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NY Pork Barrel: Taking the Good with the Bad

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 By Michael Clifford/Eric Mack, Contact
December 8, 2006

Mew York, NY - Light is finally shining on how State Assembly members in Albany spent a secret $268 million slush fund. Nearly all of it went to worthy causes, like $33 million to youth services or $32 million for education. Nonetheless, Liam Arbetman, a researcher at Common Cause New York, says the risk of corruption is great.

"Most of the individual items are probably going to be legitimately used. But it's the fact that the process itself is secretive that makes people begin to wonder about where the money is being spent."

Still, Marie Palagonia, director of the Family and Children's Association, says these member items are the best way for legislators to deliver human services to the community.

"They rely upon the partnership with the not-for-profit sector to help solve some of the problems their constituents are facing, whether it's in the area of education, special needs, housing, and other problems."

Arbetman insists that the system should be more open to public scrutiny.

"Just because it's going to a good person doesn't mean that there's no patronage. By making it open and putting it in public, when there are gross uses of that, the public will find out about it."

Politics determine which Assembly members have access to the money. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver alone doled out $41 million over three years in so-called "member items." Other items include thousand-dollar barbecues, after-prom parties, and even the curiously-named "boat-burning" parties.

A list of all Assembly member items can be found online, at www.ia331321.us.archive.org/1/items/assemblypork2/assemblyporkfinal2.xls.

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