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August 16, 2013

NYPA has fat to trim

The Daily Star
The Daily Star

---- — In an age of school consolidation, public-sector layoffs and budget deficits, one would think that the New York Power Authority might be careful about how it spends its money.

But according to a report last week from Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the agency’s budget is rife with wasteful, indulgent spending. Among the chief complaints is that the agency uses a private plane and employs three pilots, an aviation manager and three travel agents at a combined cost of roughly $400,000 a year.

The agency’s payroll appears to have plenty enough fat to trim, too; 35 percent of New York Power Authority employees are paid more than $100,000 a year. By contrast, according to DiNapoli, only 8 percent of New York state employees make that much (and only 14 percent of all New Yorkers).

The agency responded to DiNapoli’s criticisms this week, with CEO Gil C. Quiniones insisting such lucrative salaries are necessary because the “NYPA must retain and attract a highly skilled work force to ensure the safe and reliable operation of its facilities.”

Fair enough, and as Quiniones argues, many jobs at the NYPA require technical expertise. But a comptroller’s report from 2006 indicated that at that time, the NYPA had just 199 employees making $100,000 or more, compared to 570 who are paid that much today. The number of employees at the agency has steadily remained around 1,600 throughout that time.

Is there a compelling reason why the NYPA needs more than twice the number of six-figure employees it had just seven years ago? Worse yet — although the NYPA insists otherwise, DiNapoli said its wasteful spending is directly tied to New York’s exorbitant power rates.

“New Yorkers pay some of the highest electricity rates in the country,” DiNapoli said, “and need the rate relief the NYPA could provide if it appropriately focused its resources.”

Quiniones seems to think his agency has no such responsibility, since its revenues come from selling bonds and electricity, not taxpayer money.

DiNapoli’s probe didn’t solely blame the NYPA, however. The agency has been “hindered by the state’s repeated use of the authority’s resources for budget relief and other purposes,” he wrote, referencing the $1.16 billion in NYPA funds that have been shifted to the state’s general fund over the past decade.

But Quiniones dismissed this concern too, insisting that such payments have no effect on the agency’s operations. DiNapoli’s entire report, in fact, was more or less brushed off by the NYPA as ignorant finger-pointing from an outsider who doesn’t understand how the agency works.

Sadly, glib dismissal of taxpayers’ concerns has become part of the NYPA’s culture in recent years. In 2006, then-NYPA president Tim Carey was asked in 2006 by the Syracuse Post-Standard why 15 of his agency’s employees had higher salaries than the governor’s ($179,000). Carey, channeling his inner bureaucrat, gave the obvious response: “The governor is underpaid.”