By Don Glynn
Niagara Gazette — All of us suddenly have more access to state government.
That was the message as Sunshine Week started Monday with Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiling Open.ny.gov., a website designed to make government the most transparent in Empire State history. The special observance is a national initiative created by the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 2005 to shine a spotlight on the importance of open government and the danger that secrecy poses to a democracy. Obviously we can't rush to judgment — only time will tell—but the early signs for Open.ny.gov point to a more user-friendly way to find vital information about state government and its vast operations.
Cuomo said: "This new website will dramatically increase public access to one of our most valuable assets — data. Open.ny.gov will spark innovation, improve efficiency, promote accountability and bring the people back into government." If only half of that comes to fruition, it will represent a major break-through for taxpayers, especially the frustrated citizen advocacy groups.
Robert Freeman, executive director of the Committee on Open Government who has helped countless reporters negotiate the stiff currents in their endless pursuits in ferreting out facts from uncooperative public officials and other sources, is impressed with the array of information the state is willing to release. "Perhaps more significant, information will be there for the taking, and it can be analyzed, extracted, merged to be useful to citizens in their daily lives and to our business and academic communities."
Freeman cited an example: "The death rate might be higher at one hospital than at the other down the road. And the public will be able to find that out by searching this website."
Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union of New York City, said the new website should "enable New Yorkers to make better informed decisions and make government more open and accountable.”
A spokesman at the governor's office said Wednesday that the counties of Essex, Oneida, Onondaga and Suffolk as well as the City of Albany had already started sharing their data on the website. It could not be immediately determined if and when Niagara County would begin posting its data online. The public information office for the county did not return calls asking for comment.
LOSING POINTS: Gov. Andrew Cuomo's favorabiity rating is down for the third consecutive month, according to the Siena College poll. It's now 64 percent, compared with 72 percent in December.
Pollster Steven Greemberg says, "With a better than two-to-one favorability rating that would be the envy of most elected officials or politicians. Greenberg noted that while the gun law was popular statewide, 57 percent of upstate voters approved it and 39 percent supported it.
PAIN AT THE PUMP: If you're wondering why our gas prices are so high compared with other places, check out the amount of state tax you pay per gallon: New York, 69.9 cents; Connecticut, 64.4 cents; Michigan, 61.3 cents; Florida, 53.4; Pennsylvania, 53.7 cents; Ohio, 46.4 cents; Massachusetts, 41.9 cents; New Hampshire, 38; and New Jersey, 32.9 cents. In New York, that's $13.98 in state tax on a 20-gallon fill up.
GO FIGURE: Overheard in the 'Y' Coffee Shop, Main Street: "The city's talking about starting a registry of vacant buildings in Niagara Falls. Wouldn't it be much simpler just to publish a list of the buildings that are open?" — a customer complaining about the North Main Street scene.Contact reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.