Edmund J. McMahon, executive director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy calls the New York State Legislatures Members Items "personal philanthropy with other people’s money."
Members Items up until a couple of years ago where closely guarded secrets in Albany. Outside of the regular budget that you and I can see, State Legislators have a slush fund from which they can dole money out to groups in their districts. When they do so, it is usually with an over-sized check and a camera to capture the moment for the local papers and campaign material. The Members Item fund is fairly big and extra-budgetary. For many years there was no public accounting of the distribution of the funds. It took a lawsuit by the Albany Times-Union Newspaper to get the Senate and the Assembly to release the numbers and as Edmund McMahon continues from the quote above “If this was so wonderful, why aren’t they doing it out in the open?”
When you read a press release from a State Legislator like.. oh..... let's say Chuck Fuschillo, you'd think he fought tooth and nail to get that money. You might picture him on the floor of the State Senate chamber demanding that "The Nassau County Firefighters Museum needs $100,000 and it needs it badly. This museum my esteemed colleagues DOES NOT have a diorama explaining household fire safety and it's just about time it does !!!!"
But no, no such thing took place. All Fuschillo had to do was put in for the money, explain what it was for and PRESTO! there is a $100,000 diorama.
I went over some of this about two years ago and included a back and forth between then Senator Mike Balboni and former republican county executive candidate Bruce Bent.
This goes on all the time from both sides.
The sad thing is that Fuschillo and the others don't want you to know the real story behind the money. He will pass out the cash and take credit for something that was easy as filling out a request form.
The "Members Items" are nothing but free campaign cash from your tax dollars.
When you see a Fuschillo news item that begins "Senator Fuschillo secures... " just now that he didn't work very hard for the money and it's all your tax money anyway.
There is a Bill A.07364 floating around the Assembly from Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (D-Ossining) that would clean up the "members items" process. Galef says "We need rules that prevent incumbents from announcing, distributing, or promoting the use of member items during the campaign season. It gives incumbents an unfair advantage and uses taxpayer dollars to do so. There should be a system in place whereby no announcements of funding by an incumbent legislator can be made two months prior to an election. In addition, the entire system needs to be reformed to become transparent, with standards, accountability, and equity. I see this as another step in reforming the way we do the people’s business in Albany.”
The Assemblywoman has sponsored legislation to change the process of distributing “member items” to make it more open and equitable. Current law does not acknowledge the existence of members items. Galef’s bill A1740 adds a new section to the state finance law to make the process of distributing member items. Some of the provisions are:
Provides that if there is any addition to the governor’s budget bill for a member item, then every legislator in that house shall be entitled to direct an equal appropriation for use in his or her legislative district
Requires that for each proposed additional appropriation, public hearings take place 30 days prior to adoption, and disclosure of:
The formal name of the program, its sponsoring group, and its full address,
The names of the sponsoring legislator or legislators,
A description of and justification for the program,
Whether a sponsoring legislator, or any of his or her family members, is an employee or conducts business with the sponsoring group or program."
There is no corresponding bill in the State Senate.
If I were in the State Senate, this would be my first bill to sponsor.