The Empire Center for Public Policy today filed a lawsuit to force the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to disclose payroll records for MTA police officers that it withheld in violation of the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).

The Empire Center in January requested the MTA’s payroll to make it publicly searchable on the Center’s government transparency website, SeeThroughNY.net. The MTA provided some pay records, but said it was withholding the names, titles and pay amounts for “certain MTA Police Officers.” The MTA argued disclosure of this information could “endanger the life or safety” of the individuals, an exception to FOIL disclosure allowed only in rare circumstances.

The Empire Center has been engaged in litigation since 2010 to prevent the New York City Police Pension Fund from withholding the names of pension recipients on the same basis.

“This is yet another example of a government agency trying to hide behind the Freedom of Information Law instead of following it,” said Tim Hoefer, president and CEO of the Empire Center. “The idea that the public shouldn’t be allowed to know how many police officers there are or how much they are paid is outrageous.”

Even without the missing data, the uniformed and civilian employees at the MTA’s police agency were the Authority’s highest-paid group of workers last year with total pay averaging $127,540.

The Empire Center has litigated several cases in recent years to protect the public’s right to know how government agencies spend money. The MTA paid the Empire Center’s legal costs to settle a 2015 lawsuit after repeatedly failing to respond to FOIL requests in a timely manner, as the law requires.

The Empire Center, based in Albany, is an independent, not-for-profit, non-partisan think tank dedicated to promoting policies that can make New York a better place to live, work and raise a family.

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