ALBANY -- If the state's public authorities retired its debt and gave the money to taxpayers, it would be a nice payday.
The state's 1,192 public authorities have a whopping $267 billion in debt. That's $13,487 for every resident in the state, according to a report from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
“New York’s public authorities play an increasingly influential role in government, yet they operate outside the traditional checks and balances that apply to state agencies,” DiNapoli said in a statement.
New York started creating public authorities in 1921, first with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
They have grown exponentially since, used to pay for services and infrastructure by taking them off the books of state and local governments.
But the off-shoots are fraught with dangers, DiNapoli and other fiscal watchdogs have warned, because the authorities are often overlooked by the public, yet their impact can be pronounced.
About 90 percent of public authority debt come from three authorities: the Empire State Development Corp., the state's economic development; the Dormitory Authority, which issues bonds for most public projects; and state Thruway Authority, which owns the 570-mile superhighway and is building the $4 billion new Tappan Zee Bridge in the Hudson Valley.
DiNapoli said the state is increasingly relying on public authorities for borrowing, bypassing a constitutional provision that restricts state debt without voter approval.
Although 27 percent of all the authorities are state run, they account for 64 percent of the total money spent last year by all authorities -- which include local ones that are generally used for economic-development and transportation projects.
DiNapoli wants the state to ban so-called backdoor spending by public authorities by requiring the state Legislature to approve all authority spending -- which would then allow the Comptroller's Office to review all spending contracts.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and DiNapoli have also sought separate reforms to address the state's contracting in the wake of corruption charges last year involving state officials and upstate private developers.