NEW YORK—A new fiscal year will begin on Friday and with it will come rich handouts from city councilors, whose coffers have been filled with discretionary funds.
The city’s budget always includes member items, which are funds distributed among councilors for the purpose of supporting community organizations in their districts. Member items are often derided as “pork barrel” funds spent on constituents to get their votes; these funds are awarded to councilors according to the political intentions of the city council speaker.
This year’s “pork barrel” is about as full as last year’s at $50 million. The “king of pork,” as the Daily News dubbed Councilman Domenic M. Recchia Jr. last year, also remains the councilor with the most money to dole out. Councilors get anywhere from $300,000 to more than $1 million. Recchia has $1.6 million at his disposal this year, according to NY1.
Funds are allotted for senior citizen and youth organizations and programs, as well as for various local initiatives. The largest grant will go to the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty Inc. Several councilors will give a combined $1.1 million to the organization to support case assistance for the elderly. This service includes helping seniors acquire food stamps and other benefits, social worker visits, reassurance calls, legal assistance, and more.
The list of member items must be made public 24 hours before it is finalized. City Council was ready to vote on the city budget Tuesday night, but postponed the vote until Wednesday morning to allow the public time to review the list.Speaker Christine C. Quinn instituted this ethics standard after the 2008 City Council slush fund scandal, when some member item funds had been placed in non-existent organizations. Those funds were taken by Quinn throughout the rest of the year to distribute among councilors with whom it is said she wanted to garner favor. Quinn admitted to using the funds to her advantage, although she was not the one responsible for making up organization names to hide the money.
Though the attempt at thwarting shadowy organizations may be well intended, it would be quite a feat to read through the 655-page list of member items and verify each one within the 24 hours between the list being made public and the final council vote.