What is a Public Authority?
Public authorities are corporate instruments of the State created by the Legislature to further public interests. Public authorities have various levels of autonomy from the State based on the powers, as well as the constraints, built into their legislative mandate. Some public authorities are completely self-supporting and operate entirely outside the budget process, while others rely on State appropriations to fund operations. In addition, most authorities are authorized to issue bonds—without voter approval—to develop and maintain infrastructure, such as roads and schools, or to fund projects for third parties, including hospitals and nursing homes. The debt service for these bonds is usually supported by revenues of the project, such as tolls that are levied by the authority, fees paid by the third party or appropriated payments from the State to repay outstanding debt. The State has also assigned specific revenue streams to an authority as a way for the authority to pay debt service.
Unlike traditional State agencies, many authorities conduct business outside of the typical oversight and accountability requirements for operations including, but not limited to, employment practices, contracts and procurement procedures, and financial reporting. Each public authority is governed by a separate board of directors appointed by elected officials for varying terms of office.
The Public Authorities Reform Act of 2009 (Chapter 506 of the Laws of 2009) will require many new measures designed to improve the oversight and accountability of New York’s public authorities. New reporting requirements including mission statements, measurement reports and capital projects reporting will provide more information on authority operations. In addition, the State Comptroller is granted discretion to review certain public authority contracts ensuring a higher level of oversight of public authority contracts.