Sunshine Week was recognized again this year in Albany, an initiative to open dialogue about the importance of transparent government and freedom of information. Participating media run editorials, columns, cartoons, public forums, news and feature stories that drive public discussion about why open government is important to everyone, not just journalists. Sunshine Week casts light on what is going on in state government, because every citizen has a right to know how their state is being run. I am a firm believer that when citizens are fully informed about what their government is doing, they’re more likely to get policies that improve their lives.
This year we have made monumental strides to reform state government and make Albany more transparent. We passed reform legislation which would modernize the budget process and help bring a more timely, clear and balanced budget (A.2755). Under this legislation, there will be no unallocated lump sums of member item money included in the budget; all local grants will be outlined. Also the Legislature will be required to enact a balanced budget instead of simply proposing one. The people of New York deserve a state government that is accountable, and outlining where the money is going is a good step to bringing clarity to the budget process.
We also passed historic ethics and lobbying reforms which move us towards restoring the taxpayers’ faith in our government. This legislation closes loopholes, reduces the influence of lobbyists on the democratic process and creates a vigorous watchdog agency to ensure the integrity of state government (A.3736-A). Workers’ compensation legislation that was signed into law by Governor Spitzer this week was the product of not only state officials, but also business leaders and labor unions (A.6163). These are just a few examples of what can be accomplished when we support legislation that promotes reform and open government.
The Assembly has long been committed to ensuring an open government. Last year we made updates to the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) by enabling records to be requested by e-mail (Ch.182 of 2006). The Freedom of Information Law is an invaluable tool which reaffirms the public’s right to know how government operates and provides rights of access to records about government decisions and policies that impact all New Yorkers.
With today’s technology, Legislative proceedings can be viewed from the comfort of your own home. Unedited gavel-to-gavel coverage of both the Senate and Assembly can be viewed on Time Warner Syracuse, channel 131. In addition, broadcasts of Assembly sessions can be viewed live on the Assembly Web site, http://assembly.state.ny.us/.
In recent years, Americans have seen potentially damaging limitations placed on access to information. Not only does this erode our most basic freedoms, it hangs a cloud of secrecy over our democracy. It is vital that we foster an environment where Central New Yorkers feel they are a part of the process. I encourage anyone with questions or concerns about state government to stop by my office in Syracuse or call at 428-9651. Together, we can keep state government operating in the open light of day.