Audit: Public authority spending swells state debt

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ALBANY -- Spending by public authorities increased by about 27 percent over the past two years, even as overall state spending remained relatively flat, according to a new report.

The growth in authority spending has added to the state's overall debt load, according to the audit by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. The audit also found that public-authority employees are much better paid than regular state workers.

"Public authorities are an increasingly influential sphere of government, but they still operate in the shadows with too little accountability to the public," DiNapoli said in a statement.

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had no immediate comment on the report, which found that total spending by authorities rose to $55.9 billion in fiscal 2011-2012, from $44 billion in 2009-2010.

State and local authorities perform functions that include running New York City's bus and subway lines, helping to finance colleges and hospitals, and overseeing power-delivery systems. They are run by boards appointed by the governor and the state Legislature.

Although a 2009 law strengthened oversight of authorities, DiNapoli, a Democrat, said more measures were needed to give voters a greater say over the debt they must repay.

Debt issued by 1,169 state, local and interstate or international authorities shot up to nearly $244 billion in the 2011 to 2012 fiscal year, from almost $215 billion in the 2009 to 2010 period, he said.

"This debt has been used to avoid public participation in debt management, transferring control to public authority boards," DiNapoli said, a practice he called "backdoor borrowing."

The authorities employed a total of 153,502 workers in the most recent period, down from 159,656 in the prior period, according to the comptroller.

But the number of top salary earners grew: 17,828 workers earned $100,000 or more, up from 15,171.

The authorities paid about 11.6 percent of their workers at least $100,000, compared to 8.3 percent of the regular state workforce who earn that much.

With Yancey Roy

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