In the cloud of the coronavirus fight —making sure there’s enough testing, managing new hospitalizations, tamping down super-spreader events and allowing several thousand lucky Buffalo Bills fans to watch the team’s first home playoff game in person — the state has quietly been withholding funds from state agencies, local governments, nonprofits and contractors that do business with the state.
So exactly how much money is the state withholding from the individual entities that are being shorted state funds?
Your guess is as good as anyone’s.
Through September, the state reported withholding a total of $2.4 billion, the New York Daily News reported.
According to the Citizens Budget Commission, Reinvent Albany and other organizations, the state in its report broke down the withholdings into 10 categories, but provided no specific details about the agencies or programs the money was withheld from. That’s what prompted a coalition of good-government groups late last month to call on the state to release detailed monthly information about the money held back during the crisis.
We understand the state is under severe fiscal pressure thanks to the virus. Some have predicted the state’s four-year budget shortfall due to the economic impacts of the virus to be around $60 billion. As a result, anyone reliant on state government funding should expect to feel the state’s financial pain.
But the need for the state to withhold funds to keep spending in check is one thing. Not telling anyone how much is being withheld from whom is another.
Not reporting this information prevents state lawmakers, fiscal-watchdog groups, the media and the general public from scrutinizing the withholdings. It also makes it impossible to determine how the state’s actions are affecting the agencies and organizations that are seeing their funding withheld.
Surely, the state is keeping detailed records of how much it’s withholding from whom. So why isn’t it sharing that information with others?
The reason government withholds details from the public is usually that it doesn’t want the criticism, or the demand for changes that ultimate comes with it.
Fear of criticism, as we’ve said a million times, isn’t a good enough reason to keep the people in the dark.
We as citizens have a right to know the details behind state spending decisions because it’s our money.
While state officials have said they will release the details as part of the governor’s budget message later this month, that’s not good enough. A regular, monthly accounting of these actions is what’s warranted.
Let us all see for ourselves if the decisions the state is making are fair and appropriate.