Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Hearings begin Thursday on MTA Chair/CEO nominee Walder; will Vanderbilt Yard deal be an issue?

Maybe we'll learn whether the incoming head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) thinks the agency got a good deal on the Vanderbilt Yard.

(Remember, the MTA in June agreed to accept only $20 million upfront from Forest City Ratner instead of $100 million; gave the developer generous terms to pay the rest; and agreed that a smaller rather than larger replacement year was acceptable. And there was apparently no formal legal advice beyond a checkoff.)

Hearing tomorrow

Three Senate Committees (Finance, Corporations and Transportation) tomorrrow begin the first of two joint hearings on Jay Walder, Governor David Paterson's nominee to become Chair and CEO of the MTA.

Walder will speak at the hearing hearing tomorrow, held from 10 am to 1 pm at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Office Building in Mineola.

On Tuesday, September 8, another hearing will be held in Manhattan, from 10 am to 1 pm at the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building, 8th Floor Conference Room, 163 West 125th Street. Walder's confirmation hearing is scheduled for September 10 in Albany.

The Chair of the Finance Committee is Carl Kruger, an Atlantic Yards supporter. The Chair of the Transportation Committee is Martin Malave Dilan, another supporter. The Chair of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions is Bill Perkins, an Atlantic Yards skeptic.

The Vanderbilt Yard deal

"This hearing will provide the public and members of the Senate with an opportunity to hear from Mr. Walder," stated an announcement from Perkins's office. "It will also provide the public an opportunity to weigh in on the nomination and any other issues relevant to the MTA. The Senate seeks to work with the MTA to foster a new, fiscally sound and transparent agency that improves service and restores public trust."

Note that, according to the MTA bailout bill passed last spring, the new Chair/CEO--as opposed to his predecessors--is a board member and thus has a fiduciary duty, albeit one enforced only by the governor.

(The pending reform bill regarding public authorities, which Paterson has not signed, would make it enforceable by a new Authorities Budget Office.)

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, who has led the reform effort, said in July:
Take the Seven line extension, take the West Side Yards, take Atlantic Yards. In all those cases, it seems to be me provable that, whether you like the projects or you don't--I'm not taking a position on the projects--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. But because I passed a law in 2006 that had a mistake in it, we had a CEO of the MTA who was not bound by the fiduciary duty. Now we can fix that. The law gives Mr. Walder a clear defense that, when the next time the Mayor says, "Go build me a subway line to nowhere." Whether he will use that will become, I think, the chief measure of his success or his failure.

So, what does Walder think? Is the MTA bound to its political patrons, or to its riders?

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