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Citizen Group Praises New York Project to Open Government Online

by Pete Sepp / /

(Alexandria, VA) -- Taxpayers shouldn't be kept in the dark about how their money is being spent -- which is why New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's "Project Sunlight" has won praise from the nonpartisan National Taxpayers Union (NTU), a longtime advocate of more transparent budgeting procedures. The project will create an Internet database that tracks state contract awards, lobbying activities, campaign contributions, and other government activities. NTU has 362,000 members nationwide, including nearly 18,000 members in New York.

The Attorney General's Public Integrity Unit will integrate and improve existing databases, making information on a wide variety of government activities easily accessible to taxpayers. For the first time, the New York State Board of Elections Campaign Finance Database, the New York Lobbying Database, the Legislative Retrieval Service Database, and the State Contracts Database will be integrated into one, comprehensive Web site. Furthermore, the time and effort traditionally required to extract useful information from these databases will be greatly reduced. For example, the State Contracting Database could only be obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. However, thanks to Project Sunlight, these procedural barriers no longer exist.

NTU is one of the founders of the "Show Me the Spending" coalition, which is dedicated to implementing similar programs in all 50 states. The 21-group coalition, available online at www.showmethespending.org, has state-by-state legislative updates, model bill language, and further research and commentary on the issue.

"Thanks to Attorney General Cuomo's leadership, more accountability for the taxpayers of New York is well underway," NTU Director of Government Affairs Kristina Rasmussen said. "These disclosure tools are helping to build a more honest and responsible government."

New York is one of several states to construct a database that catalogs government activities and expenditures. Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Barack Obama (D-IL) last year cosponsored federal legislation (ultimately signed into law) that ordered the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to establish an online destination for the general public to track the flow of disbursements. This legislation has in turn ignited transparency movements in states across the country.

Though the voluntary disclosure in New York is both welcome and extremely important, Rasmussen urged the state's Legislature to make this disclosure a matter of permanent law. Additionally, she recommends the database be expanded to include government grants and other expenditures.

"The citizens who pay government's bills deserve to know where their money is going in order to have an informed debate about where it should head in the future," Rasmussen concluded.

NTU is a nonpartisan, nonprofit citizen organization founded in 1969 to work for lower taxes and smaller government at all levels. Note: For further details on the ?Google Government? movement, visit www.showmethespending.org or www.ntu.org.

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