Karen DeWitt / NY Public Radio
Governor Cuomo has vetoed over half a million dollars of legislative member items, saying he’s following through on a promise to ban the funds, which have been used in the past to finance lawmakers’ pet projects.
The Governor’s $640 million dollars in line item vetoes for member items does not include any new money from this year’s budget. Rather, they are what’s known as re-appropriations for member items that were approved in earlier budgets from two years ago, before Cuomo was in power.
The governor says he is allowing any member items from that prior time period promised to groups like Little Leagues, senior centers, and other community organizations to be awarded, even though he doesn’t approve of the practice.
“I can’t go back,” Cuomo said. “I can only go forward.”
But he says there are around 130 member item grants that have been repurposed for a new organization, using an old line of funding. And he says those grants have been rejected.
“This was a grant to the ABC community group, and they reprogram it from the ABC group to the DEF group,” Cuomo explained.
The budget watchdog group Citizens Budget Commission has called for a hard cap on member items going forward. The group’s Betsy Lynam says Cuomo’s vetoes are a step toward that goal.
“Member items are problematic because they really don’t have a statewide benefit,” Lynam said. “They are narrow items that tend to favor certain groups and certain constituencies.”
The member items grants have gained a bad reputation over the years, for allocations considered frivolous, like a member item to install a cheese museum, and for links to fraud. For instance, former Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, of Queens, was convicted of several crimes, including stealing $95,000 from personal member items earmarked for a Little League Club.
Lynam says at best, the origins and actual circumstances of many of the member item grants are murky.
“It’s hard to distinguish what’s new, what’s old, what the benefits are from these, what the conflicts of interest are,” Lynam said.
The vetoed member items include grants to Little Leagues, Veterans Centers, libraries, museums and historical societies. Cuomo has also vetoed several whole paragraphs in the budget bills that he says are unconstitutional, and give the legislature too much leeway to repurpose existing funding streams for new grants.