Magnarelli: Power Authority Spending Is Out of Control and Costing Us Millions

PASNY leaves Central New York out when helping charities
March 30, 2006

While working families in Central New York tighten their household budgets and make difficult sacrifices to deal with skyrocketing energy costs, the Power Authority of the State of New York (PASNY) is doling out money irresponsibly and costing taxpayers millions of dollars in possible savings.

A recent report revealed that PASNY has spent over $1 million in authority funds to various groups based solely on the whim of authority executives. PASNY has also lavishly spent millions of dollars to purchase and charter planes to shuttle authority executives around the state.

PASNY has insisted during state budget negotiations that it cannot afford to continue to provide the Power for Jobs benefits – low-cost power designed to keep and expand job opportunities – yet the disclosure of the authority’s spending for purposes beyond its mission reveals a completely different story.

In response to this questionable spending, I have called for the Assembly’s Energy Committee to schedule public hearings to openly expose these abuses and hold the authority accountable for its actions.

It is wildly irresponsible for a public benefit corporation like PASNY to hand out money on publicity stunts and purchase private jets, especially with New Yorkers confronting an energy crunch. PASNY executives are not keeping the best interests of New York consumers in mind and have chosen, instead, to waste taxpayer money on self-aggrandizing theatrics.

Since the governor took over the authority and appointed close friends to run it, 199 employees out of the authority’s 1,600 employees make more than $100,000 – about 12.5 percent of its payroll. PASNY executives also travel frequently on two private airplanes and employ four pilots to fly them all over the state. Just one of the turbo-prop airplanes costs New York taxpayers $1,007 an hour. The only other agencies in the state government that have airplanes are the New York State police and military.

The executives are funding their own agendas with taxpayers’ money – an obvious lack of commitment to keep energy costs down – when they could be easing the budgets of working families and employers with energy savings and strengthening New York’s struggling economy.

PASNY is responsible for about 25 percent of all electricity in New York State and was originally created to harness hydropower from the St. Lawrence River – thereby providing cheap electricity to New Yorkers across the state. The authority also subsidizes the power bills of hundreds of businesses.

According to recent reports, PASNY has given grant money to fund a variety of events – including symphonies, a soccer team and even theatre repairs. In 2006, the authority spent $25,000 to send two members of Congress and their staffs on a three-day winter outing filled with skiing, skating and tobogganing.

The bottom line – which PASNY officials have obviously not considered – is that PASNY needs to be accountable for its spending. While the PASNY gravy train has made regular stops along the governor’s old stomping grounds, working families across the rest of the state – especially in Central New York – have been unceremoniously ignored. The Syracuse area has been generally excluded from the authority’s charity spending and energy-efficiency programs.

Central New York was also noticeably left out of the nearly $1 million per year that goes to charities located around its generating plants and recommended by its executives and employees.

This is unacceptable. PASNY lacks direction and public accountability – and it needs to stop its spending practices immediately. New York residents pay the highest electricity rates of any state in the continental U.S., according to the federal Department of Energy.

Since PASNY is not a for-profit corporation, the public should benefit. But the authority has misplaced its priorities by placing its corporate image over protecting more than 300,000 jobs throughout the state. PASNY should do what it was created to do and serve the people of New York with cheap electricity.