Tedisco bill seeks transparency of hidden funding within state budget

| Watertown Daily Times

ALBANY — A bill devised by Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, sets new standards for the disclosure of state budget discretionary funds and how they will be spent.

The “Truth in Spending” bill is a series of rules and guidelines requiring all funding pools to be clearly spelled out in state budgets and certify that the money is properly spent.

While the state’s member item program has technically been terminated, pork spending is still done through certain funding sources, such as the State and Municipal Facilities Program. Legislators can tap into this $1.15 billion pool to help fund projects of their choosing, and the grants are administered through the Dormitory Authority.

Dormitory Authority officials have said the funding is strictly for capital expenses. In the north country, state lawmakers, including Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, and State Sen.Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, have used the program to help fund various projects in their districts.

Mr. Tedisco said the source and purpose of these discretionary funds must be easily accessible to legislators, media and the public. The bill’s provisions require that spending information be made available to the public at least three days before a vote, requiring that conflict of interest agreements be signed before receiving state funds along with recipient confirmation that funds were spent appropriately. Additionally, the bill requires posting of all disclosure materials on the state Comptroller, Assembly and Senate websites.

“When it comes to legislative earmarks, taxpayers, media and all elected officials have a right to be able to follow the money and know who ordered the pork,” Mr. Tedisco said. “This ‘Truth in Spending’ law will have the most transparent set of guidelines for public spending and taxpayer budget allocations in the modern day history of New York.”

The bill’s announcement ties in with a report released Monday by Citizens Union, a non-profit government reform group, that discusses the use of discretionary funding in the state’s 2016-17 Executive Budget. The budget includes $2.4 billion dispersed among 80 “lump sum” funding pools that can be doled out by elected officials even after finalized budgets are passed, according to the report.

Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey joined in supporting Mr. Tedisco’s bill Wednesday along with Empire Center Executive Director Tim Hoefer.

“We welcome (Mr. Tedisco’s) leadership on this by introducing legislation to bring greater transparency and accountability to the budgeting process,” Mr. Dadey said.