Accountability and debt management: The case of new york's Metropolitan transportation authority

Jonathan B. Justice, Gerald J. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) provides transportation infrastructure and services to nearly 15 million residents of two states. In 2002, the MTA violated a strong professional norm of debt management by refinancing $13 billion of long-term debt in a way that increased rather than decreased the cost of repayment. This behavior, heavily influenced by the informal advice of investment bankers, seemed to many observers to confirm the oft-decried tendency of debt-issuing public authorities to sacrifice their accountability to citizens in order to please the bankers and other debt-market participants on whom they depend for financial resources. Yet the MTA's choice appears on closer examination to have fulfilled the common desires of contemporary fare payers, tax payers, voters, and elected officials to maximize current spending while deferring costs to future tax and fare payers. The MTA case highlights potential conflicts between the professional imperative of democratic accountability and the competing professional norms of cost minimization, sustainability, and intergenerational equity. The fundamental structure of this dilemma is also apparent in other policy arenas with intergenerational implications, such as social security and climate policy, and raises the question of when obedience to market, political, and hierarchical expectations can justify sacrificing professional principles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)313-328
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Review of Public Administration
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2011


  • accountability
  • capital budgeting
  • debt networks
  • financial management
  • public authorities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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