Transparent, Sensible Business Subsidies
NY State's $8B in annual taxpayer subsidies to businesses should be fair, clean and transparent.
Connecting FOIL to Open Data
FOIL requests show what the public wants. Open data reduces FOIL requests, saves time and money.
Lock Box for Dedicated Funds
taxes for transit, bridges, roads, and the environment should be spent as promised.
Promoting Open Data
Government's treasure trove of digital information should be easy for the public to find and use.
NYC Transparency Working Group
Coalition working for open data, Freedom of Information Law, open government.
FOIL Reform
Putting the Freedom of Information process online and making it faster, fairer, more responsive and less expensive.

Mission

We work for open, accountable New York State government and transparent New York City government.

A King, a Piggy Bank and a Toy Store: Who is Paying $350m for MTA Bridge and Tunnel Decorations in the Middle of a Subway Meltdown

July 19, 2017

Under the law, the MTA and the NY Power Authority are governed by independent boards whose directors are obligated to act in the “public interest” and have to approve major agency expenditures, contracts and capital expenses. But a story in today’s Politico, and background research by Reinvent Albany, suggests that without the approval of the MTA Board, the governor has directed the installation of decorative colored lights and art decor towers on MTA Bridges and Tunnels that will cost between $350m and $500m. 

According to public documents the MTA board has never seen a full project budget for Harbor Lights and has not voted on the project. According to Politico, the governor’s office says the New York Power Authority (NYPA) will pay for the project — not the MTA. Yet, according to board minutes from March and January of this year, the NYPA board was told that the MTA would repay NYPA for the costs of the project. (See below.) In other words, NYPA’s board assented to paying for Harbor Lights based on the false promise of repayment. (We say “assented” because it is not completely clear that NYPA’s board actually voted for the expenditure, though they were briefed on it.) Additionally, the NYPA board was told Harbor Lights are a “lighting project to relight the bridges that the MTA controls in New York City” and “improvements to bridges and tunnels… ” involving the “addition of energy efficient LED lighting.”

To recap, the MTA board has never voted to approve Harbor Lights or seen a presentation on how much it will cost, yet the lights are slated to be installed on the MTA Bridges and Tunnels they are legally responsible for. The NYPA board “assented” to spending $216m on Harbor Lights based on the false promise of MTA repayment. Something is wrong here.

Anyone concerned about government accountability should be dismayed that the governor can act like a king with the Power Authority as his piggy bank and the MTA as his toy store.

Sources

Power Authority January 2017 Board Meeting
MTA bridge lighting project to relight the bridges that the MTA controls in New York City over the five boroughs. In response to a question from Vice Chairman Nicandri, President Quiniones said that this project would save the MTA money compared to using non-LED technology. If the MTA installed standard lighting rather than high-efficiency LED lighting on the bridges, it would be much more expensive than NYPA’s relighting project. In response to a question from Trustee McKibben, Ms. Anderson said the Authority is the overall Project Manager for the lighting project. NYPA will contract vendors to perform the actual installation. In response to a question from Vice Chairman Nicandri, President Quiniones said that the MTA will be paying the Authority for this service through a fifteen-year financial agreement.

Page 81 http://www.nypa.gov/-/media/nypa/documents/document-library/meeting-minutes/01-31-17-trusteesminutes.pdf

Power Authority March  2017
Bridge Lighting It is anticipated that the Authority, through its Customer Energy Solutions program, will be responsible for implementing a plan to make improvements to bridges and tunnels in the New York City metropolitan region including the addition of energy efficient LED lighting in conjunction with the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (“TBTA”), with costs, which are currently expected to be approximately $216 million, to be paid by or recovered from TBTA.

Page 167  http://www.nypa.gov/-/media/nypa/documents/document-library/meeting-minutes/2017-03-21nypaminutes.pdf

 

 

 

 

Governor Cuomo’s MTA “Disaster” Declaration Suspends Anti-Corruption and Environmental Safeguards

July 14, 2017

See annotated executive order here:

Download (PDF, 114KB)

Damning Findings in ABO 2017 Annual Report: Billions Spent Via Authority Economic Development Initiatives Are Not Creating “Measurable Benefits” Including Jobs

July 11, 2017

Download (PDF, 143KB)

Groups to Governor Cuomo and Legislative Leaders: Pass Clean Contracting Reforms at Special Session

June 28, 2017

Download (PDF, 96KB)

Response from Cuomo, Flanagan, Heastie to Largest Bid-Rigging Scandal in State History: NOTHING

June 22, 2017

Download (PDF, 100KB)

We Oppose S.6789. A Bill Which Creates a Chief Procurement Officer

June 19, 2017

Download (PDF, 47KB)

Groups Say It’s Now or Never for Legislature to Pass Meaningful Clean Contracting Reforms

June 14, 2017

Download (PDF, 124KB)

USA Today: NY Spends $8B Each Year on “Jobs” Programs. So Where Are The Jobs?

June 8, 2017

Reinvent Albany is a leading member of the coalition of watchdog groups pressing for fairer, cleaner and more accountable economic development subsidies.  Our focus is on ensuring that existing subsidies are awarded fairly and competitively. But, like many, we are increasingly concerned about the overall effectiveness of handing out taxpayer dollars to select businesses. We are not alone. Today, the USA Today Network’s local NY papers concluded a six month investigation with a major expose on how economic development funds are spent in NY. Here’s what USA Today wrote:

(Business subsidies) are wrought with a lack of oversight, poor performance and questions about whether the state is getting the best bang for big bucks.

We congratulate USA Today’s New York team and highly recommend you read the whole series.

USA Today Network investigation:

NY’s Big Breaks for Business

NY spends $8B each year on job programs. So, where are the jobs?

Database: Economic development council projects

Transparency, accountability at issue in handling billions of taxpayer dollars

NY jobs at a price: $695M in tax breaks, half reach promised growth

NYers pay $42K a job for film-tax breaks

Database: Film and TV productions receiving tax breaks

Start-Up NY: $53M in advertising plus $5.8M in tax breaks equals 1,100 jobs in 3 years

Database: New York state’s industrial development agency projects

NY in cut-throat battle to lure new business with tax breaks

Why is it so costly to do business in NY? Here are four hurdles

 

Groups Again Call on Legislature to Pass Clean Contracting Reforms

June 5, 2017

Download (PDF, 86KB)

Groups Back Bill Confirming NY Gov Nonprofits Can Be FOILed

May 22, 2017

Download (PDF, 107KB)

Recognition for Six Innovations in New York State and Local Government

May 12, 2017

New Yorkers are quick to point to what is wrong with government, but New York also has a rich, and continuing, tradition of public innovation.  In early May, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government announced the Top 25 programs in their innovations in American Government Awards competition. Six of the 25 programs are located in New York State.

Reinvent Albany congratulates the New Yorkers who created these government and civic tech innovation:

Cell-Ed Pilot Program, State Of New York: Cell-ED is a pilot program to provide free English-language training via mobile phones to hundreds of immigrants in New York State who may lack regular access to a classroom, a computer, or the internet.

Fiscal Stress Monitoring System, Comptroller State of New York: The Fiscal Stress Monitoring System (FSMS) provides an objective and transparent fiscal stress assessment annually for 2,300 local governments in the state, using self-reported financial data. Scores and reports published annually give local stakeholders robust tools for decision-making on budgets and service delivery.

Juvenile Community Accountability Board, Albany County: Juvenile Community Accountability Board (JCAB) provides the Probation Department a diversion option for juveniles charged with misdemeanor or low-level felony offenses. JCAB provides the victims, the community, and the juvenile a reparative experience without needlessly expending correctional resources that can used more effectively for serious juvenile offenders.

LinkNYC, City of New York: LinkNYC is a first-of-its-kind program that is transforming payphones into Wi-Fi kiosks to create the world’s largest and fastest free Wi-Fi network. Links provide fast and secure gigabit Wi-Fi, free domestic calling, USB charging ports, tablets to access wayfinding and city services, and access to contact emergency services.

Mobility Initiative, City of New York: The New York City Police Department’s Mobility Initiative is part of their Plan of Action blueprint, designed to deliver improved police services and break down the barriers between police and the people they serve. As part of this, the NYPD put a smartphone in the hands of all 36,000 officers and placed a tablet in every emergency response vehicle. By providing e-mail addresses and phone numbers to the entire uniformed workforce, the smartphones and tablets make officers, including the new Neighborhood Coordination Officers, directly accessible to the community.

Pre-K for All, City of New York (finalist): In January of 2014, the New York City Mayor’s Office released its ambitious plan to implement universal pre-kindergarten to provide every four-year-old in New York City with access to free, full-day, high-quality pre-K by September of 2015. The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) served as the lead agency for the initiative, in coordination with the Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives. 

Read more about the competition and the Top 25 recipients at the Ash Center’s Website. Finalists will be making presentations to the National Selection Committee of the Innovations in American Government Awards on May 17, 2017. 

 

Budget and Transparency Watchdogs Groups Call on Senate, Assembly, and Governor Cuomo to Pass Clean Contracting Reforms

May 10, 2017

Download (PDF, 98KB)

Reinvent Albany Supports Full Public Match for Small Campaign Contributions in NYC

April 28, 2017

Download (PDF, 373KB)

Clean Contracting Reform Bill One of Biggest “Initiatives” Before Legislature

April 18, 2017

Reinvent Albany’s John Kaehny was recently on Capitol Tonight talking about the pressing need for the legislature to pass clean contracting reforms in the aftermath of the alleged rigging of $800m in Upstate economic development contracts.

 

The Emperor Has No Clothes – Investigative Post Series Paints Devastating Picture of State Economic Development Spending

April 3, 2017

Congratulations to the team at Investigative Post of Buffalo, Pro Publica, and Columbia Journalism School for publishing the best summation of New York State economic development spending done to date.  Their exhaustively-documented series lays out in excruciating detail how the roughly $8B a year New York State and local government spend subsidizing businesses, and on dubious pork barrel projects, has not produced  jobs, economic growth or societal value, yet has created an enormous opportunity for corruption, influence peddling, and pay to play.

Investigative Post: State of Subsidies
http://www.investigativepost.org/state-of-subsidies/

1) State of Subsidies: Job Growth Access Upstate New York Remains Sluggish Despite Billions in Economic Development Subsidies
Investigative Post
March 26, 2017
http://www.investigativepost.org/2017/03/26/state-of-subsidies/

2) Corning Masters the Subsidy Game
Investigative Post
March 27, 2017
http://www.investigativepost.org/2017/03/27/corning-masters-the-subsidy-game/

3) Lackadaisical Vetting of Subsidy Seekers
Investigative Post
March 29, 2017
http://www.investigativepost.org/2017/03/29/lackadasical-vetting-of-subsidy-seekers/

4) Lack of Scrutiny for Subsidy Programs
Investigative Post
March 29, 2017
http://www.investigativepost.org/2017/03/29/pols-averse-to-scrutinizing-subsidy-programs/