Albany Oink, ’07-08 Edition


by E.J. McMahon, Matt Smith and Kathryn McCall

To promote greater public scrutiny of tax-funded expenditures, the Empire Center for Public Policy has assembled a list of pork-barrel “member items” found in the 2007-08 budget bills passed by the Legislature.

Roughly 5,800 obvious member-item appropriations are scattered throughout the four major budget bills. Our compilation of these items can be downloaded in two different file formats:

> Adobe Acrobat “pdf” file.  The printable form of the member-item list is 162 pages long and lists all line items in alphabetical order, noting in each case the amount of the appropriation and the code for the legislative conference that requested it.

> Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.  In addition to a full listing of member items, this worksheet file includes separate tab breakouts of items sponsored by all four legislative conferences.  It is also formatted to permit easy sorting and tabulation of line items.

NOTE: In compiling these lists, we may have overlooked some member items salted among the thousands of pages of budget legislation passed on March 31 and April 1.

Although it has been widely reported that the budget included a total of $170 million in new legislative pork, our analysis of budget bills turned up only $101 million in individual appropriations listed under various subtotals for the “Community Projects 007” account, which traditionally is the funding source for legislative member items.   Moreover, while the two houses traditionally divide the member-item grants into equal amounts, our totals (as summarized below) are unevenly distributed between the Senate and Assembly. This may indicate that more member items will be lined out in a supplemental budget bill, or that the Legislature expects some expenditures to come out of lump-sums re-appropriated from previous years.

After six years of appropriating member items only in lump sums, the Legislature’s return to the practice of making line-item appropriation has restored a modicum of transparency to the pork-barrel spending process.  As usual, however, there was no opportunity for public scrutiny of the member-item list in advance of the budget vote. In fact, as of ten days after the budget was passed, neither the Senate nor the Assembly had made good on a promise to release an authoritative list of member items.  The Legislature also has not identified individual sponsors of member items (although Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno released his personal list).  Also still missing from the public record is any information on the purpose of, or justification for, any of the member-item expenditures.

Pork propensities: a summary

Based on the Empire Center’s compilation, here’s a look at how some of the funding breaks down:

  • Kenmore Mercy Hospital and Geneva Community Center Inc. each received $500,000 member items from Senate Republicans. The Senate majority’s 2,427 member items totaled $56.5 million.
  • Senate Democrats delivered targeted grants of $100,000 to each of the following groups: the Creative Arts Team of CUNY; the Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, and Transgender Community CenterNARAL Pro-Choice of New York; and the Public Policy and Education Fund of New York, which is an arm of Citizen Action lobbying group. Overall, Senate Democrats issued 982 member items totaling $6.5 million.
  • Prisoner’s Legal Services received the largest member item from Assembly Democrats, with a $2.3 million grant. There were 1,682 member items lined out in the new budget bills from the Assembly Majority totaling $31.4 million.
  • Assembly Republicans issued 730 member items totaling $4.2 million. The two largest grants — both totaling $50,000 — went to the Williamsville Junior Football program and the Town of Greenwood.
  • As is normally the case, a significant portion of member-item spending under the 2007-08 budget goes to senior-citizen groups, libraries, veterans organizations and youth sports programs. At least 666 grants totaling $6.5 million were awarded to senior-citizen organizations statewide. Veterans groups, including American Legion posts, accounted for at least 151 member items totaling $1.5 million.
  • Nearly 40 youth sports programs and Little Leagues received $227,506 in funding from lawmakers.
  • At least 599 grants totaling $6.8 million went to public, private and charter schools, and to public libraries across the state.