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What sounds like the set-up for a joke about moguls and avalanches is actually just the latest revelation from the mystifying world of Albany accounting procedures.
The Daily News reports that in March of 2016, the MTA sent $4.9 million to three upstate ski mountains operated by the Olympic Regional Development Authority [ORDA]. The MTA owed that money to the state, according to the governor's budget spokesperson, but was directed by Cuomo to write a check to ORDA directly.
ORDA, a state-controlled authority which operates Belleayre Ski Center, Gore Mountain and Whiteface Mountain, has faced its own financial struggles—a 2014 audit from the State Comptroller slammed the agency's financial practices, and recommended "corrective action." But aside from their shared history of financial trouble, and this guy who tried to ski up the Bedford L station, the public authorities would not appear to have anything in common, or any reason to be exchanging funds.
"It's certainly head scratching," State Senator Michael Gianaris told Gothamist. "It sends the absolutely wrong message, at a time when the MTA is suffering, to be sending money that has nothing to do with the mass transit needs of the region."
Beyond the bad timing and optics, there's also some concern that this sort of Albany budget maneuvering—in which one state-run authority quietly transfers money to another state-run authority—happens more often than most realize.
"This is what being busted looks like," added Gianaris, who said he was unfamiliar with this type of payment happening previously. "There's this speculation that they're trying to keep state spending under a certain amount, but that would mean there are gimmicks like this happening in other places, because it's not a big enough number to impact [the budget] on a larger scale."
"There's no reason at all that they wouldn't just have the money sent to the state, unless they're trying to conceal state payments," the state senator continued.
Morris Peters, a budget spokesperson with the governor's office, told Gothamist that there's nothing unusual about the state being reimbursed for expenses incurred, and that "these are basically accounting measures as the state subsidies the MTA by more than 1000 times the accounting reimbursements."
This year, the state billed public authorities a total of $39.7 million in cost recovery fees, including $11.6 million from the state's Energy Research Development Agency, $6.9 million from Battery Park, $6.4 million from the Housing Finance Agency, and $4.7 million from the Environmental Facilities Corporation.
Peters added that the $4.9 million in question is just a fraction of the $6.6 billion capital and operating budget that the state gives the MTA, and noted that "the best way to expedite the payment in the middle of a fiscal year was to instruct the MTA to redirect their payment to where it was needed immediately.”
The spokesperson declined to clarify on record whether or not it's common practice for the Governor to direct state authorities to divert payments to unrelated state authorities. The MTA did not respond to a request for comment either.
"Every ounce of energy devoted to MTA issues should go toward figuring out how to obtain resources necessary to fix and repair system," added Senator Gianaris. "This is the exact opposite of that."