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Albany Law School's Government Law Center (GLC) today announced the launch of the nationwide Public Authorities Information Clearinghouse (PAIC), designed to help government officials, public interest groups and others navigate through the thousands of pages of documents that pertain to the operation and governance of public authority.
"Public authorities are the fastest growing form of government in the United States," said Scott Fein, the project's director and partner at Whiteman Osterman and Hanna. "Existing side by side with traditional government agencies, these authorities raise funds using tax exempt bonds to provide mass transportation and roadways, government buildings, power, water, and sewage treatment, and to act as engines of economic development. Their proponents believe that they play an important role in ensuring that key government functions operate outside of the political cycle. Most would agree that Public Authorities are here to stay, and the question is how best to enhance their transparency and governance. The PAIC is, we are hopeful, a step in that direction."
Public authorities exist at local, state and federal levels of government; examples in New York state include the Empire State Development Corporation, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the New York State Thruway Authority. These entities provide a corporate organizational structure, legally separate from government, for the provision of public services financed by user fees and whose capital investments are self-financed through tax exempt bonds. They also manage capital assets and make long term capital investment decisions with some isolation from political influence and the electoral cycle.
"In New York state alone, more than 600 public authorities hold 95 percent of the state's debt, to the tune of $140 billion," said Professor Patricia Salkin, the director of the GLC. "As public authorities continue to become more prevalent in our daily lives, we need the tools to help understand them, including their power to incur debt, the transparency of their operations and their political autonomy."
Currently, the Public Authorities Information Clearinghouse indexes hundreds of books, academic publications, pieces of legislation, court cases, reports, videos and news articles. The Web site, which includes a state-by-state index of content, will continue to expand with additional content related to public authorities across the country. The site also contains information on accessing the programs of the Government Law Center's Public Authorities Project, including training and research conducted by the Center. Current short research papers address the following topics: Ethics and the Workforce, Financial Disclosure and Screening Potential Public Authorities Conflicts, Diversity on the Boards of State Public Authorities, Selection on Public Authority Board Members and Public Authority Audit Committee Little Pocket Handbook.