Best NY Open Data Accomplishment of 2015: NY Authorities Budget Office Teams with Governor’s Open NY

Here is some belated horn tooting and congratulations for the huge public authorities data dump done by the Authorities Budget Office and Governor Cuomo’s Open NY in July. We think this a big deal and has the potential to significantly increase the transparency of the state’s vast array of authorities. ( It has “potential” because data is useless unless someone tells a story with it.)

The ABO is the agency charged with enforcing and gathering data under the 2009 Public Authorities Reform Act.  New York’s public authorities are huge and important, and include everything from the state’s MTA and Power Authority to small town development authorities.  The state authorities alone spend more than $50B a year and have 95% of state debt.

On July 7th — with very little fanfare — the ABO published:

“financial data, salaries, procurement reports, schedule of debt, and IDA projects among other data sets that contain relevant information that increase the transparency and accountability of public authorities.”

ABO, which is a tiny agency with giant responsibilities, has been working with the state’s Open NY staff since about 2011 to get the authority data published and they finally did it. Included among the data is a machine readable record of all MTA procurement contracts from 2011 to the most recent full fiscal year.  Ironically, Reinvent Albany scraped this dataset earlier this year from a pdf on the MTA website.  This allowed us to compare the exact number of records in the pdf and the Open NY portal and they matched perfectly — 12, 662 in case you wondered.

There is a lot of data to work with here, including some that is particularly interesting to journalists and muckrakers, like the Real Property Transactions data set, which shows the estimated market value of a property versus what it was actually sold or leased for.

Public Authority Data

Go to link above for links to:
Directory of Public Authorities
Industrial Development Agencies Project Data
Local Development Corporation Bonds
Local Development Corporation Grants
Local Development Corporation Loans
Procurement Report
Real Property Transactions
Salary Information
Schedule of Debt
Summary Financial Information

 

Updated List of Judges for 2015 Hunger Games — $2.25B in State Economic Development Subsidies

In a very rapid response to a Freedom of Information Law request, the State Economic Development Authority provided Reinvent Albany with an updated list of the members of the State Implementation Team. (SIAT.) The SIAT are the official judges of the two enormous state competitions for local economic development aid and business subsidies. Judges are appointed by the governor and determine the winners of the $750 million in funds distributed within the state’s Regional Economic Development Councils, and for the separate $1.5B competition between different Upstate regions. The 2015 SIAT is much bigger than the 2014 version and includes six members of the Cuomo administration, four state legislators, and representatives of two D.C. based non-profit groups, and a Boston based member of the U.S. Commerce Department.

2015 State Implementation Assessment Team
(Source: ESD via FOIL response to Reinvent Albany. Not online as of 10/28/15)

13 members, 6 Albany based*, 3 outside of NYS+,

  1. Cesar Perales, Chair, Secretary of State*
  2. Roann Destito, Commissioner OGS *
  3. Matthew Driscoll, Commissioner DOT  *
  4. Jerry Boone, Commissioner Tax & Finance *
  5. Robert Puentes, Senior Fellow Brookings MPP +
  6. Marc Morial, President, National Urban League +
  7. Richard Tobe, Director, Upstate Revitalization NYS*
  8. Sabrina Ty, President & CEO Environmental Facilities Corporation *
  9. James Cox, Northeast Regional Director, United States Department of Commerce +
  10. Hon. James Seward, Senator District 51, New York State Senate
  11. Hon. Kenneth LaValle, Senator District 1, New York State Senate
  12. Hon. Donna Lupardo, Assemblywoman District 123, New York State Assembly
  13. Hon. Herman “Denny” Farrell, Assemblyman District 71, New York State Assembly

2014 State Implementation Assessment Team
https://regionalcouncils.ny.gov/general/090914/strategic-implementation-assessment-team

8 members, 6 Albany based.

  1. Cesar A. Perales, New York State Secretary of State;
  2. Jerry Boone, Commissioner and President, New York State Civil Service Commission;
  3. RoAnn Destito, Commissioner, New York State Office of General Services;
  4. Matthew Driscoll, President and CEO, NYS Environmental Facilities Corporation;
  5. Thomas Mattox,Commissioner, NYS Department of Taxation and Finance;
  6. Colonel Eric Hesse, Executive Director, New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs.

 

 

Here’s Why The Cuomo Administration Does “Not Possess” Records of General Electric Subsidy Offer

Today the muckraking International Business Times published Freedom of Information Law requests to the governor’s office and the Empire State Development Corporation in which the Cuomo administration says it “is not in possession of any documents” relating to offers of subsidies to General Electric. At first this seems very odd given the Governor’s high-profile, and very controversial, campaign to woo General Electric’s headquarters from Connecticut to New York.

But there is a logical explanation. It could be that the governor’s office and ESD do not have responsive records “in their possession” because the famously secretive Cuomo has done all of his negotiations verbally or through intermediaries outside of government, like John Mack former CEO of Morgan Stanley who is friendly to both Governor Cuomo and GE’s Jeffrey Immelt. In August, Politico New York reported that Mack had contacted Immelt “several times over the Summer.” Politico also reported that “Mack has also been a nexus between Cuomo and Immelt: In 2014, Immelt said Mack had helped arrange a partnership between GE and the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute.”

We would like to see Governor Cuomo disclose the details of his offer to GE, especially because GE is one of his biggest political contributors and there is a major controversy over GE’s refusal to continue dredging the toxic PCB’s it dumped into the Hudson north of Albany. Unfortunately, he probably will not, and Freedom of Information Law cannot compel the release of records  “if disclosed would impair present or imminent contract awards or collective bargaining negotiations.” (Public Officers Art 6, Sec 87, 2(c))

 

 

Albany Transparency and the MTA Funding Deal: Show Us Our Money

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(As published in Gotham Gazette)

The big news is that Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have stopped fighting over who should pay what, and reached a deal to close a huge gap in the MTA’s vital $26 billion five-year capital plan. But their story of political conflict and compromise obscures a crucial fact: it’s not their money, it’s ours. Going forward the public has the right to know exactly what the governor and mayor intend to borrow and spend in our names.

Fully funding the MTA is a must, but New Yorkers are going to be stuck with the bill for the new subway trains and buses long after the governor and mayor have moved on. We need to know what they are getting us into.

So far, Governor Cuomo has refused to reveal a specific funding source for his pledge of an additional $8.3 billion, saying only that the money is coming from “state sources.” Based on the State’s available sources of funding and borrowing, this means it is highly likely that the State will create a mountain of new debt that the MTA and transit riders will be ultimately responsible for.

The governor has said he does not want to raise new taxes and will not push for the Move NY road pricing plan. The State’s bank settlements are already spoken for, and the General Fund will not have anywhere near $8.3B in cash to spend on the MTA over the next four fiscal years, especially if Upstate demands equal funding for its roads and bridges. That leaves borrowing.

The State does almost all of its borrowing by getting public authorities, like the MTA, to borrow on its behalf. The State does this to avoid debt limits and public votes. Therefore, by far the most likely way Governor Cuomo will pay for his $8.3B pledge is by having the MTA borrow the money by selling bonds which the State will pledge to pay for. This is called a “service contract bond.”

The key thing about service contract bonds is that the State’s commitment to pay for them is not legally binding, and the MTA and transit riders are ultimately responsible for paying bondholders if the State reneges on its commitment. If the state does renege on some or all of the promised payments, the MTA and transit riders could be left holding a very large bag: paying back $8.3B in bonds will cost roughly $500 million a year for 30 years.

Unfortunately, Governor Cuomo has a bad track record with MTA service contract bonds. Since 2013, he has reneged on $70 million in State payments for Pataki-era MTA service contract bonds, and his latest budget calls for reneging on another $60M. Instead of the promised State funds, the Governor used MTA funds for the debt payments.

Admittedly, this is a modest amount of money given the MTA’s giant budget, but it shows how easy it is for a Governor to break an old promise. If the Governor is reneging on debt payments in today’s prosperous times, what happens during bad times over the next 30 years?

Government transparency can be an abstract idea, but for transit riders it really matters right now. The MTA will borrow billions more to pay for its share of the capital plan, and its debt payments are already a dangerously high share of its operating budget. This debt has translated into more expensive MetroCards and an increasing burden on everyday New Yorkers.

The stakes are high and New Yorkers deserve to know from Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Heastie what the risks and benefits are of service contract bond borrowing and other financing options for the MTA capital plan — after all, it is our money.

***
John Kaehny is the executive director of Reinvent Albany.

Testimony of Reinvent Albany and NYPIRG on Open Data Hearing at NYC Council

Last week, NYC Council’s Committee on Technology held a hearing on the NYC Open Data Law’s implementation, as well as on a package of seven bills to amend the law. Below is the testimony Reinvent Albany provided to NYC Council.