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Pork spending that drew votes as well as investigations may be returning to Albany

Speaker Carl Heastie on Feb. 3, 2015, at

Speaker Carl Heastie on Feb. 3, 2015, at the Capitol in Albany. Photo Credit: Albany Times Union / Skip Dickstein

ALBANY - Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Tuesday appeared to edge Albany a little closer to the return of pork-barrel spending that was cut off after a series of corruption scandals.

Heastie (D-Bronx) in his upstate tour argued for the benefits of pork in which the Assembly, Senate and governor would direct hundreds of millions of dollars in tax dollars to local projects.

For decades the practice helped incumbents and the majority parties in the Senate and Assembly build goodwill and votes as they presented checks in front of local news media. The pork  provided grants of thousands of dollars to local health programs, Little League teams, civic projects, tourist attractions and other targets at the discretion of lawmakers and legislative leaders.

But the pork, officially called member items, were also at the heart of many of Albany's scandals in which legislators directed state funds to groups and nonprofit organizations they or their families or supporters operated. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has blocked most new pork-barrel spending since 2011.

"Local legislators know best what's needed in their district," Heastie said Tuesday in Saratoga County. "I think that when -- unfortunately -- people get themselves in trouble, it doesn't mean that you do away with allowing legislators to do good things in their districts.

"That's what people elected us for," Heastie said, "to bring resources back to our communities. When we identify needs, we should be able to -- with a clean process and no conflicts of interest -- be able to answer the call when our communities in our districts say they have a need."

E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center for Public Policy has tracked the attempted revival of pork through legislation over several years. The budget passed April 1 also included billions in spending that would be determined by lawmakers and the governor after big pots of money was approved, he said.

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