Lawmakers Want to End Midnight Budget Secrecy With ‘Transparency Act’

March 30, 2023

The Legislative Gazette

By Sydney Rockwood

On Wednesday, March 29, 2023, Senators Jim Tedisco and Steve Rhoads, accompanied by Assemblyman John McGowan and other lawmakers, held a press conference to make a case for their bill before the April 1 New York state budget deadline.

The “NYS Budget Transparency Act” aims to prohibit the passage of state budget and other legal proceedings between the hours of midnight and 8 a.m., to ensure transparency in the legislative process. 

The use of a “message of necessity” by governors and majority conferences to sweep controversial policy proposals into budget bills passed while most New Yorkers are sleeping in order to avoid public scrutiny and a proper vetting by the media and other legislators has drawn widespread criticism over the years.

This rushed tactic allows for the evasion of public debate altogether, and a quicker path through the state “during the dark of night.”

By altering the hours to keep the public and media up to speed, Tedisco hopes to stop the abuse of “messages of necessity,” except in genuine, imminent emergencies that pose a threat to the state and its citizens. 

 said Tedisco on the matter. 

To evaluate the direness of an exception, the bill would require two-thirds of the Legislature to be present, and a two-thirds majority vote in favor of the legislation passing through immediately.

The state Constitution requires bills to “age” three days so legislators and the public have an opportunity to review them. When important policies or a budget is voted on, governors will often issue “messages of necessity” to circumvent the three-day rule and push through major legislation giving lawmakers and New Yorkers little-to-no time to read the bills.

Although not unique to this executive, Gov. Hochul promised she would lead a “new era of transparency,” the Republican lawmakers noted on Wednesday.

“The normal process is that a bill will have to age for at least 72 hours,” Rhoades explained. “That gives a reasonable opportunity for people to review the bill, find out what’s in it, and be able to get feedback to make decisions on how we’re going to vote.” 

When bills are considered “messages of necessity,” or put forward in the dead of night, the swiftness in which they are presented grant them immunity from proper coverage from the media, and deprive senators of valuable time to review these bills. Without the normal 72 hours, senators argue they cannot dedicate enough time to consideration of the bill on the thousands of New Yorkers they represent.

“Ultimately, if the governor and [conference] leaders think passing a state budget that’s projected to be billions of dollars above last year’s in darkness is so good for New York taxpayers, then why don’t my colleagues hold their press conferences at 3 a.m. instead of the light of day,” Tedisco asked. “Clearly, they don’t because they want a full airing of their ideas to the public through the media so they can be seen and heard.

“As the famed journalist Bob Woodward popularized, ‘Democracy dies in darkness.’ If an agreement hatched in the dark of night at 3 a.m. is so good for our state then it will still be a good one to be debated and voted on at 3 p.m.,” Tedisco added.

Assemblyman McGowan sponsors the bill (A.4723) in the Assembly.

“We have seen numerous examples of important legislation being voted on and passed in the middle of the night, especially during this time of the budgetary process,” McGowan said. “Redistricting, casino gambling, pension reform, teacher evaluation, to name a few.”

There have been attempts to pass versions of this bill every year since 2015, with the goal of amending Section 14 of Article 3 of the New York State Constitution. The newest version of this act is currently in the Judiciary Committee awaiting passage.

“You hear people say those dastardly words – ‘It’s always been done that way’ – but it’s not the right way, and it’s time to change it,” Tedisco said.