Reform Should Include Listing Where Tax Dollars Go

February 8, 2007

Since my first year in the Assembly, I have advocated the type of reform that aims to end practices that create a culture of secrecy in state government. Most of the reform I champion means to eliminate obscure budgeting practices and the billions of tax dollars hidden under vague appropriations that come from the “three men in a room” bargaining in budget negotiations.

As with any business or personal budgeting, common-sense says to list specifics for the money appropriated; it creates accountability for each dollar spent and leads to better budgeting. In this light, my conference has gone through several years of budget documents and came up with a list of around fifty identified “slush fund” accounts that have cost nearly $3.4 billion to New York’s already distressed taxpayers. These funds aren’t as much illegal as they are bad budgeting practices.

The idea that $3.4 billion would not be appropriated in specific detail is unconscionable. This sort of budgeting is bad business and is a huge misappropriation of taxpayer money in a state where taxes are record-high. Eliminating “slush funds” is a key issue as it relates to restoring openness, fiscal accountability, reforming the Legislature and ending Albany’s hide-and-spend culture. My Conference and I are calling on the governor and legislative leaders to end this form of budgeting. In the spirit of an already agreed upon reform to itemize $200 million in member-items, I have no doubt we can eliminate “slush fund” budgeting.

However, the fundamental challenges facing New York lay in the reluctance of some to inaugurate long-lasting changes. True reform will only be achieved by providing meaningful and lasting change to the way these programs and projects are funded. By itemizing budget appropriations with greater detail we remove the cloud of fiscal uncertainty that looms around programs that are generally beneficial to the public. I assure you my priority is to continue forward with advocating for more transparency in government by holding spending accountable to the general public.