GLOP fills up pork barrel

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ALBANY – Senate Republicans are secretly doling out tens of millions of dollars in education funds on pet projects arranged by individual lawmakers around the state, a Times Union investigation has found.

The money has a name befitting the murky system for spreading it around: GLOP. GLOP, which stands for General Legislative Operations Programs, is money for education embedded in the state’s annual budget. GOP senators use the funds on scholarships for ethnic organizations, equipment purchases by religious institutions, consulting contracts, union programs, charter school costs and private college projects.

So clandestine are the Senate’s GLOP projects that Senate Minority Leader David Paterson, D-Harlem, had no idea who was deploying the money, or how, until the Times Union told him last week.

“It’s totally at their whim,” Paterson said, noting the funds were not made available to Democrats. “It’s not lined out. It’s not known where the money’s going. It’s all in dark shadows.”

He said he’s particularly irked that Republicans have fought a court ruling to increase funding for New York City schools, yet they used school funds to enrich other organizations.

GLOP is a growing account that lawmakers prefer to call “bullet aid” – dollars aimed at targets they believe need state help.

This year’s GLOP totals a record $85 million, including $59.5 million unallocated for any specific purpose. Those dollars were appropriated on top of the record $1.27 billion increase in state aid to schools this year, which totals $17.7 billion.

Split roughly 50-50 between the Assembly and Senate, the unallocated funds are supposed to be used for “additional grants-in-aid to certain school districts, public libraries and not-for-profit institutions,” the budget says.

The Legislature gets to target the money as it pleases, and Republican senators use it to augment their so-called member-item spending – secretly arranged pet projects already totaling $85 million a year in each house.

For instance, Sen. Vincent Leibell, R-Patterson, sent $75,000 in GLOP money to Siena College for “capital program and operations” in 2004.

The Loudonville college near Albany is about 100 miles from the Putnam County senator’s district. Leibell and college officials refused to discuss the grant or whether his children attend the school. Two students registered at Siena have the same names, ages, and hometown as two of Leibell’s college-age children.

The money is parceled out in a secretive process involving staffers from the Legislature’s majority, which usually doesn’t know or care how the other side is using the money, according to interviews with people who have been involved in planning ways to spend the cash.

Individual members let their legislative staff know of their GLOP spendings preferences.

According to a review of documents dating to 2004, the Democrat-led Assembly sends the money directly to school districts to balance out inequities in state aid formulas, Assembly officials say. The North Colonie School District, for example, got an extra $80,000 this year, and Guilderland got an extra $500,000.

The Assembly also used $12.1 million of its $28.8 million share for grants to bolster magnet schools, including $4 million to Buffalo and Rochester, $2 million to Syracuse, and $1.5 million to Albany. The specific use of the money is unrestricted.

The GOP-led Senate sends some funds to school districts, often specifying that it is for things such as “equalize the tax rate” or “assist in the program to reduce childhood obesity,” and to libraries and museums. But much of the Senate money takes the form of extra discretionary spending, similar to the notorious $200 million in member-item funds shared by the governor and Legislature for pet projects each year.

Unlike member item grants sponsored by individual legislators, the discretionary GLOP projects have never been publicly disclosed. Senators request GLOP money using the same paper forms they use to request member item money.

Asked for the criteria for issuing the education funds, Mark Hansen, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, said: “The grants respond to people’s needs … institutions whose needs aren’t met by the formula used to distribute school aid.”

Bruno issues several grants from the GLOP fund in his district. One went to a Lake Success company to provide extra educational help to two Troy schools.

Hansen said Bruno approved the Siena grant “recommended” by Leibell. The Leibell grant, he said, helped construct a simulated stock and securities trading room for business students.

Hansen confirmed Leibell has children attending Siena, but said they are not studying business and that the grant had no link to their enrollment.

Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the state Education Department, which administers the GLOP grants for the Senate, also said the Leibell grant purchased technology equipment for the college’s capital market trading room project.

Leibell, Hansen said, has sought and won funds for other schools outside his district as well, including Mercy College, Westchester Dutchess Community College and New York Medical College.

Most Republican senators draw from the GLOP account for projects in their districts. Some do so frequently, particularly relatively junior members Joseph Robach of Rochester, Thomas Morahan of New City and Martin Golden of Brooklyn, records show.

Other senators rarely use the money, such as Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, a veteran member. He recently dipped into it for $25,000 in grants to some local libraries and organizations hit by the floods in the Canajoharie area, said his aide, Peter Edman.

“It tends to be a little more flexible,” he said, comparing it to member item money that is held hostage until a three-way agree ment is worked out among the Senate, Assembly and governor’s staffs. “It kind of works similarly.”

Discretionary spending by the Legislature has been a hot topic in Albany this year, and a few lawmakers have called for an end to such post-budget initiatives.

“It seems to me it should all go toward public education and these practices should be reeled in,” said Assemblyman William Parment, D-Jamestown.

“Some extent of pork spending is inevitable in a democracy,” said E.J. McMahon, director of the Manhattan Institute’s Empire Center after learning about GLOP’s uses. “This has gone way, way out of hand.”

Although Senate Republicans would not provide documents, called initiative forms, that show which senators requested the funds, records released under the Freedom of Information Law by the Education Department reveal the names and projects and suggest the Senate has several uncommon uses for the money. Much of the Senate money goes to organizations that would not normally get formula-driven school aid.

For instance, $1.5 million from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Owen Johnson, R-Babylon, was this year’s biggest single GLOP award. It went to a group called Agencies for Children’s Therapy Services, a nonprofit umbrella organization for a series of businesses, some of which are for-profit, that provide educational services in Nassau County.

ACTS represents 11 entities working with handicapped preschoolers on Long Island. Hansen said the money is supposed to help make up for the loss of federal funds this year for such services. He did not say how the Senate will make sure for-profit businesses don’t get the funds but said officials are trying to sort out amounts individual agencies will get.

Gayle Kligman, the administrator for ACTS, refused to take telephone calls. She runs a for-profit organization called Kids Therapy in Garden City, Nassau County.

James M. Odato can be reached at 454-5083 or by e-mail at jodato@timesunion.com.

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Senate earmarks

While Assembly Democrats use secretive education money called GLOP to bolster school districts and magnet schools, Senate Republicans use much of the money for private earmarked grants, much as they arrange money for so-called member item projects. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER JOSEPH L. BRUNO (R-Brunswick) Saratoga Independent School got $100,000 from Bruno for construction of the Saratoga Springs private school for pre-K through sixth-grade students. The Institute for Student Achievement in Lake Success got $75,000 from Bruno in 2004. The institute received Bruno grants in six other years to run programs through 2005 at Troy high and middle schools for 50 low-performing students, according to Patrick Halpin, the institute’s executive vice president. The nonprofit pays Halpin $194,619, President Naomi Gerry House $303,500 and Finance Director Vanda Simon $127,800, public records show. The Susan Odell Taylor School for Children in Troy got $75,000 from Bruno for expansion. The school is run by Wendy Pattison, sister of former Democratic Troy Mayor Mark Pattison. Sage College’s Academy for Character Education got $50,000 from Bruno. The group has honored Rensselaer County politicians. The Greater Capital Region Teacher Center got $25,000 from Bruno in 2005 for a teachers conference. SEN. MARTY GOLDEN (R-Brooklyn) The Center for Educational Innovation/Public Education Association got $330,000 over the past two years from Golden for education activist Seymour Fliegel to help restructure schools and pay for programs aimed at getting youngsters to finish high school by exposing them to opportunities through field trips. He works with children in about 28 New York City schools. St. Francis College, a private Catholic College in Brooklyn Heights, got $100,000 from Golden in 2004 to fix up a lecture hall. Magen David Yeshivah of Brooklyn got $40,000 from Golden for “educational community programs.” A spokesman declined to comment. Human Services of New York, an arm of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, got $30,000 from Golden in 2004 for autism education. Brooklyn-based Italic Institute of America, which fosters education of children of Italian heritage in Brooklyn, got $5,000 from Golden for scholarships. Our Savior Lutheran Church in Brooklyn got $2,000 from Golden in 2004 for operational costs of a pre-K program, parent room, equipment and supplies. New York Association for New Americans, a refugee settlement group in Brooklyn, got $20,000 in 2004 from Golden for programs, equipment and supplies. For a complete list, go to http://www.timesunion.com. Source: NYS Department of Education documents obtained through Freedom of Information Law.

Big rise in funding

Funding for a secretive pool of discretionary state money, known as GLOP, saw a big increase this year. Year Total (in millions) Assembly Senate 03-04 $35 $16 $19 04-05 $18.29 $0** $18.29 05-06 $27.1 $12.57 $13.53 06-07 $59.5 $28.8 $30.7

**Gov. George Pataki vetoed the Assembly money Sources: State Education Department, Assembly

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