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Transparency Concerns With New York's Budget

"New York State House" by miguelão is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

JULIAN ABRAHAM, HOST: More than a week after the deadline, New York’s state budget may finally be on its way. But with hundreds of billions of dollars of state funding on the line, some are criticizing the government not just for the delay but also the fact that negotiations have been happening behind closed doors.

Tom Speaker, is a policy analyst at Reinvent Albany a non-profit that advocates for government reform. He says although Governor Hochul promised to make changes, she went for more than 10 days without speaking to press, during the recent budget negotiations.

TOM SPEAKER: It's been kind of a recent development as far as this administration goes, because we've actually seen a lot of positive changes. Since the transition happens last summer. Such as more COVID-19 data being provided. The governor signs the empty Open Data X. But, you know, since budget season rolled around, things have certainly become less transparent. We've seen basically what Albany veterans commonly referred to as the three people in a room where the governor and Senate Majority Leader and the assembly speaker have most of the budget negotiations behind closed doors. And, you know, in certain cases, even high-ranking legislators have been saying that they have no idea what's happening. And that's something that has really been in Albany tradition for decades at this point. And unfortunately, that's worse what we're saying again, this time around.

ABRAHAM: So in the middle of these negotiations, Kathy Hochul, went about a week and a half 10 days without talking to the press. What do you make of this?

SPEAKER: It's quite unfortunate. And I believe that Politico reported that since the 1920s. That's the longest period that a governor has gone without speaking to the press, at least during the budget period. And we find it quite discouraging. Because, you know, when the transition happened last year, the governor solid herself has been the transparency governor. And there have been many positive changes on the transparency front, but by during budget negotiations, which affects so many of the things happen in the state, yeah, it's disappointing that this has not been a more transparent process.

ABRAHAM: Why? Why can't they get this done?

SPEAKER: Well, there's a variety of reasons. But the reason that a lot of legislators have been citing is the governor office decided to put so many policy items into the budget at the last minute, notably, the changes to bail reform, other rollbacks. And the announcement of the Buffalo Bills stadium subsidy deal, which, you know, Senator, Andrea Stewart Cousins, the Majority Leader of the Senate said that she had not even seen coming that should have been blindsided by.

ABRAHAM: So I want to ask you, why is this important? Why does the public need to be in the loop on this process?

SPEAKER: Well, transparency helps ensure that government stays accountable to the people, you know, we pay our public official salaries, they have a responsibility to be transparent about what they're doing that help that allows the public to hold them accountable to respond to the plans that are being announced. And so you have a greater say, in what decisions are being made. And when there's a lack of transparency, and the public cannot respond. What it means is that the people who have more access or typically have more access, such as corporations or special interests or high-paid lobbyists end up having more influence in the budget process and over policy than everyday people.

ABRAHAM: Tom Speaker a policy analyst at Re-invent Albany, thank you so much for joining us on Uptown Radio,

SPEAKER: No problem.


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