Pols big, fat oinkers, cry pork watchdogs

| Media Coverage

ALBANY – They just don’t get it!

That was the reaction from government watchdogs on Thursday after the Daily News reported that state lawmakers will still get their pork-barrel projects despite budget cuts.

“It’s really cynical of them to treat their pork-barrel spending in a business as usual way,” said E.J. McMahon, director of the Empire Center for Public Policy. “They should eliminate virtually all of that. They won’t be getting real until they do that.”

A $50 million cut in legislative member items, otherwise known as pork, was included in a $427 million package of spending reductions approved Wednesday by lawmakers and Gov. Paterson.

The News reported Thursday that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has quietly assured his members there was enough money in the budget to fund their election-year projects.

“This is the guy who wants to raise taxes in part because he doesn’t want to cut his pork barrel,” McMahon said, referring to Silver’s support for a so-called millionaire’s tax.

“It’s clear that they have their own self-promotional interest at heart and not the taxpayers,” state Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long said.

One legislative source said the Assembly’s Democratic majority has $147.9 million in surplus member item money tucked away. Republicans have $1.1 million.

In the Senate, the ruling GOP majority has $62.5 million in surplus member item money, while Senate Democrats have $273,851.

“We have more than enough money in that account to fulfill the obligations of this year,” said Senate spokesman Scott Reif.

The surplus builds because it can take up to two years for projects to get paid out. In other cases, community groups that are allocated money never claim it.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in April estimated that up to 40%, or 2,700, of the grants allocated in 2006-07 went unclaimed.

And then there are millions of dollars that were set aside in the budget, but never allocated for any specific project.

“It’s disturbing that there are slush funds that can be allocated for any purpose,” said Elizabeth Lynam, of the Citizens Budget Commission.

The News learned Thursday that the $50 million wasn’t even cut from the state budget, but simply transferred to the general fund. Gov. Paterson had proposed $100 million in member item cuts.

Meanwhile, the Paterson administration on Thursday revealed the agency-by-agency impact of a $630 million spending cut he ordered on July 30. Prisons took the biggest cut at $168 million.

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