ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo blasted legislative earmarks during campaigns, investigated them as attorney general and promised in 2012 that he would banish them from the state budget.
Now, he's approving them.
In the last week, leaders of the state Legislature publicly disclosed lists of earmarks they secured under the State and Municipal Facilities Program, which fiscal analysts have likened to the old “member item” program that let legislators direct money to local groups and projects at their discretion.
But unlike the past, agencies that report to Cuomo are reviewing — and signing off on — the projects before the money is released. According to critics, that means the Democratic governor is approving “pork” spending that skews to support powerful incumbents: Republicans in the state Senate and Democrats in the Assembly — even after railing against spending for “pet projects” earlier this year.
“Governors Paterson and Cuomo put the final nails in the coffin of the member item process as we knew it. But what they've created is a zombie member item process, which is different but has many of the same characteristics of the old one,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
Read the whole Vielkind piece at Politico NY - it's well worth if if you want to see how Cuomo went from decrying the pork process and riding "reform" to the governor's mansion to embracing the pork process in order to garner allies in the legislature - and doing it with as much secrecy as possible:
Lawmakers approved $385 million for the program in the 2013-14 budget, offering support for capital projects — not one-time operating subsidies, as member items often were — for a broad variety of purposes like “preserving and protecting infrastructure” or to support “economic development projects … that will create or retain jobs in New York State.” In 2014 and 2015 it was amended and broadened to allow for the purchase of cars and to make investments in parks.
The spending is funneled through the Cuomo-controlled Dormitory Authority (DASNY), which did not release details about the $187 million in pending projects (as of August) until the Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscally conservative think tank, filed a Freedom of Information Law request. Projects can be selected by individual legislators — something not specified in the state budget, or spelled out by any official — as well as the governor himself. It took officials in the Assembly and Senate over a month to release details about who secured which projects.
“These are arguably worse than member items because at least with member items, there was some transparency on how the money was being divvied up in Albany and which members were directing it. We only have that after two and a half years,” said Ken Girardin, an analyst at the Empire Center. “It's difficult to reconcile someone who wanted to do away with a corruption-prone process only to usher in a larger process with even less transparency and a mechanism to give money directly to private businesses.”
So much for the Preet Bharara influence so far, eh?