A pork party in Albany?

March 26, 2009 9:27:28 PM PDT
What does a karate chimpanzee trainer, African dancers, and a parrot adoption service have in common? They are recipients of thousands of dollars in state taxpayer-funded earmarks.

"It doesn't go into our pockets, it goes to the birds," Gayle Schwartz of the Parrot Adoption Service said.

It goes everywhere:

  • Fifteen thousand dollars for the Newburgh rowing club.
  • Twenty five thousand for free concerts on Long Island.
  • Thirty-thousand for summer music in Brooklyn.
  • Twenty thousand dollars for theatrical performances in Queens.
  • In all, two-hundred million dollars in earmarks doled out this year by lawmakers in Albany:

    "It's almost and incumbent re-election fund if you will because the incumbent, the seated legislature, is the only one who can provide those funds," Ron Deutsch of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness said.

    The Long Island Farm Bureau got a $35-thousand dollar earmark from Senator Ken Lavalle to make promotional ads. Lavalle also got to star in the commercial.

    "If it gives the incumbent unfair advantage, gives platform to run again or promote themselves, it's probably pretty sketchy," Deutsch said.

    "Here in the legislative world of Albany self-preservation drives nearly every decision. That's why it's highly unlikely that lawmakers will ever vote to do away with the grab bag of goodies they get to hand-out every year."

    Long Island Senator Carl Marcellino is typical. He keeps getting re-elected in part because he can shower his constituents with millions of dollars in earmarks:

  • Ten thousand dollars for a running club.
  • Twenty thousand for a railroad museum.
  • Seven thousand for emergency preparedness for pets
  • "That's my job to bring money back to my district and support agencies and entities in that district," Senator Marcellino said.

    In the face of a $16 billion dollar deficit, you'd think the lawmakers would realize the pork party is over given the threat of thousands of teacher layoffs, transit fare hikes, and increased taxes. A pheasant hatchery, a pioneer oil museum, fancy town clocks and a primate sanctuary in this economy would seem absurd to at least some.

    Right now, the only threshold for an earmark to be legitimate is that it has some community value.

    Budget watchdogs say that allows for even the most ridiculous pet projects to get by the attorney general.