Without Transparency, Why Should The Public Trust Albany?

Cuomo at NYSOS14In his State of the State speech, Governor Cuomo presented an excellent argument for the politically challenging task of overhauling campaign finance rules and enforcement. Unfortunately, he did not mention any new steps to increase transparency — including actions he can take without new legislation. But without transparency — especially revealing who is benefiting from billions in tax breaks, subsidies and grants — why should the public trust Albany?

Governor Cuomo’s words are powerful:

When government has the public trust, government has the capacity to do good work…. I believe that the more trust we have from the public, the more we can do. I believe it’s like fuel for a rocket. If we have the trust of the people and they’re watching us perform and they’re seeing this state move then there is nothing we cannot do.

As supporters of robust and competent government, we completely agree with Governor Cuomo’s sentiment. We want to trust our state government, and we want it to do great and innovative things. Here’s the problem: the more we look at state spending and policies, the less we trust Albany. There are vast dark pools of public funds and subsidies getting handed out to businesses, non-profits and we – the tax payers – do not know who is getting what and why.

Who exactly is getting the $7 billion in public tax breaks and subsidies handed out by various state programs and hundreds of local Industrial Development Authorities? Who exactly is getting the $3 billion in “lump sum” discretionary funds, including grants and contracts to non-profits, passed in each budget? What is the criteria for allocating that money?

We greatly appreciate Governor Cuomo’s OpenNY initiative. But this powerful and vigorous governor can do much more to restore the public trust in Albany. For instance, he can champion a major push for transparency which includes complete transparency on tax and subsidy benefits, lump sum spending, and the passage of a 21st Century FOIL law which puts FOIL completely online and links FOIL to open data. Transparency doesn’t begin and end with the governor.  State comptroller DiNapoli can make a big contribution by making the Public Authorities “PARIS” database actually useful to the public and journalists, and continuing to push to get state payments put online.  Attorney General Schneiderman can do his part by looking at his own Charities Bureau, and putting charities disclosure reports online in open, usable formats. The AG should be dismayed by the continued abuse of non-profits, which seem to be at the center of many corruption scandals. We want to trust Albany. Help us trust you.