EDITORIAL: Public needs to know about public pension payouts

| Auburn Citizen

Later this month, oral arguments will take place in New York’s highest state court — the Court of Appeals — regarding the availability of public pension information.

The Empire Center for New York State Policy, a government watchdog group, is seeking to overturn mid-level appeals court rulings that blocked the release of information about how much money individual public employees were receiving from their taxpayer-funded pension funds.

The Empire Center has a terrific website with data on government spending, SeeThroughNY.net, and information about various public pensions is included among that repository of information.

To that end, such information is crucial to the mission of news organizations to keep tabs on government spending and serve its role in the promotion of an open democracy. That’s why The Citizen and a host of other news media organizations teamed up to file a “friend of the court” brief in support of the Empire Center.

This brief is filled with examples of why such information, which until recently had been available to the public, must not be given an exemption to the state’s open records laws. Without such information, for example, we would never have learned about a downstate public worker getting a disability pension for bronchial asthma while also competing as a world-class triathlete.

But as much as we wish to see the Court of Appeals overturn what was a flawed determination by lower courts, we also believe there’s an important legislative solution to support.

A bill to clarify that public employee pensions are public records has been sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Englebright (A.5171) and it has been passed by that house. An identical bill introduced in the Senate in 2012 has failed to advance.

We see no reasonable justification for the legislation not to move forward and get signed into law. New Yorkers have a right to know how their money is being spent, and this issue goes to the heart of protecting that right.

© 2014, Auburn Citizen