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A short passage buried deep in the state budget authorizes the transfer of up to $38 million to the Legislature’s “community projects fund” – traditionally a pork-barrel account for funding pet projects. Its inclusion raised a Capitol buzz over whether lawmakers had included pork-barrel spending in the budget after swearing it off.
But it’s not new money, officials from all sides said.
Instead, they said, it’s an authorization to cover projects approved in previous years.
“The funds are to fulfill existing contracts for community projects that were approved in previous state budgets,” said Mark Hansen, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).
It’s not unusual for lawmakers to approve a specific project in one year, only to see the project not launched until a year or more later. And some projects are never appropriated.
Josh Vlasto, spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said the community projects fund still has about $100 million but is being drawn down to fund previous obligations. The authorization allows legislators to request up to $38 million “for already existing [projects] that need cash,” he said, adding that those items had been approved by previous administrations.
“There is absolutely no new money for new ‘member items,’ ” he said, referring to the term used at the Capitol to refer to pork projects. “The money cannot be used for new items.”
Vlasto said similar language authorizing such transfers was included in last year's budget, so this is not a new sleight-of-hand.
So, to recap: Technically, there is no money in the 2012-13 for “member items,” or pork-barrel projects in lawmakers’ districts. But that doesn't mean you won't see lawmakers this year - an election year - announcing projects previously on hold.
The prospect of Assembly Democrats showering projects in competitive districts this fall doesn't worry Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua). He said it's not unusual for community projects to be funded years after they are authorized and that $38 million isn't a huge amount in a state with a $132.6 billion budget.
"Am I concerned about it from a political-edge standpoint?" No," Kolb said.
Lawmakers are slated to finish enacting the budget Friday.