After spending the last three years warning about financial doom, Mr. Paterson’s administration announced that he had dispensed $16.7 million in favors. They included $500,000 for the Chess-in-the-Schools program and $5 million for the New York/New Jersey 2014 Super Bowl host committee. That money should have gone back into the state budget to reduce the deficit or save, say, state parks or after-school programs. Promote a Super Bowl? Really? When the state faces a $9 billion deficit?
The governor has said that these favors were promised when he took office in 2008 and that all member items â€” usually $200 million for legislators and the governor â€” have been on hold for two years. They should stay on hold, for good.
Member items have provoked more than a few scandals. The latest involves former Senator Vincent Leibell III, a Republican in Putnam County who has pleaded guilty to two felony counts for granting millions of dollars to a housing charity he controlled. A lawyer for the charity was asked by Mr. Leibell to accept payment for legal work then pass half of that money back to the senator in cash. The lawyer wore a wire for investigators.
New York’s good government groups have long pushed for member item reforms. They want each legislator to get the same amount of money, rather than giving more to leaders and their favorites than to newcomers and the less powerful. They want state agencies to evaluate the usefulness and financial stability of the recipients. They want legislators to declare any conflicts â€” family or friends or former employees. And the attorney general should verify a group’s tax status and any previous dealings with the state.
Those are all nice ideas, but the best thing to do about member items is to get rid of member items.