Reinvent Albany champions “open data.” We believe the government data our taxes paid for should be published online and in formats that the average person can use on their home computer, unless that data endangers public safety or personal privacy. We believe it is especially important for government to put data about spending online, particularly business subsidies — which are taxpayer handouts to businesses. Business subsidies are at high risk for pay to play, which is the nicer way of saying “legal bribery.”
New York State has published some subsidy data in the state’s open data portal and on agency websites, including project specific information about Excelsior, Brownfields, and Recharge NY. Unfortunately, the state’s largest economic development entities either do not reveal important details of subsidies, like who is getting them in the case of Film and TV tax credits, or they put large tables of numbers online in formats that cannot be read by basic spreadsheet software. In the section of Empire State Development’s website called ESD Reports, the authority publishes tables of data on a variety of subsidy programs in a non-open, .pdf format, which cannot be viewed in a spreadsheet. If the ESD wants to be more transparent, it should post data in both .pdf and and a CSV format which can be used in spreadsheets or a database. Many agencies already do something like this, for example, the NYPD provides their datasets in both PDF and .xlsx spreadsheet formats. (XLSX can be easily translated into CSV.) We have asked ESD (and all state agencies) to publish tabular data in a CSV format, and we will ask again here. But for the moment, we scraped the PDF report and converted it into a CSV file that watchdog groups or journalists might find more useful.