Contact: Tim Hoefer
The Empire Center for Public Policy says it will ask the state’s highest court to review an appellate decision that would, for the first time in New York’s history, restrict public access to the identities of public pension recipients.
In a unanimous decision, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court in Manhattan today denied the Empire Center’s appeal of a lower court decision in favor of the New York City Police Pension Fund, which had refused to comply with the Empire Center’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for a list of the fund’s pension recipients.
“If allowed to stand, this decision will be a massive blow to open government and transparency in New York,” said Timothy Hoefer, director of the Albany-based Empire Center.
“Given mounting public concern over public pensions, this couldn’t come at a worse time.” Hoefer added. “As taxpayer costs for public pensions continue to skyrocket, the Appellate Division is reversing decades of precedent by saying that taxpayers have no right to know who is collecting pension benefits.”
The Empire Center, a non-partisan, independent think tank, had sought the police pension information for inclusion in a searchable online database at its transparency website, www.SeeThroughNY.net. Such information had been shared by all of the pension funds in the past. However, since the December lower court ruling, other city pension funds have also begun to restrict access to their pensioners’ identities, Hoefer said.
The Appellate Division’s decision was a mere three sentences long. It cited a 1983 Court of Appeals opinion in Matter of New York Veteran Police Assn., a case involving denial of a FOIL request by a non-profit organization that was seeking access to both the names and addresses of retired city police officers. Although the Empire Center was requesting names only, not addresses, the Appellate Division said the Center had offered “nopersuasive argument distinguishing its FOIL request from that in Matter of New York Veteran Police Assn.”
“We think the difference between a FOIL request for names alone and a request for both names and addresses is crystal clear, and we underscored that point in our legal briefs and argument before the court,” Hoefer said. “Like public payrolls, the names of individuals receiving benefits from taxpayer-backed pension funds have always been treated as public information in New York. Until now.”