Brodsky: ‘More Than Optimistic’ on Authorities Reform
Eliot Brown Nov. 6, 2009, 8:07 a.m.
If one Googles the term “Soviet Style bureaucracies,” Assemblyman Richard Brodsky owns the top four results, each with quotes of his that refer to New York’s public authorities–his favorite term on the topic.
The Westchester Democrat has long been pushing a bill to reform such public quasi-agencies–including the M.T.A., the Empire State Development Corporation and the New York Power Authority–and now it seems that reform could come within days.
On Thursday afternoon, the governor called for a special session to tackle the budget and, among other issues, public authorities reform. A bill that passed the legislature this summer, sponsored by Mr. Brodsky and State Senator Bill Perkins, has been left unsigned as the governor’s office had a long list of significant concerns.
Now, Mr. Brodsky thinks he’s within striking distance.
“I am hopeful–I’m more than optimistic,” he said. “There were probably 20 issues, and we are extremely close to resolving every one of them.”
Some of the pushback comes from the Bloomberg administration, which has worked with the state-run ESDC to undertake major development projects, and has relied heavily on use of authorities that it controls in order to carry out economic development projects. Authorities generally streamline many of the thick bureaucracy in New York State and city government, mostly allowing for far faster and more efficient approvals and management of projects. Unlike standard agencies, the employees are often non-union; they can pay higher wages; they don’t have to have every contract reviewed by another branch of government; and they can easily award no-bid contracts.
Mr. Brodsky’s bill would have reined in some of these practices, and made others far more transparent. As written, it would require, for instance, that authorities that sell their land (such as the M.T.A., which has sold parcels for large-scale developments including Atlantic Yards) advertise it at its highest market value. This would restrict the M.T.A. from encouraging other public benefits in developments on its land–often developers are encouraged to include affordable housing or schools–a fact Mr. Brodsky insists is necessary, as he said it’s not the M.T.A.’s job to subsidize such benefits.
The money to add public benefits in these projects, he said, should come directly from agencies that are meant to encourage development.
“The M.T.A.’s assets are needed for the M.T.A.’s system. ESDC’s assets are there for the point of encouraging development,” he said.
Of course, it’s easy to see how the Bloomberg administration and others could be upset with such a concept–almost all economic development projects are encouraged to have some sort of give to the community: schools, affordable housing, daycare, etc.–and the bill, as worded, would, in the least, make things more complicated. It seems one of his biggest issues is quantifying just how much subsidy developers are getting, as opposed to having it hidden or muddled, as happens now. (Typically, developers bid less than the market value of a site because they provide public benefits. As in the case of Atlantic Yards, they also have received significant public subsidies back from the state and city, after offering a $100 million bid to the M.T.A.)
Mr. Brodsky suggested there was agreement on many other issues in the bill, including the creation of an independent budget arm that would monitor and audit public authorities.
I have a query out to the Bloomberg administration on the topic, and the Paterson administration issued a press release earlier Thursday calling for, in a proclamation: “Reforming public authorities in New York State by increasing the transparency and accountability of authorities and their transactions and improving oversight of such authorities through the creation of an independent authorities budget office.”
“What they said was that the citizenry does not believe that the institutions of government are acting in the interests of the citizenry,” he said of the results.
I asked if he was referring to Mayor Bloomberg’s unexpectedly close race.
He said he wasn’t, and then took a dig at Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and Westchester County Executive Andy Spano (Mr. Suozzi is in a nail biter of a reelection and Mr. Spano lost).
“They said that when they sent a Democrat to a Congress from a district that hadn’t sent a Democrat to congress in 150 years. And they said that when Andy Spano and Tom Suozzi got the results they got.”