Governor Kathy Hochul was noncommittal on signing a bill anytime soon that would give state lawmakers more leeway to veto her contested Penn Station redevelopment plan.
Good government groups have urged Hochul to fast-track the legislation repealing controversial restrictions put in place by former Governor Andrew Cuomo on the so-called Public Authorities Control Board, before the massive real estate proposal around the transit hub comes up for a vote before the obscure state panel.
“I’m not constrained by artificial deadlines that are designed by other people,” Hochul told reporters during an unrelated press conference Tuesday.
She added that some 1,000 bills passed by the Legislature this session are awaiting her John Hancock.
“Everything requires a thoughtful response. I need to take the time to work with my team and the people affected and come up with the right answers,” she said.
Projects overseen by certain state authorities — Empire State Development in the case of Penn Station — need the unanimous approval from the four-member PACB, which has a representative from the governor, one each from both houses of the state Legislature, and a non-voting member for the minority Republicans.
Cuomo, as part of the 2019 state budget, pushed through a law allowing the governor to boot PACB members if they come out against a project for reasons other than concerns around its financing.
The move came after a deal faltered to bring Amazon’s second headquarters to Queens earlier that year.
The e-commerce giant pulled out amid heated local pushback and after Queens state Sen. Michael Gianaris — an opponent of the project — was nominated to the PACB as it was set to vote on the proposal.
Hochul wants to allow developers to build a massive 10-tower campus of predominantly office space around the station, whose proceeds would fund renovations of the notoriously cramped train complex.
She inherited the scheme from Cuomo, but critics have questioned its financing, warning that taxpayers could be on the hook for billions of dollars if the new office towers don’t bring in enough revenue.
The Penn Station project could come before the PACB in the coming months, and transparency advocates last week penned a letter calling on Hochul to undo her predecessor’s maneuver in advance of a vote.
Her rep on the board is Robert Mujica, the state’s budget director and one of the few top Cuomo officials Hochul kept on board.
The bill’s sponsors in both houses, state Senator Leroy Comrie of Queens and Assembly Member Amy Paulin of Westchester County, are the representatives of the two chambers on the PACB.
Comrie and Paulin also chair the committees in both houses in charge of public authorities.
Hochul took aim at pols pushing for the proposal, saying they signed off on Cuomo’s law change three years ago.
“I’ll simply point out they passed the law that everyone’s complaining about,” she said.
But the overhaul was rushed through in the 11th hour of budget negotiations, noted Rachael Fauss, a senior research analyst at the group Reinvent Albany, which advocates for better government.
“There was no public debate and discussion before this law was made at the behest of the former governor,” Fauss said. “This was done as part of the state budget. A lot of things get shoved through at the very end.”
The transparency advocate pointed out that Hochul took the state’s leadership over after Cuomo’s resignation in disgrace vowing to usher in a “new era of transparency” in state politics.
“Rolling back some of the practices and bad policies would be part of a commitment to a more transparent and better functioning state government,” Fauss said. “What is more core to transparency government than understanding how public dollars are spent.”