ALBANY – From cheese museums to Little Leagues to sororities, Gov. Pataki and state lawmakers have secretly approved nearly half a billion dollars worth of barely scrutinized pork-barrel projects over the past three years, it was revealed yesterday.

For the first time, the list of nearly 23,000 projects totaling about $479 million was made public yesterday on a Web site, https://www.empirecenter.org, by the Empire Center for New York State Policy, the research arm of the Manhattan Institute.

The Empire Center filed a freedom-of-information request with the state and was able to get the names of the groups that received pork money, how much they received, and whether the cash was sponsored by the governor, Senate or Assembly.

It does not, however, show the purpose of the items or which legislators requested them.

“It’s time to pierce the veil of secrecy that surrounds so much of the state budget process,” said center director E.J. McMahon. “While legislators seek credit for an on-time budget that will increase state-funded spending by three to five times the rate of inflation, the taxpayers of New York have a right to know what’s being done with their money.”

Included on the massive list of funded projects was the Cuba Cheese Museum in upstate New York, which got $5,000, and Fort Salonga Association Triangle Bread & Cheese, receiving $2,500.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars went to dozens of Little Leagues, veterans organizations, arts agencies and other community groups. Lawmakers say the funding helps small groups that do good, but the ritzy also benefit.

Last year, $100,000 was given to Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Film Institute.

“It’s not enough the state gives them a fat tax credit to film in New York. Now we have to underwrite the film festival for them, too,” McMahon said.

The National Abortion Rights Action League, a pro-choice organization that lobbies the state on a host of issues, got $28,000.

The Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc./N.Y. Alumnae Chapter got $2,500.

Known as member items, pork spending for years had been itemized in the budget. That all changed in 2002, after Pataki vetoed thousands of dollars in projects sought almost exclusively by Assembly Democrats. Now the money is set aside in a lump allocation in the budget and distributed under agreement by Pataki and legislative leaders.

“We learned our lesson and that’s why we don’t [spell out the spending] that way anymore,” said Assembly spokesman Charles “Skip” Carrier.

He defended the spending overall, saying, “Local legislators are in the best position to know the needs of their local communities.”

But Rachel Leon, of the state chapter of Common Cause, said it’s hard to debate the merits of the projects because the funds are allocated in secret.

“It’s great that it’s now available online, but . . . it should be an open process with hearings and public input before the budget is done,” Leon said.

Bacon fat

Here are just some of the nearly 23,000 groups that got $479 million of state pork-barrel money in the past three years:

* Cuba Cheese Museum (right) $5,000

* Flushing Meadow Soap Box Derby $5,000

* Fort Salonga Association Triangle

* Bread & Cheese $2,500

* American Museum of the Moving Image $4,000

* NARAL (pro-choice lobbying group) $28,000

* Figure Skating in Harlem Inc. $8,500

* 1st and 10 Football Camp $8,000

* Achilles Track Club $10,000

* American Foundation for Animal Rescue $2,000

© 2006 New York Post

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About

The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.