Friday, September 22, 2006

Not Only Pork, But Beef

Legislators Look To Hide Payouts To Selves, Others

Two seemingly unrealted news stories about legislative "gimmes", one out of Long Island (Newsday), the other out of Albany (Times-Union), actually tie into one another quite nicely.

The Albany Times-Union piece, Media Join Lawsuit in Pork Case, brings to the public eye, yet again, the practice of the NYS Legislature to quietly -- if not clandestinely -- dole out millions of dollars in pork via the fabled, if not infamous, member item grants.

As The Community Alliance pointed out in previous blogposts [ SEE, Your Tax Dollars At Play], its not so much where the money goes (though sometimes, it clearly is), but the secretive, backdoor, out of the public eye manner in which public money is appropriated.

Now there's a lawsuit demanding a disgorge of information which would tell the public who asked for -- and who got -- what. In essence, "show US the money!"

As an interesting if not relevant aside (and possible precursor of nothing to come), presumtive Governor and self-proclaimed "reformer," Eliot Spitzer, filed papers requesting the court to protect (read as, "keep from the public") information that would reveal which lawmakers asked for specific grants for community projects, part of $170 million in annual discretionary spending.

Ah, we see Governor Spitzer is well on his way toward fixing Albany!

Meanwhile, back on Long Island, our esteemed Nassau County Legislature apparently tried to give themselves raises by hiding the funds in the 2007 proposed budget under such line items as "legislative assistants." Maybe they should have put it under, "legislative ASSISTANCE!" [READ, Newsday, LI Pols Tried To Hide Funds For Raises.]

Judy Jacobs, Democrat, called Peter Schmitt, Republican, a liar. Schmitt wanted to know what Judy's smoking. He said, she said. Let's call the whole thing off.

It is not so much that the legislators wanted to hike their salaries (from $39,500 to $55,900) for the first time since the Legislature was formed in 1996 [or maybe it is, given the NC legislators' antics earlier this year that effectively brought county government to a halt], but more so the unmitigated gall in trying to keep any inkling of this hefty pay raise hidden under the budget bushel.

Hey, its not like someone isn't going to find out about it, usually sooner rather than later!

The business of keeping the people's business -- particularly when it comes to dollars and cents -- away from the people is nothing new, either in Albany [where it has always been "Three Men In A Room"] or Mineola [where, for years, several men in a room (known as the Board of Supervisors) decided behind closed doors who got what]. Of course, longstanding policy doesn't make a terrible practice any better.

Whether we're talking about the accountability of public authorities or how legislators give out money in their own districts, the process requires public scrutiny -- even where the public, for the most part, has relinquished their right of both preview and review to the foxes who they've left, often for decades if not lifetimes, to guard the hen house. So much for reforming Albany.

As for the Nassau County Legislature, do we reward bad behavior and unproductivity, especially after the children were caught with their hands in the cookie jar, trying to sneak some extra chocolate chips without mom knowing? We don't think so.

Legislators, be they in the State Capital or at the County Seat, may technically be said to be part-time employees. Their responsibility to the public, however, is a full-time job. They have to get our respect -- not to mention pay raises and member item monies -- the old fashioned way, by earning them. As for our votes, well, you figure that one out...

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