Wondering what your neighbor who works for the state of New York gets paid? A new Web site, seethroughny.net, has a searchable database of salary information on more than 263,000 state employees, including professors at the city and state universities (students may be surprised to learn that some of their professors are paid more by the taxpayers than is Assembly Speaker Silver). From the site one can also download a copy of the 165-page contract between the City of New York and the United Federation of Teachers, and the half-page agreement between Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg that sets out the terms by which the schools chancellor is employed. Union and superintendent contracts for the state’s other school districts are also available for download on the site.

There is a searchable database of “member item” spending, letting one figure out which state lawmakers allocated taxpayer funds, and how much, to the Staten Island Sports Hall of Fame, which to the Woodstock Poetry Festival, which to the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, and which to the Mill River Rod and Gun Club. The site, which is a project of the Manhattan Institute’s Empire Center for Public Policy, is a neat example of how the power of the Internet can join with New York State’s relatively strong Freedom of Information Law to make facts about state government more easily accessible to the general public.

The launch of the site comes amid a state budget crisis and amid a flurry of recent reports about the way Albany operates as a kind of vending machine for special interests that insert campaign contributions and are rewarded many-fold with taxpayer dollars. Just yesterday, The New York Sun’s front page brought news that Governor Paterson had agreed to give the state troopers a 14% pay raise just weeks after receiving a $25,000 campaign contribution from the political action committee of the troopers. And the Post and the News reported on comments made by the Senate minority leader, Malcolm Smith, a Democrat, who is said to have told lobbyists that giving money to Senate Democrats would be like investing in an initial public offering.

To clean this all up will be the work of politics, and of constitutional reforms, including ones that would make California and Massachusetts-style statewide ballot initiatives possible. We are not against the state paying a competitive price for the best help it can get; we need the best and the brightest to come into public life. All the more crucial, however, for there to be a sense of probity and proportion in the outlays that are made to our public employees, particularly at a time when the state is itself in a historic spending crisis. It is a situation in which reliable information will make reform an easier task, and on that front seethroughny.net is a welcome resource.

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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.