Tim Hoefer, the executive director of the Empire Center, talked to City & State about the organization’s SeeThroughNY web site, which posts a wealth of financial and budgetary data online in an attempt to improve government transparency and inform New Yorkers about how their tax dollars are being spent.
“Really, the point of SeeThrough is to look at spending from a large scale all the way down to the local person and the local contract and really get a sense of where your tax dollars are going on an annual or daily basis,” Hoefer explained.
The site was launched in 2008 to allow taxpayers to see government spending data in a more accessible and searchable format. Before the site went up, Hoefer said, there was no way to view payrolls, let alone contract expenditure data on the state and local level.
Now SeeThroughNY includes everything from the latest executive budget proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative expenditure data to payroll information for almost every public employee in the state and collective bargaining contracts for teachers unions and schools. One new tool allows users to see how much they pay in property taxes in comparison with residents of other taxing jurisdictions.
“It’s a great tool for comparing your municipality to others and seeing what you’re getting versus what they’re getting and at what cost,” he said.
But it’s not always easy to get the data, Hoefer noted.
“We’ve been trying to collect pension data for going on four years now, and at the end of this month we’re going to have a case heard at the Court of Appeals because seven of the eight pension systems in the state have redacted names from the data,” he said. “We find that totally unacceptable and we think that the retirement systems and courts are reading the law wrong.”
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