Assemblymember Kevin Cahill: Assembly Passes Bill to Reform Public Authorities

March 11, 2005

The Assembly passed a measure Assemblymember Cahill (D-Ulster/Dutchess) sponsored that will dramatically improve transparency and accountability for New York’s public authorities and public benefit corporations (A.5626).

"New York State has hundreds of public authorities funded through a combination of fees and tax dollars," Assemblymember Cahill said. "These entities currently operate with very little oversight resulting in numerous examples of malfeasance, mismanagement and misappropriations. The legislation passed this week would install the checks necessary to bring transparency, accountability and integrity to our beleaguered system of public authorities."

A short time ago, residents of the Mid-Hudson Valley learned firsthand of the potential for abuse fostered by the current lack of oversight. In September of 2003, the Office of the State Inspector General released a report on its investigation of Jack Gaffney, Governor Pataki’s appointed head of the Bridge Authority. The Inspector General’s investigation revealed that Gaffney had used his position to loot the authority of tens of thousands of dollars for his own personal travel and entertainment expenses. On the heals of the report, Assemblymember Cahill urged a criminal investigation of Gaffney’s alleged abuses. Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams launched an investigation that was eventually taken over by the Office of the State Attorney General. As a result of the criminal proceedings Gaffney was sentenced to three years probation, ordered to perform 400 hours of community service and fined $10,000.

Assemblymember Cahill pointed out that on top of the Bridge Authority scandal, numerous hearings conducted by the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions as well as several state Comptroller’s Office audits have uncovered several additional examples of fiscal discrepancies and mismanagement within the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Long Island Power Authority, the New York Power Authority, the New York Racing Association, the New York State Canal Corporation, the New York State Thruway Authority and others.

"The Assembly’s public authority reform package will serve to curb these abuses of public trust that leave no corner of New York State untouched," Assemblymember Cahill said. "Public authorities are responsible for providing many important services that New Yorkers rely on every day. They must be held to the highest standards of accountability to ensure that the public is getting their money’s worth."

The legislation, crafted with the input of State Comptroller Alan Hevesi and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, would:

  • create a public authorities inspector general to make sure that authorities are given the kind of oversight they’ve been lacking;
  • create a public authorities independent budget office to review the budgets of the statewide and larger public authorities;
  • manage public authority debt by placing controls and caps on spending;
  • restrict certain lobbying practices to ensure there is no undue or improper influence when it comes to awarding authority contracts or spending taxpayers’ money;
  • control the proliferation of public authority subsidiaries by requiring all new corporations to be approved by the Legislature;
  • require each authority to create a central procurement office to oversee procurement contracts; and
  • strengthen ethics rules for members of public authority governing boards.

"The Assembly has once again demonstrated its commitment to reforming and improving the way the State’s business is conducted. It is time for the Governor and the State Senate to step forward and support this critical legislation," Assemblymember Cahill concluded.