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Profile: Empire Center - Working Toward A Better New York

February 18, 2020
By Caitlin Gilligan

New York has earned its reputation as a high-tax state, but a major policy win by the Empire Center is helping change that.

The Empire Center for Public Policy is an independent, nonprofit research organization that has been holding New York State government accountable and developing practical policy solutions since 2005.

“We pride ourselves on developing policies that make people’s lives better,” said Tim Hoefer, the Empire Center’s executive director. “Our work takes a critical look at the current system and finds ways to make it better.”

New York has earned its reputation as a high-tax state, but a major policy win by the Empire Center is helping change that.

Capping Property Taxes

After years of urging by the Empire Center, New York adopted a cap on the growth of property taxes, which cut the rate of increase by about two-thirds. In the eight years since the cap was implemented, homeowners and businesses have saved tens of billions of dollars.

Although the cap was initially temporary, in 2019 the tax cap was made permanent, thanks to the Center’s persistent defense.

For years, conventional political wisdom in Albany assumed such a reform could never be enacted in New York, but the Empire Center proved the naysayers wrong.

Committed to Transparency

SeeThroughNY.net, the Empire Center's transparency website, has payroll records for every state and local government employee going back more than a decade, and the state’s most comprehensive databases of labor contracts, pork-barrel grants, and public-sector pensions.

“Maintaining a public space where information about public employees’ salaries and pensions, property taxes, and contracts is readily available is crucial to taxpayers understanding how their money is being spent and ultimately deciding to change that if they don’t like it,” Hoefer said.

The Empire Center has shown public policy can be improved by simply sharing information with the public. In 2019, the Center’s study of payroll at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) found a 16 percent jump in overtime payments totaling more than $400 million. This revelation, and the resulting public outcry, sparked an internal investigation, a federal probe, and ultimately cost-saving changes to MTA operations.

Watchdog Action

Since launching SeeThroughNY in 2008, the has Center filed countless lawsuits to force public entities to turn over data. It took four years, and a trip to the state’s top court, to get the list of teacher pensions. For 10 years, the Center has been locked in a court battle to obtain the list of people getting payments from New York City’s Police Pension Fund.

The Center also sounded the alarm when Gov. Andrew Cuomo let New York’s Medicaid program spend $1.7 billion more than lawmakers had authorized.

This investigation later revealed the Cuomo administration’s mismanagement of Medicaid had led to a $6 billion budget gap.

The Empire Center’s dedication to holding government accountable and working toward better policy solutions has never been more important for New York’s future.

Caitlin Gilligan (caitling@empirecenter.org) is communications manager at the Empire Center for Public Policy.