Some people call them shadow governments. Separate authorities control everything from the water we drink to the roads many of us drive every day in New York State. The decisions many of the authorities make frequently happen when no one is watching. That lack of transparency and accountability has led to renewed calls for change.

By the numbers

New York State is home to close 1,200 local and state authorities, according to the Office of State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The authorities have $267 billion dollars of debt. That breaks down to more than $13,000 per New Yorker.

List of authorities from the NYS Authorities Budget Office:

The New York Legislature created authorities as a way of dealing with debt. Most can issue bonds without voter approval.

DiNapoli, during a recent visit to Buffalo, admits the sheer amount of authorities is staggering.

“I’m not saying that they don’t have a worthy public purpose, which some of them do, but we have so many of them now.”

He worries about a lack of transparency. Too many of them were set up for one purpose, they end up doing many other purposes.

DiNapoli was asked if there’s a way to reverse course.

“Technically you can. You can abolish an authority. Most authorities are set up by a special act of the legislature, so you’d have to have a law passed to abolish that authority,” DiNapoli explained.

Then, the question becomes who takes over the responsibility of that entity.

“I would like to see for state purposes an end of using those authorities as a vehicle for backdoor borrowing. I think it’s one of the reasons we have the high debt burden we have in the state.”

For now, cries for consolidation are only pleas. The chances of the government getting smaller seem slim.