One message Gov. Kathy Hochul needs to send voters who elected her earlier this month is that she’s committed to ending the manipulation of the governor’s power to reduce independent oversight over projects involving the state.
She could do that with a few swipes of her pen by signing bill A10157/S7337, which would rescind some of her office’s authority and restore it to the Public Authorities Control Board.
Earlier this month, nearly 30 good government organizations signed a letter urging the governor to sign the bill.
The Public Authorities Control Board’s job is to protect taxpayers by ensuring that 11 statewide public authorities receive a resolution of board approval prior to entering into any project-related financings.
The board’s five members are appointed by the governor, with the chairman selected by the governor and the other four members selected based upon recommendations by the leaders of the majority and minority parties in the Legislature. That hardly sounds independent. But as appointed government boards go, this at least has bipartisan input from two branches of government, so the board members don’t owe total allegiance to one single party or branch.
The problem with the board now is that former Gov. Andrew Cuomo significantly undermined its independence — and neutered the impact of the Legislature’s appointment authority — during the budget process three years ago.
He did that by giving the executive (then, himself) the power to remove members of the board who act “above the scope of their authority.”
He also limited the scope of the board’s authority only to matters relating to whether there are sufficient funding commitments for projects.
Since board decisions must be unanimous, the authority to remove even a single member and replace that person with another effectively places the power of the board’s decisions exclusively in the governor’s hands. The vagueness of the term “acting above the scope of their authority” gives the governor a wide latitude for justifying removal of a member.
Also, by restricting the board’s authority over projects only to whether there are sufficient funding commitments, Cuomo effectively stripped the board of much of its oversight capabilities.
Gov. Hochul could send a strong message about her commitment to independent oversight and transparency by reversing her predecessor’s actions and signing this bill.
But that would require Hochul to give up some power over projects she might support.
We’re already seeing the importance of the board’s independent oversight with regard to the massive Penn Station development project in Manhattan, which Hochul has been pushing.
This bill to lessen the governor’s power over the board membership and the scope of its authority was approved by the Legislature earlier this year with unanimous support in the Senate and only five dissenting votes in the Assembly.
The governor should show her independence from her predecessor and her willingness to accept the actions of independent oversight boards — even over projects she supports — by signing this bill.