Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,I,C-Batavia) today joined the Assembly Minority Conference in a call for a major overhaul to the state Legislature’s member item process, saying the current process lacks transparency, accountability and fairness because it is a process vulnerable to fraud or at least the appearance of impropriety.
Hawley, referring to member items as ‘taxpayer item money’, believes the practice of doling out taxpayer dollars for local projects should be done away with. “Money is being given back in small amounts when too much is being taken away from the taxpayers of this state,” said Hawley.
“Unless the new Governor can convince the Assembly Majority that taxpayer item money should be eliminated altogether, this inequitable system will remain in place. Therefore we must come up with a fair and equal way to disperse these monies,” said the second term Assemblyman.
The annual member-item allocation is divided among the two houses of the state Legislature and the governor. Last year, each house of the legislature received $85 million and the governor $30 million. However, the Minority parties in each house receive substantially less than their Majority counterparts. Last year the Assembly Majority received $83 million, or 97.6 percent, of the allotment.
“Until the process can be completely done away with, we have to completely reform it so that equal disbursements are in place that benefit all New Yorkers no matter the party affiliation of their elected official,” said Hawley.
“The taxpayer item money is yet another example of a broken system employed by this legislature that squeezes the people of this state for their hard-earned money,” said Hawley. “Having served as a county legislator and now a state Assemblyman, I have seen some good come out of this money, but the bottom line is that people are not getting an equal return on the tax money they are paying to the state.”
Until 2000, member items were listed in budget bills or in legislative reports as line items, but in recent years the grants have been lumped together in a single appropriation, funded out of a special “Community Projects” account.
“The current system is too vague and secretive,” said Hawley. “Taxpayers deserve to know how and where their money is being spent, in an open and transparent system that forces accountability on the legislature as a whole.”
To combat the current situation, the Assembly Minority has introduced the “Member-Item Integrity” plan that includes measures to increase fairness and equity in the allocation of monies.