Watchdog Statement: No More Albany Backroom Deals on MTA Governance


No More Albany Backroom Deals on MTA Governance

Senate and Assembly Should Reject Another Major Change in MTA Governance Until Public Hearing and Vetting Possible

The Wall Street Journal reports Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders are negotiating a secret deal undoing a major MTA governance reform. The Journal says last minute legislation will break the current CEO/Chair leadership position into a separate chair of the board and CEO of the staff positions. Questions remain about how the appointments would be made, and whether confirmation of both positions would be retained by the Senate.

Reinvent Albany would be disappointed if the legislature agreed to this backroom deal given the immense amount of public discussion and consensus building that went into restoring the unified position in 2009.

The 2008 “Ravitch Commission” was charged with making recommendations to provide long-term sustainable funds for the MTA and improve the governance of the authority. The commission documented extensive failures caused by the separation of the CEO and board chair functions who are both in practice appointed by the governor, and recommended an independent board chair elected by board vote instead of being appointed by the governor. The high-profile Ravitch Commission held public hearings and solicited comments from experts and MTA stakeholders.

In dismal contrast, today’s Albany seeks to nullify that work in secret, with no public debate, no public hearing dedicated to the topic and no opportunity for stakeholders to weigh in.

Given the massive scandals once again rocking Albany, we would find it stunning if the legislature would make a backroom, last minute deal nullifying a major reform championed by one of the leaders that brought the MTA out of its historic decline. The endless politicization of MTA governance needs to stop.

The Ravitch report recommended that an independent Chairman lead the MTA board, and the board have the authority to appoint a CEO — what is considered a best practice for corporate boards in the private sector. While we agree that this structure would create a more accountable governance system, ultimately, the positions were merged in 2009. Jay Walder was appointed by Governor David Paterson as the new Chairman/CEO in September 2009 after a public hearing by the Senate in which members of the public could testify about his nomination.