Cuomo would bury the news

A bill that would allow air-rights transfers from Hudson River Park was reportedly rushed to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature on Friday.

BY MICHELLE K. REA   |  We are strongly opposed to the governor’s proposal to eliminate newspaper public notice of proposed constitutional amendments.

Instead of publishing public notices, the Board of Elections would post an abstract and brief description of the proposed amendment somewhere on its Web site for three days in the week prior to the election. The Secretary of State would also post a notice somewhere on its Web site once per month for three months.

At a time when there is general agreement that there is a need to increase transparency and accountability in state government, it is astounding that this provision is included in a budget bill. Among the many reasons this is a very bad idea are:

• This proposal disenfranchises voters who cannot afford a home computer with broadband access.

• It assumes that New York voters sift through state agency Web sites when looking for news that affects them. They do not. They turn to a local newspaper. Existing law requires that constitutional amendment notices be disseminated through a newspaper in each state county. Most of these newspapers land on voters’ doorsteps. Obscure and little-known state agency Web sites do not.

• This proposal will not save money. Time after time, when advocating for legislation that would require government agencies to post information on their Web sites, we have been told it is too difficult or expensive. To ensure a tamper-proof publication of these most vital legislative initiatives would cost money, perhaps much more than the legislation estimates will be saved.

• Newspaper publication provides a historic record. Government Web sites may not be maintained long term. Newspapers are preserved in libraries and newspaper archives for posterity.

• The governor has called for a constitutional amendment to strip public pensions from legislators convicted of crimes, and yet this bill supports making the proposed language available only on obscure Web sites few voters will ever see.

The proposed legislation says it will save $342,000. There are more than 10 million registered voters in New York State, so the proposal saves about three pennies per voter.

To register your dissatisfaction with the governor’s plan, contact his office at (518) 474–8390 or at the N.Y.S. State Capitol Building, Albany, NY 12224.

— Rea is executive director of the New York Press Association and New York Press Service