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Albany's Recession-Proof Porkfest

August 05, 2009


Who says you need to change your spending habits in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression?

The state Legislature approved over 8,000 “member items”—New York’s version of pork-barrel earmarks—adding up to just under $148 million as part of the 2009-10 budget adopted in April.  A searchable database of the latest member items for both the Assembly and Senate can be found under the "Expenditures" tab at the Empire Center's government transparency website,

The pork barrel spending initially was approved in two forms.  First, scattered throughout the budget appropriation bills were at least 3,558 Assembly-sponsored “member items”adding up to just under $62 million.  

In addition to individual items, tucked at the end of the Public Protection and General Government bill were two lump-sum appropriations totaling $105 million, including:

  • $85 million to be spent “pursuant to one or  more plans submitted by the temporary president of  the  senate,“ which shall consist of a list of amounts and grantees requiring approval from a majority of the Senate; and
  • another $20 million to be “suballocated” by any agency or public authority without further restrictions.

The Senate itemized the distribution of its lump sum pursuant to a resolution approved in July.  

Both lump sums, like all the individual member-item appropriations, are technically to be spent out of “Community Projects Fund – 007” for “services and expenses, grants in aid, or for contracts with certain not-for-profit agencies, universities, colleges, school districts,  corporations,  and/or  municipalities pursuant to section 99-d  of  the state finance law.

What for?

As usual, the member item list includes scores of grants to senior citizen centers, schools, hospitals, sports leagues, community music groups, museums, churches, municipalities and non-profits of seemingly every description, including both business groups and union organizations -- even "taxpayer associations."

What sets these appropriations apart from normal programmatic expenditures is that they are made pursuant to applications filed with individual lawmakers, who recommend funding at their own discretion.   Neither the sponsors nor the purposes of the grants were immediately disclosed when the budget was passed.  The Assembly got around to releasing information on its grants several weeks after the budget was finalized, while the Senate only issued its list after passing a member-item resolution in July.