (via the ABO) to acknowledge their fiduciary duty to the authority and not the elected official who appointed them; require the state Comptroller to review contracts; require all property to be sold at fair market value; create provisions protecting whistleblowers; require limits on and details from subsidiaries; require authorities to submit debt reform measures to the ABO and require them to submit a statement of intent to guide issuance and overall amount of debt issued.
Perkins and Brodsky also promised a release of additional information about authority practices and what they call “a major statement on authority debt,” which is amassed with little oversight.
Widespread support for curbing “shadow government”
Perkins and Brodsky, serving as the chairmen of committees that oversee public authorities, shepherded the bill through the legislature to nearly unanimous approval.
At least nine newspapers, including the New York Times, Newsday, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Albany Times-Union, and the Syracuse Post-Standard, have endorsed the bill. (Missing, interestingly enough, are the New York Daily News and the New York Post.)
Also supporting the bill are planning and good government groups like the Straphangers campaign, the Citizens Union, Transportation Alternatives, the Regional Plan Association, Common Cause, and the state League of Women Voters.
“The cry for reform in this state is universal,” said Brodsky, nothing that authorities such as the MTA, the Thruway Authority, Long Island Power Authority, New York Power Authority, Empire State Development Corporation, and others constitute an unregulated “shadow government.”
MTA board members don't work for the governor or mayor, he said; "they work for the straphangers." Joining the legislators was Gene Russianoff (right) of the Straphangers Campaign, who said, “This legislation is the most significant act of reform in a generation. It would be terrible if Governor Paterson missed this very unique opportunity.”
Objecting to Bloomberg
Likening the debate over the bill to the polarized and distorted national discussion over health care reform, Brodsky said “were not going to allow the mayor or anyone else to mischaracterize what’s in the bill.” He noted that the authorities operate all over the state, with many of their activities having nothing to do with New York City. “This is not a New York City issue,” he said, citing widespread support for the bill.
Bloomberg apparently objects to a provision that requires records kept detailing all contact with lobbyists, including those from other government agencies.
“They don’t want the public to know when the mayor’s office calls in and tells the governor what to do,” Brodsky said.
As an example of Bloomberg’s influence, Brodsky pointed to the issuance of tax-exempt bonds by the New York City Industrial Development Authority, an arm of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, to build Yankee Stadium. “It wasn’t done by the IDA board,” Brodsky said, blaming the mayor’s office.
Bloomberg, according to the Times, objects to a provision banning the sale of property at below-market prices. A Bloomberg spokesman told the AP that such sales would limit "public uses like affordable housing, community space and targeted job creation"-which sounds not unlike the justifications for Atlantic Yards.
“If you want to reform the MTA,” Brodsky said, “this is the vehicle.”