ALBANY — New York's nearly 600 state and local authorities, often described as "shadow governments," collectively spend more than $60 billion each year and hold some $243 billion in public debt.
Among them are the state Thruway Authority, scores of local industrial development agencies and the New York Power Authority, whose portfolio includes the Niagara Power Project in Lewiston and the Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Power station in Schoharie County.
Now, state government watchdogs are urging the administration of Gov. Kathy Hochul to improve monitoring of the performance of the authorities by allowing a little-known state oversight agency to hire more staff.
The Authorities Budget Office was created in 2010, with the goal of providing it with 30 full-time staffers to carry out its mission.
But 11 years later, it has only a dozen full-time employees, which hinders it from being effective, the advocates said.
"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 advocates said.
Those signing the letter include representatives of the Citizens Budget Commission, the League of Women Voters of New York State, the New York Public Interest Research Group, Common Cause/New York, Reinvent Albany, the labor-backed Stronger Economy for All Coalition and Citizens Union.
The Authorities Budget Office now gets $2 million annually from the state. With an additional $3 million, it would have the "minimum resources it needs to fulfill its statutory duties," the watchdogs said.
The office is funded through a small assessment on the authorities, so adjustments to its budget would have no impact on the state's general fund, the advocates said.
With its "current skeleton crew," the office is unable to conduct "more than a handful of investigations and reviews, they added.
John Kaehny, director of Reinvent Albany, said he is optimistic the Hochul administration will be persuaded there is a strong case for providing the Authorities Budget Office with the resources and staffing envisioned for it at its inception.
He noted Jeffrey Pearlman, who formerly headed the office, is now among the top three lawyers in Hochul's administration.
Several local industrial development authorities have been embroiled in corruption scandals, and more effective oversight could deter fraud and waste and ensure compliance with procurement guidelines, Kaehny said.
"Those places are outside the government that you vote for, and they are making all these decisions about borrowing money, giving tax abatements and giving away big subsidies without it going through your county legislature, town council or mayor," Kaehny said.
The Hochul administration, contacted Monday, acknowledged the governor's staff is reviewing the group's concerns.
“Governor Hochul has already taken major steps to improve transparency and oversight in her administration, and we will explore this during the budget process.” said Hazel Crampton-Hays, a Hochul spokeswoman.