Amidst allegations of political corruption in Queens, the state legislature’s decision to appropriate funds for almost 1,900 old ‘pork’ projects as member items in last week’s approved budget bill has stirred mixed reactions.
The cost of financing the construction and redevelopment of community facilities across the state is priced at approximately $28.7 million, according to an analysis conducted by Albany’s Times Union.
Opponents of the appropriations are calling on Gov. Cuomo, a staunch challenger of ‘pork’ projects, to use his veto power to limit spending and the misallocation of funds. Those supporting the sustainability of member items within the state budget say the projects were grants that were promised to community organizations but were never funded.
Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica) said member items and funding for community projects are necessary and should not be cut.
“Those who oppose member items will find the most obnoxious example and they will then take that as typical of the program as a whole, which is not the case,” Scarborough said. “Cutting member items does a disservice to the community and those who criticize it and want it to be eliminated can’t speak about what happens after funding is cut.”
State financing of member items, traditionally allocated to civic organizations and community facilities, has been cut in recent years following accusations of corruption and mismanagement of funds on the part of several legislators, coupled with a downtrodden economy.
Discretionary funding for local politicians designed to support community projects and organizations was cut after 2009 as a result of a $17 billion state deficit, according to state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach).
The Jamaica Business Resource Center, an organization aimed at developing small businesses in the area, is among several groups in Queens that have received member item funding in the past but face possible cuts.
Addabbbo said that preserving member items within the state budget is necessary for localized funding that serves the public.
“I have too many senior centers teetering on closure and too many veterans posts that counted on this money,” Addabbo said. “Call it pork, call it discretionary money, the bottom line is that it is needed locally.”
Cuomo and those opposed to financing old ‘pork’ projects criticize the idea for its vulnerability to legislators allocating funds to organizations with specific interests and agendas. Cuomo also refused to approve new cash in budget negotiations to avoid the unwarranted allocation of ‘pork’ project funds.
In 2011, Cuomo established regional economic development councils in an effort to assist community leaders vying for state funding while maintaining regulations on all allocations and financing. Although the program was intended to give councils the ability to spend funds on desired community investments, it did not reinstate discretionary funding for members of the state Legislature.
Cuomo will review the budget bill and come to a final decision by next week.