Pork barrel member item spending is alive and well in Albany. According to the watchdog group Citizens Union, a total of $2.9 billion was allocated under lump-sum funds within the recently adopted 2015-16, $142-billion state budget. These funds have been allocated into 95 individual stand-alone pots. They include $2.3 billion for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, $1.2 billion for then state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, $989 million for state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and $82 million for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. (Some of these funds are jointly allocated, so the total figure of $2.9 billion is correct.)
Lump-sum funds are authorized to be spent under the capital budget. They are nonspecific, which means the governor, any state senator, state Assembly member or the attorney general can spend these dollars at their own discretion. There is virtually no oversight or accountability, unlike those funds whose recipients are previously identified as part of the original budget process. Even state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has a difficult time monitoring these expenditures.
On a bipartisan basis, Cuomo, Skelos and Heastie, along with their loyal members and Schneiderman, will all share in these ill-gotten gains. This is bad news for taxpayers.
How many stories have we read concerning corruption of individuals and organizations who are recipients of member item spending? Every year, ordinary Americans, businesses and foundations combine to donate several hundred billion dollars to tens of thousands of charities. Why do elected officials see the need to use tax revenues to fund their own donations to charities? These are known as member items and in too many cases have in the past really been pork barrel projects. Why can’t they make their own personal direct charitable donations to the charities of their choice? Just how much cash do elected officials personally donate to charities each year out of their own salaries? Many could dip into excessive surplus campaign funds to make a donation. They could also host a fund-raiser asking some of their regular campaign contributors to support charities. In addition to financial contributions, millions of Americans also donate time each week to perform volunteer work at their favorite charity. How many public officials do the same?
Too many members view the funding of member item pork barrel projects as a path to grease the wheels of reelection or run for higher public office. Like a monkey on their back, they appear to be addicted to this spending. Skelos and Heastie both use this as a tool to keep their respective loyal flocks in line. Vote as directed by the “leadership,” and you will receive your share of this pot of gold. Those few Democrats who have to run in competitive races receive “extra” earmarks from Heastie, courtesy of taxpayers. The same is true for Skelos.
It is common knowledge about the quid pro quo between those seeking funding and members of the state Legislature. This sometimes includes campaign contributions from the recipients’ senior management; hiring of the family, relatives or friends of public officials, along with their political clubhouse colleagues by the recipients; invitations to ribbon cutting ceremonies; prominent promotions in recipients’ newsletters; along with honoring the elected official at the organization’s annual fund-raising dinner, etc. in exchange for receipt of the funding.
It is time to permanently end pork barrel member item spending.
©2015 Community News Group
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