ALBANY, N.Y. - ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. David Paterson and legislative leaders said Wednesday that they have agreed to landmark reforms of public authorities after years of failed attempts to force greater accountability on the entities, which have been involved in some of New York's biggest scandals.
Long called the state's "shadow government," public authorities operate many of the major services in New York City and statewide, including the city's mass transit system, the state Thruway, and the Port Authority.
"These are Soviet-style bureaucracies. They will not be next week," said longtime sponsor of the reform bill, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky.
He noted that authorities collect millions of dollars in fees and fares and have so far borrowed more than $160 billion, largely without public scrutiny and without the approval of elected officials.
"This bill saves New York taxpayers money," said Sen. Bill Perkins, a Harlem Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill.
Authorities were created by the Legislature to provide a more efficient, apolitical way to run essential state services. But they have long been plagued by scandal and allegations of secrecy, which led to initial changes in 2005.
As examples of abuses, sponsors have cited previous increases in Thruway tolls and New York City subway fares when it wasn't clear they were necessary. They also noted that development rights along the Erie Canal were almost sold in 2005 for $30,000 to a politically connected developer.
Authorities in total are responsible for more than $160 billion in debt, Perkins said.
Now the entities, many of them still with appointees by former Republican Gov. George Pataki and Democrat Eliot Spitzer, will open their financial records to independent review. They will become more accountable to the public than to the governors, mayors and legislators who appoint their members.
The reform would require more background information on officers who run the authorities and require them to have a fiduciary responsibility to the authority, not the official or government that appointed them.
The measure would also create stronger oversight over when authorities borrow money; require a record of contacts by lobbyists; and protect employees who are whistleblowers on problems.
The Senate failed to take up the bill and pass it as scheduled Wednesday evening.
The announcement by Paterson and the leaders of the Senate and Assembly included no Republicans from the Assembly or from the Senate, where Democrats hold a 32-30 margin and 32 votes are needed to pass a bill. Senate Democratic spokesman Austin Shafran said the Senate will take up the bill Thursday.
Senate Republican spokesman John McArdle said Democrats had left and Republicans weren't prepared to provide the votes needed to pass it. He said the GOP senators didn't get the bill until the Democratic announcement in a news conference.
Still, both sides said the deal will hold and eventually be passed by the Legislature and signed by Paterson.