Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Legislative Gifts That Keep On Giving

Never Have So Few Given So Much To, Ah, So Few

Here they go again!

Leaders of the NYS Legislature -- in this instance, the State Senate -- doling out the pork.

Danny Hakim and Margot Williams of the New York Times report from Albany, where, at least in some quarters, its business as usual.

Pet Projects, Out in the Open

The Capitol was focused last week on the battle over the governor’s budget and the passage of major legislation on workers’ compensation and the civil confinement of sex offenders; Gov. Eliot Spitzer has scheduled signing ceremonies for both bills this week.

But the Senate also quietly released its latest list of what are known as member items — legislative pet projects decided largely in secret. After a court battle, lawmakers last year started fully disclosing the items, which ran to $200 million in the most recent budget.

The Senate released information about $9.3 million worth of items last week, and three Republicans in the 62-member chamber accounted for almost half. The Senate majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno, and the deputy majority leader, Dean G. Skelos, each directed roughly $1.3 million to their districts, while Senator John A. DeFrancisco distributed nearly $1.9 million.

Member items have been criticized by government watchdogs as pork-barrel spending that uses public money to curry political favor, with Democrats controlling the funds in the Assembly and Republicans doing so in the Senate. The governor has said that all future projects will be spelled out in the budget.

Among the notable new items: Senate Republicans directed $500,000 to an organization opposing a company’s proposal to build a high-voltage electricity transmission line from the Utica area to the New York City suburbs. And Senator Martin J. Golden, a Brooklyn Republican, directed $170,000 to HeartShare Human Services, a community group in his district run by a political ally, William R. Guarinello, who has contributed thousands of dollars to his campaign fund. HeartShare received $320,000 over the previous two fiscal years.

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