Open Budget Legislation Authored by Council Member Kallos Passes City Council

10/31/2017
New York, NY – How New York City spends $85 billion just got more transparent with the passing of legislation from Council Member Ben Kallos that requires all budget documents released by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to be publicly released on its website and the Open Data Portal in a searchable and computer readable format, instead of only printed or in lengthy PDFs.
 
“New Yorkers should be able to search the city’s budget to see how every penny of their tax dollars is being spent,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, a software developer, and open data advocate. “Thank you to Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito and Finance Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland for their partnership in advocacy for an Open Budget.”
 
“Under my tenure as Finance Chair, we were able to provide New Yorkers with online access to our $85.2 billion budget. To expand on our existing efforts, we will now provide constituents a more convenient way to find this information. I want to commend Council Member Kallos for proposing this legislation that I’m proudly co-sponsoring. With its passing, we are showing once again our commitment to openness and transparency, said Finance Committee Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.”

Council Member Kallos began advocating for the budget to be published online in 2014. The City Council advocated for an Open Budget in the City Council Budget Response sent to the administration on April 4, 2016: “The budget is the most important public policy the City regularly makes. As such its transparency is crucial to helping New Yorkers understand how the City spends and raises funding. While OMB publically provides many budget documents, all of them are in portable document format (pdf), making an analysis of them cumbersome at best and impossible at worst. Like other agencies, OMB should publish excel files of its documents such as the supporting schedules, departmental estimates, and other applicable documents.”

On May 5, 2016, Council Member Kallos introduced the Open Budget bill, following which the administration announced that it would begin voluntarily publishing certain major budget documents online. 

Intro 1176, which passed the Council today, requires that practice to continue, requires budget documents that were previously excluded to be published online, and requires all online documents to be published in human and computer readable formats, as well as on the Open Data Portal.

The bill also requires documents submitted to the City Council for review during the budget negotiation process to be provided in human and computer readable formats for more effective review by the Council.
 
“Citizens Budget Commission supports the passage of Intro 1176 of 2016, to amend the city charter to require that the Office of Management and Budget make budget documents available in formats that permit automated processing. Having budget documents in 'open' formats will significantly increase the speed and ease with which interested taxpayers can analyze how the City is spending their money. This is a critical step in strengthening transparency and accountability in the budget process," said Carol Kellermann, President of the Citizens Budget Commission.
 
“Democracy can only work if the government is open and transparent about its activities in service of the public,” said Andrew Rasiej, Founder and CEO of Civic Hall, “With this Open Budget legislation the New York City Council is once again reaffirming its commitment to a working democracy by making sure that city’s expenditures and finances are open and transparent as well” 
 
“A big thank you to the City Council for passing the Open Budget Bill.  New York City has been a world leader in open data --- except strangely for budget data, which is not open and spreadsheet readable. The budget is probably the single most important data set produced by city government. It tells the public what our government is spending our money on, and what its priorities are. New York State and leading world cities publish their budgets in useful, machine-readable formats --- so should New York City. We urge Mayor de Blasio to sign this important open government bill," said John Kaehny, co-chair of the NYC Transparency Working Group and executive director of Reinvent Albany.

"This is a great leap forward into the 21st century for our antiquated government administration. Public information should be digital, searchable, and accessible so New Yorkers know exactly how their money is being spent," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.

“The Open Budget Bill is long overdue, and we are pleased to see the City Council pass it today. New Yorkers deserve to have an accessible, searchable budget that allows them to truly see how 85 billion tax dollars are spent. Transparency isn’t very meaningful if the data made available isn’t searchable or otherwise accessible to every day New Yorkers, let alone researchers, watchdogs, and advocates. Making New York City’s budget truly accessible is a cornerstone of an open and more democratic city government,” said Rachel Bloom, Director of Public Policy and Programs, Citizens Union.

As Chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations, Council Member Ben Kallos, oversees the Financial Information Services Agency (FISA) which operates software from CGI Group by the name of the Financial Management System (FMS) that manages the city budget. Council Member Ben Kallos identified areas where the budget is only available in print or PDF and found that FMS could easily make the budget information available in open searchable formats online.

The Open Budget bill was introduced in the Council on May 5, 2016, and received a public hearing in the Committee on Finance on June 12, 2017.