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New Yorkers owed the truth about state spending

New Yorkers owed the truth about state spending

Every proposal contained in Assemblyman Jim Tedisco's "Truth in Spending" bill is perfectly legitima

Every proposal contained in Assemblyman Jim Tedisco's "Truth in Spending" bill is perfectly legitimate, reasonable and workable.

His arguments are flawless, his justifications undebatable. And thanks to the cowardice of many of his fellow lawmakers, including some local representatives, the bill has virtually no chance of being passed into law.

Such is the reality of the state of government ethics reform, where political favoritism still rules in Albany, where the government still spends the taxpayers' money but refuses to tell them where it's going until after it's already been spent.

It hasn't mattered how many legislative leaders have been led away in handcuffs. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tedisco's bill, which is supported by numerous good-government groups, including the League of Women Voters, the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) and Citizens Union, would give New Yorkers access to the lump-sum funds in the state budget known as "earmarks."

Earmarks, which we used to call "pork," are the billions of dollars that legislative leaders set aside in the budget and then dole out to favored lawmakers for pet projects in their districts.

Unlike other spending in the budget, these particular expenditures are not itemized before the budget is approved and can be used for whatever lawmakers want.

Not, surprisingly, earmarks have traditionally favored the respective parties in power. Legislative leaders use the spending as a carrot to hold onto power and to get lawmakers to vote the way they want them to. Lawmakers use the money they get to curry favor with voters and help themselves stay in office.

The Truth in Spending bill would require the the earmarks to be disclosed prior to passage of the state budget and that they be certified as being for public use. It would require that the justification for each earmark be stated, along with the recipients and the lawmaker(s) who requested the spending. It would require lawmakers and the governor to disclose any potential conflict of interest associated with each request. And it would ensure the money is being spent the way it was intended.

Seems perfectly legitimate right? It is, after all, our tax money that they're spending.

But the bill has very little chance of becoming law. For starters, it's being proposed by a Republican in the Democrat-controlled Assembly, where Republicans are mostly seen and not heard. Secondly, there's no companion bill in the Republican-controlled Senate. A bill needs support in both houses for passage. And so far, support in both houses doesn’t exist.

To their credit, Assembly members Phil Steck, a Democrat from Colonie, and Queensbury Republican Dan Stec are among the local co-sponsors of the bill along with Tedisco. But so far, no other local names are associated with it. Local Sens. Hugh Farley and George Amedore could sponsor the bill in the Senate, but so far, they haven't. (Makes you wonder why.)

Perhaps Mr. Tedisco is biting off more than he can chew with such a comprehensive bill. He might have better luck refining his proposal to just an itemized listing of projects in the budget and add the other provisions later. That would be a good start, and might encourage more legislators to support it.

Sadly, though, without a strong push from voters, any bill that would puncture the wall of secrecy surrounding this hidden spending is unlikely to go anywhere — not as long as the people in power continue to do whatever it takes to keep themselves there.

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