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Hevesi issues subpoena for MTA’s financial info

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State Comptroller Alan Hevesi has issued subpoenas to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to force the agency to provide financial information to determine whether a transit fare hike is necessary.

Accusing the MTA of operating “in an atmosphere of delay, obfuscation and secrecy,” Hevesi on Feb. 19 gave the agency seven days to comply and demanded that it suspend “any consideration of a fare increase” in the meantime.

If the MTA fails to comply in a timely manner, Hevesi said he would go court with state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer as his lawyer and seek fines against the MTA, which oversees the city’s subways, buses, bridges and tunnels, the Long Island Railroad and Metro-North.

Hevesi, a Forest Hills Democrat who has served as a state assemblyman, New York City Comptroller and professor at Columbia University, also demanded that the MTA produce within 10 days a five-year financial plan as required by law but not made public since 1999.

MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow expressed shock and said his agency had cooperated with Hevesi. But he suggested the new state comptroller was looking for headlines.

“It is unconscionable that the MTA operates in an atmosphere of delay, obfuscation and secrecy,” Hevesi said. “The financial plans of the MTA are by law public — not privileged — information.”

Hevesi said he had been trying to get the financial information from the MTA for six weeks.

“The MTA has stalled and delayed to frustrate the public’s right to know its true financial picture,” Hevesi said. “In December, I called on the comptroller’s staff to begin an MTA budget review. Senior staff met with MTA officials on Jan. 3. Some information was provided but much was not.”

He said the MTA told his staff to look up some information themselves and failed to respond to some substantive questions dealing with its financial plans that were put to the agency in a Feb. 7 letter from the comptroller’s office.

“We were given evasive answers, references to other sources and refusals,” Hevesi said.

“It is my job as comptroller to ensure that the public’s money is properly spent and that government agencies provide accurate and understandable financial data,” Hevesi said. “We will not tolerate any agency refusing to provide information that we have a legal right to review and that is necessary to do our job.”

The New York state constitution provides the comptroller with the right to such information and to supervise the accounts of the MTA.

The subpoenas were served on MTA Executive Director Katherine Lapp, Budget and Finance Director Gary Caplan; Finance Director Kimberly Paparello and Budget Director Sharon Lubitz.

The MTA maintains that a subway and bus fare increase from $1.50 to perhaps as much as $2 is essential because of a $2.8 billion deficit over the coming two years. But the Independent Budget Office puts the deficit at $952 billion after financial belt-tightening.

The MTA has held a series of public hearings on the proposed fare increase and people speaking at the forums have almost universally expressed doubt about the size of the MTA deficit and suggested a fare hike is not necessary.

New York City Comptroller William Thompson, who is doing his own audit of the MTA, said he supported Hevesi.

“The lack of clarity in the MTA financial data has concerned me for some time. I completely agree that there should be no fare hike until the fiscal status of the MTA is clarified and a five-year plan completed,” Thompson said.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

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