With just days left in the New York legislative session, lawmakers wrestled yesterday with public authorities reform and other issues affecting bond issuers.
A flurry of bills numbering in the hundreds were being considered yesterday by both chambers, a pace likely to continue until the 2008 legislative session ends on Monday.
Yesterday, the Republican-controlled Senate was slated to consider a public authority reform bill similar to one that it passed a year ago. The majority of debt issued in the state is sold by public authorities, which have long faced criticism over issues of transparency and accountability.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. John Flanagan, R-Northport, who chairs the Senate committee on public authorities and corporations, has been in three-way talks with his counterpart in the Assembly, Richard Brodsky, D-Westchester, and Gov. David Paterson to negotiate a reform package that proved elusive last year.
"We came very close last year," Brodsky said. "The Senate and the Assembly passed bills that were very close."
Brodsky and Flanagan sponsored bills last year that would have replaced the Authority Budget Office, which plays an oversight role from within the division of budget, with a more muscular independent budget office. However, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer wanted the office to stay within the division of budget, a provision that Flanagan rejected.
Brodsky said yesterday that the public authority reform legislation under negotiation would create an independent budget office that was not part of the division of budget though it wasn't clear how the director of the new agency would be appointed.
"The appointment mechanism is being worked out, but it will be a truly independent office,"he said.
Brodsky said he hoped a bill would pass by the end of the session.
In other business, the Legislature might consider an extension that would allow the state's industrial development agencies to resume selling tax-exempt bonds for civic facilities on behalf of nonprofits, said Dan MacEntee, spokesman for Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury.
However, both Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, and MacEntee said that there had been no progress yesterday on a permanent solution. Both Little and Hoyt sponsored bills last year to reform the IDAs but Hoyt's bill contained a prevailing wage provision that the Senate balked at. The law expired in January forcing nonprofits to look for other financing options or to put projects on hold.
"We're hopeful that something will be agreed by the end of the session," MacEntee said.
A bill that would allow school districts to participate in tax increment financing projects, a crucial step toward bringing TIFs into widespread use passed the Senate on Monday. It is currently in the local governments committee headed by Hoyt who said that the bill would pass both houses but not without some amendments, which as of yesterday had not been made.
The Legislature is also considering raising the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority's bonding cap to $75 million from $50 million. The limit was set when the authority was created in 1998 and it is now has issued about $45 million of bonds. Metroplex executive director Jayme Lahut said that the authority has projects lined up including a waterfront redevelopment at former American Locomotive Company manufacturing plant but can't do them without the additional bonding authorization.
"We're ready to go," Lahut said. "Downtown Schenectady is thriving and there's a lot interest from developers and investors."
The bill would also extend by five years a sales tax increase that pays debt service on the outstanding bonds that is now set to expire in 2028.
The bill passed the Senate on Monday and the Assembly was expected to vote on it yesterday.
The Senate yesterday passed a bill that would allow Westchester County to competitively sell bonds through an electronic securities bidding service rather by paper bids as it is required to do now.
Committees in both chambers yesterday were considering a bill to raise the New York State Housing Finance Agency's maximum bonding authority to $13.78 billion from $12.78 billion.