‘Reform: Running on empty’

In Columns by Hal PetersonLeave a Comment

This column reviews the “Annual Report on Public Authorities in New York State,” just released by the Authorities Budget Office (ABO). Its publication is probably one of Albany’s best keep secrets. Produced by a professional and dedicated staff of internal auditors, the report clearly outlines why the reform legislation enacted over the past six years will not even come close to being realized. We should understand why!

With the cost of services well beyond supportable level, our elected officials seem to maintain credibility by marketing “reform” legislation. Problem “A” is addressed by Solution “B” and no one will be any wiser when “C” arrives.

Sound too cynical. Not really, when we consider the following.

Problem “A:” The taxpaying public is served by 46 state and 445 local authorities with total spending of about $53 billion annually. These authorities are not self sustaining, accumulating hundreds in millions of debt issued by the state or backed by its moral obligation or direct appropriations. These agencies are governed by more than 3,300 board members, many appointed by the governor operating with an unjustifiable degree of autonomy for many years. To steal a phase from Tom Hank’s movie, Apollo 13, “Houston, we have had a problem here.”

Solution “B:” The ABO is empowered by law to report on and recommend ways to ensure compliance. Needless to say, its report identifies numerous unresolved issues and, some startling findings that continue to beg for attention. We are obviously witnessing an ongoing saga with indefinite results. And now “C has arrived.” David Kidera, ABO director; was kind enough to answer the following question. What would you like to do, or change, to ensure your findings are properly acknowledged? ”Our biggest problem is a lack of funding/staff that prevents us from doing follow up work to see if an authority adopted or fixed the problems identified,” Kidera said. “Now, if the authority can weather the publicity etc. they are pretty much free to carry on business as usual. By law they are not required to file a corrective action plan with us so we could do some basic monitoring. I do not expect the governor or the legislature to acknowledge the report.”

This last paragraph explains (in part) why reform legislation is not working as intended. Political support is always a bit iffy. Governor Andrew Cuomo has stressed the importance of “recalibrating, redesigning and rebuilding……New York’s dysfunctional government that has had a lasting negative impact on our state’s economy……and reverse the top down approach that created a government we can no longer afford.”

I intend to forward this column to the governor with the following note. “Dear Governor Cuomo: A copy of the Authorities Budget Office report has been forwarded to your office. Please acknowledge its receipt and comment on why (in dealing with this one aspect of dysfunctional government) the ABO is not getting the support needed to enforce current regulatory reform, top down or otherwise?”

Do you think he will respond?

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