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More red ink

It turns out there's more than one state budget deficit to worry about.

Most everyone knows about the $1.5 billion deficit projected for the balance of this budget year and a bigger $12.5 billion gap next year.

There's a whole additional layer to state government -- authorities -- and a report issued a few months ago and recently brought to my attention by a reader shows these shadow governments aren't in great shape either. 

Revenues the two previous budget years, ending this spring, increased 5 percent while expenses grew 14 percent. The result: authorities project a collective deficit of $876 million this year.

The report by the New York Authority Budget Office went on to say that much of the red ink can be traced to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which, among other things, operates the subway system in New York City, and the Long Island Power Authority. But the problems don't stop there.

The report covers 279 authorities, ranging from statewide authorities, such as the Thruway and Power authorities, to county and town industrial development agencies, to local water and sewer authorities.

Other "highlights" of the report:

-- One-third of authorities failed to report financial data, as required by state law. Among the local entities that failed to meet one or more reporting requirements were the Buffalo Sewer Authority, the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency and the Erie County Medical Center.

-- The Power Authority chalks up some of the biggest operating surpluses in the state, totaling $261 million the past two years.

This reporting system was put into place in 2005, and the report, while somewhat illuminating, could be more informative.

Part of the problem is the absence of information that comes with such widespread non-compliance. But the folks analyzing the data could have done more with what they had to work with. For example, it'd be nice to have a clearer picture of what kind of shape authorities are in once you factor out the MTA and Long Island Power Authority.

That said, the report sounds a warning bell that our fiscal problems extend beyond state government.

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State government
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