Friday, December 06, 2013

Over the years, Shorris, incoming first deputy mayor, has warned about deferring infrastructure decisionmaking to private sector

Former Port Authority head Anthony Shorris, a veteran government hand, has been named by Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio as first deputy mayor. As deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget under Ed Koch, Shorris was, to de Blasio, “one of the central architects of the Koch administration’s affordable housing program."

Of course back then the city was taking property in tax arrears and helping rehabilitate it or sell it--a very different scenario than today. Shorris, as noted by Capital New York, also served as "Koch’s finance commissioner, and then served as deputy chancellor for operations at the Department of Education in the Giuliani and Bloomberg administration."

Shorris very much has mainstream credentials, serving as a Regional Plan Association board member, co-chairing the Fourth Regional Plan, which will map out plans for infrastructure and development

In the Daily News, former Empire State Development Corporation President Avi Schick wrote A great first step for de Blasio: Anthony Shorris, a capable government manager, will be a strong right hand.
Shorris is familiar face in progressive political circles, but he is not an ideologue. And Shorris is comfortable in the boardrooms of the Partnership for New York City, but he understands that the city’s population is scattered across all five boroughs.
He has served at all levels of government, most prominently as the city’s finance commissioner and deputy budget director and most recently as the executive director of the Port Authority. I worked closely with Tony when he ran the Port, and while the nature of life and of the jobs we had meant that we didn’t always agree, what I saw up close then will serve the city very well now.
...Tony used to keep a framed portrait of legendary and long-serving Port Authority executive director Austin Tobin above his desk. I remember asking him why, especially since modern politics makes it impossible to fathom serving even half as long as Tobin’s 30 years at the helm. Tony’s response was that it reminded him of the need to think big and grandly and to take the long-view on behalf of the city and its residents, who deserve good government and great amenities and infrastructure.
That ethos should be comforting to those concerned by the departure of the big-idea Bloomberg administration. 
Shorris on who builds public works

I wrote in November 2007 a post headlined Port Authority's Shorris on public works and the Robert Moses of today (guess)

Former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, now head of New York Civic, asked Shorris who were the 2007 equivalents of master builder Robert Moses and 30-year Port Authority head Austin Tobin.

Shorris said, "Well, that’s a good question… The larger answer is we sort of right now we have ceded a lot of that to the private sector. Right now, we expect developers, real estate developers, who will build our train stations and run our ferries… we’ve had a kind of almost a religious obsession with having the marketplace solve all problems, including public works."

"I think any economist would tell you it’s problematic to have public works created by the marketplace, because they’re about market failures. And our ceding all of our leadership to the marketplace in some of these I think has been a problem. So when you ask who are the great public leaders on these things, mostly the big developers right now are all people in the marketplace. In fact, the largest investors in capital are private funds… who make investment decisions about ports and airports and so on."

Shorris continued:  I think right now the good news for me… is that [New Jersey Gov. Jon] Corzine, ]New York Gov. Eliot] Spitzer, [New York Mayor Mike] Bloomberg are actually about as good as you’re going to get on these kinds of issues, about being interested in creating great public works, and paying for them, and thinking about economics in a sound way. The tumblers in the lock… have turned and now the question is, can we turn the key and actually start building something again… So this is a pretty good opportunity right now, maybe not to create Moseses and Tobins again, but at least to get the public sector creating the public works the region needs.

As I wrote, Shorris may have had good reasons for optimism, but the Bloomberg administration has relied significantly on the marketplace to build infrastructure; perhaps the Port Authority head was referring mainly to his agency.

Shorris on the boundary between public and private

In April 2009, I wrote Former Port Authority head warns about deferring infrastructure decisions to private entities (and what about AY?). Shorris, then director of the NYU Wagner Rudin Center for Transportation, warned that questions of infrastructure face major and various roadblocks, including a calcified political system, boundary challenges around New York, and the need to balance short-term costs and long-term benefits.

He then made comments that, while not directly about Atlantic Yards, certainly had and have some resonance, especially given that Forest City Ratner has deferred building a deck over the Vanderbilt Yard.

"The fourth challenge that requires rethinking... is the boundary between public and private," Shorris said. "Increasingly we've deferred much of the [infrastructure] decisionmaking to the private sector"--his tone turned sardonic--"and we know by definition the public sector is incompetent and corrupt, unable to make decisions wisely; the only people who can make decisions wisely are clearly bankers."

So, Shorris said, that means we'll let infrastructure decisions be made "essentially by private investors." The future of Moynihan Station, he suggested, would thus be determined by "what's good for [developer] Related's investors. Now, we can continue to do that, and a kind of infrastructure will emerge, but whether those are public goods in the way we'd like them to be public goods, as a result of decisions made by private entities, is not clear, to me, the way we want to go."

No comments:

Post a Comment