Opening New York’s Budget

by John W Rodat on January 24, 2013

We recently congratulated Governor Cuomo for his promoting data transparency in his State of the State message.

Little did we know how quickly his administration was moving to actually take concrete steps to make it so. Yesterday’s Budget showed us not only that his commitment was serious, but that the staff of the State Division of the Budget must have been working pretty hard to make it happen.

Here’s the result of that commitment and effort in OpenBudgetNY. In particular, note on these pages, Budget and Actuals, Appropriations, Capital Appropriations and Archives that you can select the items of interest and download machine-readable data (in Excel format). So you can then do you own calculations or whatever.

Let me show you an example of the practical implications of automatically putting the data out in public, in a form that enables you to not only read it, but to take even more active steps like calculate with it. That capability is the foundation for even more, like creating interactive online visualizations.

I had earlier submitted a FOIL request for these data. As is often the case, the FOIL process was dragging. Others were seeking the same or similar data. Operationally, was any good served by the practice of requiring each who might be interested in the data to file a separate (and perhaps slightly different) request that then had to be processed by public employees? The answer to that is, no, not if the data already exist.

Just put it all out there. In some cases, automatically putting such data online will actually reduce the workload of public employees.

Secondly, everything moves faster. Reinvent Albany’s John Kaehny gave me the heads up around 4:00 PM on Tuesday, the day the Budget was released. By mid-day today, I had downloaded the first set of data and created the files visualizations on a new page that you can now find here.

I haven’t finished testing and tweaking the first set of visualizations so I haven’t embedded them to operate directly here yet. But the links are active.

If nothing else, it’s an indicator of what can be done quickly by making the raw data available. For that I am very appreciative.

For convenience, they’re also here and your comments and suggestions will be welcome:

Entry Page. Note that you can also navigate using the tabs at the top of each page.

Overall Summary Dollars

Overall Summary Percentages

Summary by Category of Spending

Summary by Agency

History

Interactive Budget Explorer. This one is the geekiest. It will take a bit more effort on your part, but that’s because it leaves most of the choices to the user. So if you want to explore detail, this is where you can do it.

The Empire Center’s SeeThroughNY has become a repository for a lot of New York data. They started working on their own interface for budget data months ago and they’re clearly getting better at it. Early, test versions of the budget interface were nicely laid out and convenient to use. Now that the Budget data has been released, they should be online very quickly with their own tools.

And this brings me to another point. Even though they work with the same data, all of these efforts are not competitive. With different emphases, and different interfaces, they will all contribute to better understanding. Indeed, libraries and other interested organizations should make it policy and habit to themselves become mirror repositories.

So congratulations are in order to the Governor, to the Division of the Budget and any other staff that helped make this happen. (Geez, I must be getting soft: two consecutive congratulatory posts to an elected official and public employees.)

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Note that this page has been updated since originally published to reflect the addition of a link to the Entry Page of the Budget visualization.

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