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Citizens Union: City Council discretionary/capital funding should be distributed more equitably; more transparency needed not only for Council but for Borough Presidents

Something's rotten in the City Council. Citizens Union on 5/1/12 released a comprehensive report on the New York City discretionary funding process that concluded that, despite past reforms, the process of allocating funds to Council members for distribution is based on political ties to Council Speaker Christine Quinn, rather than the needs of the district:
"While the city's discretionary funding process is improved in significant ways from a decade ago, it remains flawed and needs additional reform," said Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union. "Recent reforms in the City Council have improved the vetting of organizations receiving funding and provided additional disclosure, yet the distribution process to members remains too politicized and not equitable and objective enough."
The Post reported 5/2/12, Council’s pots of gold go to power pols.The Daily News reported, 3 Brooklyn Democrats were best at stuffing coffers with pulled pork: Dominic Recchia, Erik Dilan and Lew Fidler top $10 million each in City Council discretionary funding, Citizens Union reports.

Should we be surprised that Recchia, Dilan, and Fidler, two of whom represent fairly affluent districts, have been reliable supporters of Atlantic Yards? And that Council Member Letitia James, no Quinn ally, was down on the list, ranking 48th of 51 Council Members, as The Local explained.

Speak no evil

WNYC's News blog reported Funds for Council Members Should be Based on Need Not Politics: Report, finding Recchia unwilling to comment.

The Daily News found Fidler unapologetic, and found Brooklyn Council Member Charles Barron, often a lone critic of the establishment, to comment: “The community in greatest need should get the most, not the City Council members that are in the greatest favor with the speaker."

Reforms

The Citizens Union says expense funding, not including citywide initiatives, should be distributed in a more equitable manner, with 50 percent of the total divided equally and the rest "through an agreed‐upon formula that takes into account socioeconomic indicators among other objective considerations."

The group also calls for greater transparency regarding "capital and expense funding, as well as borough presidents’ discretionary funds" and more information "regarding the intended purpose of discretionary funds."

Capital funds

Indeed, capital funds are even more opaque than discretionary expenses:
Given that there is roughly ten times more capital money available to individual members as opposed to expense funds, Citizens Union believes that capital funding requires a great deal more scrutiny than it has been given in recent years.  There is currently no publicly available Council policy regarding the distribution of capital funds to individual members of the Council.  Unlike expense funds, information about the projects and organizations receiving capital discretionary funds is only released to the public in a large PDF, making individual analysis difficult, which may partly explain why these funds have received less scrutiny.  There is also no information available regarding the organizations which have requested capital funding but were not funded in the budget, as is available for expense funds, though there is an application process for organizations where they can request capital funds from individual members, borough delegations, or the Speaker’s List.
Borough presidents

There's a lot of opacity regarding the Borough Presidents, as well:
The borough president’s individual funding items are not available in city budget documents, as there is no separate schedule provided with line items as is done for the City Council’s discretionary items.  The total capital allocation for borough presidents was reported to be $63 million in 2011.
The amount of expense funds allocated to the Borough Presidents is unknown, though it was reported that $350,000 in expense funds existed for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz to distribute.  It is not known if this was all that he was given or if more existed elsewhere in the budget.  Borough
President Markowitz has received particular criticism for his ties to nonprofit organizations and his funding has been scrutinized in the press.
reported three years ago how Markowitz tried to direct a significant portion of his capital budget to his planned (now stalled, at least) concert venue at Asser Levy Park in Coney Island. But go to Markowitz's web site and try to find out his budget.

The Citizens Union states:
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer laudably has posted on his website line items of funded capital and expense discretionary projects, as well as groups which applied but were not funded, similar to what is provided by the City Council for expense funds.
Other borough presidents provide information on their websites about how to request funding, but not the ultimate determinations of who received funds or which organizations have requested funding.
Citizens Union on Council Funding May2012

 

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