Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed two bills intended to make it easier for New Yorkers to get information from their government, instead directing state agencies to hasten their court appeals when a judge orders them to disclose something.
One bill approved by the Legislature would have required courts to award attorneys’ fees when the state denies access to information “in material violation of the law and with no reasonable basis.”
The other would require state agencies to file appeals within 30 days instead of nine months when a judge rules they must make documents, data or other information public.
In veto messages released Saturday, Cuomo calls the bills “inequitable” because they don’t apply the same rules and penalties to citizens or groups making information requests as they do to the state. He also faulted them for failing to apply also to the Legislature and promised to advance comprehensive Freedom of Information Law revisions next year.
“Specifically, the bills are limited to one branch of government further advancing a fractured system, substantially alter the due process rights of the parties and requestors, eliminate judicial discretion in processing appeals under existing law and create inconsistencies in judicial determinations,” Cuomo wrote.
The Empire Center, a fiscally conservative think tank, files thousands of so-called FOIL requests annually for public payrolls, pensions and other spending. It said the bills would have provided more teeth to hold state agencies more accountable to taxpayers.
Government data that’s presumably available would be much easier to see if it was simply published without having to file special information requests, said Executive Director Tim Hoefer.
“It seems crazy to me that we’re vetoing reform measures because he wants other reform measures,” Hoefer said Tuesday. “FOIL was written and implemented so taxpayers could have access to their government spending information. … It’s about that, not about protecting the rights of the agencies.”
The Cuomo administration has been criticized by other advocacy groups and journalists who say the governor’s office tightly controls requests for public records on anything controversial or unfavorable and routinely delays or denies their release.
It’s an allegation the administration has denied, saying it tries to complete the many FOIL requests quickly, with the governor’s staff sometimes consulted by state agencies to ensure consistent, thorough responses.
Cuomo took office five years ago promising the most transparent administration in history.