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ALBANY - (Updates with comment from Cuomo administration)
Pork is in the pots in Albany.
Although eliminated in 2010 and the basis of several corruption cases, pork-barrel spending of taxpayer money with few restrictions or transparency is part of the state budget negotiations now underway behind closed doors. If approved, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Senate and Assembly majorities would have $2.6 billion to dole out in the budget due by April 1, according to an analysis by the Citizens Union good-government group.
The Cuomo administration denies that, saying all spending will eventually be made public.
The pork would be in as many as 66 different “pots,” the term used in the state budget to describe categories of spending in which money is assigned. About $2.5 billion of the money is in capital funds and includes $1.3 billion planned for the State University of New York, according to the analysis.
The new proposals include some reforms pushed by Cuomo that provide some transparency for some of the pots, mostly those controlled by the Legislature, the report stated.
These lump sums have a notorious history in Albany. They have allowed governors and the Senate and Assembly to divvy up hundreds of millions of public dollars and announce them at public events and news releases, paid for by taxpayers.
“Lump sum funds continue to pose a threat to transparency and increase the risk of corruption,” stated Citizens Union’s report “Spending in the Shadows.”
The Cuomo administration said that while not all spending will be identified in the state budget when it’s approved, the spending will be subject to a public competitive process and public meetings of state boards.
“Much of what they call discretionary is actually a defined competitive process in which the SUNY campuses make detailed proposals that are judged based on specific criteria to assure that taxpayers get the best bang for the buck,” said Cuomo budget office spokesman Morris Peters.
Once the spending is committed, it will also be explained on public websites, according to the administration.
Senate and Assembly majority leaders had no immediate comment Tuesday. Negotiations now underway include Cuomo's latest ethics package.
Earlier this year, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) was the most recent lawmaker indicted and accused of abusing state funds directed at the discretion of legislators. He denies the charges and continues to serve in the Legislature. Many of the nearly 30 state officials snared in corruption probes in the last decade were accused of abusing discretionary state funds.
“Given that discretionary funding is among the charges against Silver, we need to lower the risk of corruption and have these funding agreements publicly disclosed,” Citizens Union’s Dick Dadey said Tuesday.