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ALBANY, N.Y. — State lawmakers have been dipping into a new fund of legislative earmarks, spending millions of dollars on everything from renovating parks and playgrounds to hotels over the last three years.

“It’s not a pool of cash. It’s basically an unlimited credit card. The Legislature started by giving themselves $385 million to basically do whatever with,” said Ken Girardin, Empire Center For NYS Policy. “In the past two budgets, it’s grown from $385 million to $1.1 billion. This isn’t cash, it’s a credit card.”

It’s a form of spending that drives fiscal watchdogs crazy. The billion or so dollars in legislative earmarks is coming from the state Dormitory Authority and overseen by the Cuomo adminstration.

“Giving money to economic development projects – so you have private businesses taking money from the state at behest of individual lawmakers without a transparent process or any kind of explaination for what the money’s going there,” Girardin said.

Details of the spending over the last three years was posted on the state Senate and Assembly websites in recent days. The newly public documents show a range of spending, including:

  • $500,000 for state park improvements by Long Island Senator John Flanagan
  • $1.1 million for an upgrade to the Broome County arena by ex-Senator Tom Libous
  • and $1.5 million for upgrades at the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx by Senator Jeff Klein.

“We need new Little League fields, we need soccer fields and I know this is more politics than policy, but taxes are a major concern for small business and we need to cut them,” said Mike Durant, NFIB state director.

For business groups, it’s a matter of spending in the program, which could drive up the cost of doing business in New York overall.

“We know taxes are the problem, everybody admits it, but what we use those tax dollars for is a completely different thing,” Durant said.

The money being spent is often derided by critics as legislative pork, but it also recalls a sysyem in which individual state lawmakers were empowered back home in their districts through how the money is spent.

“I think you go could back to seeing the old fiefdom model where peple were wanted to be the king or queen of their district handing out money,” said Girardin.

© 2015 Time Warner Cable News

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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.

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