Yesterday, seven watchdogs sent a letter to the Governor and legislative leaders asking that they provide full funding for the Authorities Budget Office (ABO), a crucial watchdog tasked with overseeing nearly 600 state and local authorities that issue billions of dollars in debt every year.
Despite its herculean task, the ABO has a budget of only $2.05 million, far short of the $4 million planned when the office was first envisioned in 2009. Adjusted for inflation, this is approximately $5 million, which is the amount the watchdogs requested in their letter.
A version of this letter was also sent in 2018 and 2020.
You can view the letter here and below.
Governor Kathy Hochul
Speaker Carl Heastie
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins
October 27, 2021
Re: Please provide at least $5M annually to the Authorities Budget Office
Dear Governor Hochul, Speaker Heastie, and Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins,
Our groups again urge you to increase the annual funding provided to the Authorities Budget Office to at least $5 million to give it the minimum resources it needs to fulfill its statutory duties. What we are proposing is $2.95 million more than the $2.05 million the ABO recieved in the 2021-22 budget. We note that the ABO is funded by a tiny assessment on public authorities, so changes to its budget do not impact the General Fund. The Budget Director also has some discretion in determining the size of the assessment.
The Authorities Budget Office is a critical oversight agency charged with the herculean task of overseeing close to 600 state and local authorities and even more subsidiaries that hold $243 billion in public debt. State authorities collectively spend at least $40 billion a year, while local authorities spend nearly $20 billion. The ABO oversees enormous and important state authorities like the Metropolitan Transit Authority, New York State Thruway, New York Power Authority, and the Empire State Development Authority as well as myriad Local Development Corporations and Industrial Development Authorities operated by counties, cities and towns.
Given such a huge scope of work, the ABO cannot meaningfully fulfill its duties with its current staff of 12 full-time employees and small budget for technology and data systems. The ABO’s current staffing level is just 40 percent of the level envisioned when it was reestablished in 2010. The legislation establishing the ABO envisioned 30 staff positions including a counsel, policy analysts, communications and administrative positions, none of which have ever been filled.
With its current skeleton crew, the ABO is unable to:
- conduct more than a handful of investigations and reviews;
- modernize the Public Authorities Reporting and Information System (PARIS) database to include state authority data or ensure accuracy of information reported;
- ensure compliance with authority procurement guidelines;
- obtain more information from authorities on non-competitive bidding on assets and services;
- fully monitor authorities’ compliance with the Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Laws, and authorities’ ethics guidelines and Public Authorities conflicts of interest laws; and
- make recommendations to the Governor and Legislature on debt limits for public authorities or board member compensation and term limits.
In unanimously passing the Public Authorities Reform Act (PARA) in 2009, the legislature declared in the fiscal implications of the bill,
The current Authority Budget Office has a staff of seven professionals and a budget of approximately $1.3 million. The creation of the IABO, with expanded enforcement, oversight, and regulatory responsibilities will drive costs above current levels. It can be expected that this new office will require legal and investigatory staff, as well as additional analytical and compliance personnel in order to meet these new duties. It is estimated, based on the provisions of this bill, that these resource needs for the office could total an additional $2.7 million on an annualized basis [emphasis added].
Based on that initial estimate, the ABO should have been funded at $4 million (made up of the original $1.3 million budget plus the estimated $2.7 million for additional needs) in 2010. Adjusting for inflation, the $4 million initial estimate is equal to $5 million in current terms. We therefore recommend an annual allocation of $5 million to the Authorities Budget Office consistent with the legislature’s initial estimate. To achieve this recommended level of funding, the Office’s existing budget of $2.05 million would need to be increased by $2.95 million.
Oversight agencies like the ABO have been shown to save government money by preventing wasteful spending and corruption. We welcome a conversation regarding our support of an increase in the ABO’s budget. Should you be interested in speaking further to our groups, please contact Tom Speaker at Reinvent Albany at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Citizens Budget Commission
Common Cause New York
Laura Ladd Bierman
League of Women Voters of New York State
New York Public Interest Research Group
Strong Economy for All Coalition
Robert Mujica, Budget Director
Senator Liz Krueger, Chair of Finance Committee
Assemblymember Helene Weinstein, Chair of Committee on Ways and Means
Senator Leroy Comrie, Chair of Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions
Assemblymember Amy Paulin, Chair of Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions
Click here to view the letter as a PDF.