February 28, 2009

Member item power play reaches Dryden

Sometimes Democrats screw up just as badly as Republicans.

Member items, basically money handed to municipalities and organizations on the say-so of legislators, have been an ugly spot in New York State for a long long time. We've seen the majority parties in both houses outspend their minority brethren, using pots of money to help seal their reputation for bringing pork to their districts.

While it is, I think, a corrupt system, and the Senate Republicans played it for all it was worth, Democrats seem to have fumbled an opportunity to end it with style. This morning's Ithaca Journal carries a story about local local member item losses, with a list of specifics, that's just guaranteed to make the Democrats look bad. Turning the mike over to one of my least-favorite State Senators:

"The reason why it's partisan is because the only people impacted are Senate Republicans," Winner said. "And while there is technically Democrat money that was swept up, (state Assembly Speaker Sheldon) Silver has significant reserves to cover (them)."...

"In the deficit reduction package that was just passed, (Democrats) swept the member-item account of any cash," Winner said.

And, of course, on the Assembly side, there is no local damage:

State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-125th Dist., said none of her $200,000 of member items is in jeopardy....

"There is politics with member items. There always has been," she said.

There certainly is Republican precedent for this - Republican Senators stripped Syracuse-area member items Nancy Larraine Hoffman had promised after Democrat Dave Valesky defeated her. Precedent, though, doesn't make it look any better. "Just as ugly as the Republicans" is not a good campaign slogan.

The local impact is real, and well-worth complaining about. Dryden Mayor Reba Taylor is right about this:

"We had a signed contract with the state of New York for $20,000 for the generator. The voucher has been sitting up in Albany since November. Then I got a letter from Sen. Seward on Jan. 29 saying the governor killed the grant," said [Village of Dryden] Mayor Reba Taylor, a Republican.

"As far as we're concerned it's a done deal. Now the governor has said 'No, we're not going to pay for it," she said.

I know it's a rough year, and I'm not at all surprised when Albany politicians act like power is all that matters. But this is counter-productive, basically rubbing people's faces in it by pulling funding already agreed to. People, including Democrats, will get even more disgusted with Albany because of this.

Yes, let's fix member items. Let's abolish them as a separate category, or set fixed amounts per legislator. Let's not use them for a power play when times are already looking bleak.

Posted by simon at February 28, 2009 9:51 AM in
Note on photos


Nathanael said:

I'm afraid, based on the information I can find, the Senate did abolish member items as a category.

Not much they can do about the fact that the Assembly didn't. (We can try to get rid of Sheldon Silver -- we were planning to do that already, right?) The Republican State Senators are making a big political deal out of the fact that the Senate has been reformed and the Assembly hasn't, by spinning it dishonestly.

"there is technically Democrat money that was swept up"? That's a scummy, lying way of saying "The Democrats in the State Senate fairly eliminated their member items as well as mine, and I'm too scummy to admit it."

Incidentally, the governor could have dealt with all this by increasing general, formula-based municipal aid to make up for the lost "member items", but he didn't. Not clever.