Assemblywoman Sandy Galef introduced legislation (A.1272/S.5293, A.1271, and A.6856) that would place regulations on the distribution and spending of member items in the Assembly and Senate. The bills require that every member of a house receive the same amount of money, regardless of party affiliations. They also stipulate that a proposal for receiving the money, including a justification for how the money will be used as well as why it is being granted to a specific group, be provided before any funds are spent. Additionally, the bills state that the ways in which member item money is used must be made available to the public and not distributed before Election Day as a campaign tool.
“Currently, member items money distribution is an unbalanced and barely regulated process, giving unfair advantages to members in the majority and members with a seat of power. The process has become so unfair that it appears to be one of the reasons the leadership battle started in the NY Senate,” said Assemblywoman Galef. “The funds come out of the taxpayers’ pockets, and they have the right to know that their money is being spent fairly, and not just being divided up behind closed doors to fuel political campaigns.”
When member item money is distributed, the party in the majority gets far more than the minority party in comparison to the number of members. In the 2008-2009 budget, the Majority in the Assembly received a total of over $57 million, averaging out to approximately $541,000 per Majority assemblymember. The Minority received just under $5 million, averaging out to about $121,000 per Minority assemblymember. In the Senate, the Majority received nearly $86 million, granting each Majority senator well over $1 million, with Minority senators receiving a total of $2 million, giving under $300,000 to each Minority senator. In both the Assembly and the Senate, each member of a party did not necessarily receive the average: higher-ranking members often got far more than other members of their party.
Assemblymembers and senators may spend the money however they like, and while the money is theoretically intended to benefit the communities they represent, there is no regulation and therefore the money can and often does go to recipients that the members of the legislature see as more important than the average constituent would and in some cases to an organization run by a friend or family member.
The uneven distribution of member items between the two parties is one of the reasons for the leadership stalemate in the New York State Senate, in which clashes between the two parties paralyzed the Senate. Senators were angry with their share of the pork barrel money, one of the many factors that caused growing dissatisfaction, eventually leading to the power struggle between the two parties. This bill equalizes the money allocated to each party, no longer penalizing individual assemblymembers and senators and their constituents for being in the minority.
“The member item procedure must become more transparent and equitable because right now the imbalances in the Assembly and Senate are taking the biggest toll on the taxpayers of the state,” concluded Galef.