Friday, September 29, 2006

Is ESDC violating open government laws? State official is suspicious

Can the Empire State Development Corporation get away with not releasing its fiscal impact study regarding the Atlantic Yards project? A state official tells the Village Voice: probably not.

Neil de Mause writes:
ESDC's disdain for public disclosure is nothing new—others who've tried to file FOIL requests for agency documents say it can often take months just to get a reply. (The law requires a response within five business days.) But it's especially troublesome in this case, where the only evidence for the project's estimated public costs ($545 million) and benefits ($1.945 billion) is the state agency's assertion that, well, we know what we're talking about, and you'll just have to trust us.

In this case, says Robert Freedman of the state Committee on Open Government, which oversees the Freedom of Information Law, the ESDC's reasoning "is a partial response, and in my opinion in all likelihood it is at least partially wrong." While the law does exempt "intra-agency materials," he says, certain categories of material explicitly cannot be withheld—one of which is "statistical or factual tabulations or data," which presumably would include economic impact number-crunching.

(Emphasis added)

I was interviewed:
"This has been presented as something that's going to be a fiscal boon to the public," says Oder, who notes that other agencies such as the Independent Budget Office and even Ratner's own consultant, Andrew Zimbalist, came up with more significant projected costs. "It shouldn't just be me getting excited about this—it should be our local elected officials. How can they get away with claiming this number?"

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