Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The New York State Assembly Sucks


Okay, that's a rather nasty title, but really, they do. Here's why:

The Senate and the Assembly of New York State engage in a practice known as member item spending. Basically, when the "three men in a room" plan the budget they set aside millions of tax payer dollars to give out to their favorite members to spend on projects they like with virtually no public oversight. Until yesterday, the public was denied access to how the money was spent or which member was given money.

The Times Union sued both chambers, specifically Joe Bruno, Senate Majority Leader, and Sheldon Silver, Assembly Speaker, under the Freedom of Information Act here in New York. A judge ruled that both men must give up the information. Silver did so first, but initially struck the names of the Assembly members who received the money! I'm not kidding.

(If they didn't think what they were doing was wrong, why hide the names of the Assembly members? And, why "protect" them? It's not like the Assembly members are in a witness protection program. They simply received unregulated, unsupervised money to spend on any pet project they pleased.)

Okay, but that's not why the Senate sucks (that's why the Assembly sucks). Here's why the Senate sucks:

So, yesterday both chambers released Adobe PDF documents of the 3,000 documents or so on the member item spending. But, here's the thing, both offices scanned the documents as images, not as text, so there's no way to search the thousands of pages or import the data into a program that would help with the analysis.

When the Times Union went back to the Assembly, Silver's staff acquiesced and produced text-based PDF documents. When they went to the Senate, Bruno's staff member John McArdle said, "What the Senate has been willing to do is to provide the information [author's note: only under court order] . . . . Our understanding is that this is all you're entitled to." And here's my favorite part: "Bottom line, that's all you're going to get."

Don't you just LOVE that?!?

The arrogance, and the lack of any sense that they have an obligation to provide USEABLE information to the public. It's shocking. It makes me supremely angry. These public officials have no regard for the public. It's disgraceful. That Bruno is still in office can only be because that man can bring home the bacon like no other pork dealer in this state. It's certainly not because he has any regard for transparency in politics.

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