A special session convenes in the State Senate chamber in...

A special session convenes in the State Senate chamber in Albany. (Nov. 29, 2010) Credit: Philip Kamrass / Times Union

In their final days in the majority, State Senate Democrats quietly canceled an estimated $12 million in grants for two Long Island districts that Republicans were about to represent.

The plug was pulled on much of the funding in late December by the Senate's so-called Office of Fiscal Integrity - leaving dozens of projects in doubt in Suffolk's 3rd Senate District and Nassau's 7th.

Some Democratic insiders privately acknowledged partisan payback, citing instances where Senate Republicans did the same after Democrats captured GOP seats before 2009.

This week, new GOP Sens. Lee Zeldin of Shirley and Jack Martins of Mineola blasted the withdrawal as "grossly irresponsible, devoid of integrity, and . . . causing significant harm to the recipients including towns, villages, school districts, fire districts and not-for-profits."

Their predecessors, Democrats Craig Johnson and Brian Foley, deny they even knew the cutoff would occur. Some local groups were assured in preceding weeks that grants were progressing. Both ex-senators joined in denouncing the Senate office's last-minute actions. Foley added, however, that the GOP majority should now be able to restore many funding items that fell shy of completion.

Contacted for comment, Austin Shafran, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, said, "Every year a full review of outstanding capital projects is conducted. Given the difficult fiscal times, sacrifices had to be made."

But Republicans, who returned to the Senate majority last month after a two-year hiatus, said they are still trying to reconstruct what the Democrats might have done to redirect funds - and figure out what they can do about it. This comes as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposes to slash or take control of funds that lawmakers usually get to divvy up.

For now, Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri is among the vexed. He was led to believe his village would get $1 million from two state sources to replace a sewer pump station. The money was to form one piece of a wider project funded by multiple sources. Without it, a hookup crucial for extending the local sewer district will be jeopardized. "I'd have to figure out a way for the town to come up with another $1 million. I don't know where we're going to get that," Pontieri, a Democrat, said.

Documents show dozens of other Senate spending items in question. Some were in a resolution drawn up in the Senate but never approved. Much of the canceled funding derived from the Economic Development Capital Program - which has long allowed the Senate to apportion money borrowed through the state Dormitory Authority.

On Dec. 21, Ahmed Doimande, who under the Democrats was chief officer of the Office of Fiscal Integrity, sent out several letters to Dormitory Authority president Paul T. Williams Jr. The letters follow this form: "I am writing to request that the project mentioned below, sent by the NYS Senate to the Dormitory Authority [earlier in the year], no longer be funded."

The letters don't say why. Notably, they were posted the day after it became certain that Republicans had won back the Senate majority, 32-30. On Dec. 20, the state's highest court in effect ruled Martins the winner in his close, critical race against Johnson.

Former state Sen. Seymour Lachmanof Brooklyn, director of the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College on Staten Island, wasn't surprised to hear it Thursday.

In his 2006 book "Three Men in a Room," Lachman criticized the system. He recalled how, after he made known his intent to retire, his $150,000 allotment of member-item funds were "doled out instead to other senators for their upcoming election races" - leaving valid projects "empty-handed."

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