Spitzer's Spiel

A.G. Backpedals on Schools, Dodges MTA Case

Roberts asked the same question about the MTA as he did about the Pataki budget, wondering if it would be guilty of some security violation were it a public company. Spitzer took a pass, saying he hadn't "gone through the books" with "care," but that he was unaware of any MTA memos, like the Wall Street ones, that proved they "deliberately misled." In fact, the standard in state law is "repeated fraudulent or illegal acts," which is what two Manhattan Supreme Court judges found in the MTA cases. Spitzer's much more benign view of the facts was strikingly similar to last week's pro-MTA appellate decision, which his spokesman promptly cited Monday as the reason why he now felt there was "no legal basis" for a suit or even an investigation.

Koppell believes that Spitzer may be the only state official with the legal weapons to force the MTA to change its practices, citing several sections of potentially applicable state law. "I don't see any reason why the AG cannot go after the MTA. It's not a state agency. I looked at the law, I looked at the constitution, and I don't see any barrier to it." With the appellate loss and the failure of the senate to even consider a reform bill passed by the assembly at the close of the last session, a Spitzer suit expanding on the fare-case facts may be the only way to force meaningful change in MTA practices. Hevesi has indicated that he will soon announce new regulations he will try to impose on the authority, but it routinely defied Hevesi's predecessor, refusing to comply with existing regulations.

Spitzer's Wall Street daring, stretching statutes and challenging powerhouses, has made himself a national figure. But in New York, he's been cautious to a fault, taking Pataki positions at odds with his Democratic base. His support of a school aid formula that so disproportionately favors suburban districts—just as his insistence that the reinstitution of a commuter tax "is not even worth discussing"—takes city voters for granted. He has so far managed to make these pragmatic choices without paying any political price in his home base, but a decision to aggressively pursue the MTA, despised in both the city and the suburbs, might be just the right compensation.

Research assistance: Zoe Alsop, Michael Anstendig, Ross Goldberg, Phineas Lambert, Naomi Lindt, Brittany Schaeffer, and Jessica Silver-Greenberg

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