screen-shot-2016-02-24-at-9-29-23-am-150x150-4009410New York’s Legislature has been exempt from many provisions of the state Freedom of Information Law since FOIL was first enacted in 1974. The Assembly and Senate ultimately decide how much legislative information to make public. This makes about as much sense as putting Cookie Monster in charge of security at the Chips Ahoy factory.

As a result, a lot of information on legislative matters ranging from individual employee timesheets to a billion-dollar slush fund has been concealed from taxpayers.

But if Governor Cuomo has his way, that could soon change.

Last year, we criticized the governor when he vetoed a pair of bills that would have improved FOIL. He did promise then that he would follow up those vetoes with “more comprehensive FOIL reform.”

In his budget bills, he’s kept that promise, sort of.

For one thing, his package of reforms includes language that would include the Legislature more fully under FOIL.  This is important. Legislators who know they are being watched would be less likely to misbehave.

Another good idea in the governor’s bill is consistent with something the Empire Center has been pushing for years.  It would require that collectively bargained agreements—the public employee union contracts that drive the bulk of local government and school spending—be made available for public inspection before ratification, either when sent to members, employers or legislative bodies for ratification or approval, whichever is first. That would be a huge improvement over the existing system where details of these contracts often don’t become public until after they have been ratified … when it’s too late for the public to weigh in.

In another positive change, the governor’s bill would require the Legislature and government agencies to post records on their websites. The idea is at least a step towards the ideal of total proactive disclosure of all government records—which would provide a benefit for taxpayers and reduce the burden of FOIL on government entities.

Unfortunately, the governor has taken a step backwards by proposing a change that would narrow the ability of FOIL applicants to recover legal fees and costs. One of the two bills he vetoed last year would have been a step forward by making it easier. This is important because it creates an added deterrent for FOIL delays and denials.

The Legislature now finds itself with yet another opportunity to improve FOIL and taxpayers’ right of access to information by improving upon and then passing the Governor’s reforms. All of these things, done properly, could help save some of New York’s cookies.

Tags:

About the Author

Tim Hoefer

Tim Hoefer is president & CEO of the Empire Center for Public Policy.

Read more by Tim Hoefer

You may also like

Budget pours more into slush fund

The new state budget will fund a 35 percent expansion of a murky $1.1 billion pork-barrel slush fund controlled by Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers. Read More

Local govs score with better websites

In 2014, the Empire Center created guidelines for what information local governments and school districts should make available on their websites—and found that most of the state's 500 largest municipalities and districts were not meeting that standard. Read More

Cuomo foils FOIL

"I want the Legislature to understand that we're serious about reform." So said Governor Andrew Cuomo following his veto of two bills that would have strengthened New York's Freedom of Information Law (FOIL)—helping citizens hold government, at all levels, more accountable. So if you can follow the governor's logic, before he could show us he was "serious about reform," he had to block a pair of reforms he had sitting on his desk. Read More

I’m just a bill

Governor Andrew Cuomo has a chance to make good on a promise to New York taxpayers by signing two bills that would help make information more accessible for public consumption. Read More

A losing quarter for NYS pensions

Still betting far too heavily on the stock market, New York State's main state and local government pension fund lost money in the first half of its current fiscal year. Read More

A check on transparency

The MTA has now paid the Empire Center's expenses for a successful lawsuit compelling timely release of the agency's payroll data. Read More

Hustle up!

If you’ve spent any time at a little league baseball or soccer game, or any children's sporting event, you know the cry of "hustle up" means move faster. It’s a way adults try to keep the game moving—and remind the players of what they ought to be doing. Read More

Local websites improve bit by byte

Good news to cap off Sunshine Week: at least some local government and school officials are working to make their websites more useful and informative. Read More

Cuomo foils FOIL

I’m just a bill

A check on transparency

Hustle up!

Subscribe

Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100
Fax: 518-434-3130
E-Mail: info@empirecenter.org

About

The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.