At the time it was a good and necessary step.
First, discretionary spending was out of control. With Albany consistently passing budgets that borrowed on the state’s future, cutting this runaway spending was a quick way to solve some of New York’s fiscal issues.
Second, discretionary spending had become a reward system in Albany. If you went along, then you got more money. And if you were in the majority, a Democrat in the Assembly or a Republican in the State Senate, then you got more – a lot more – than your counterpart on the other side of the aisle.
Third, and the worst of all, some elected officials were skimming from the state, setting up sham nonprofits that employed and paid family members - or worse, themselves - but did very little work, if any, in the community.
The recent allegations against Queens State Senator Shirley Huntley are just the latest example of this, although there are plenty more to draw on.
Yes, in the end, member items and discretionary funding as it existed had to go.
But lost in all of that were the groups who actually do good things in the community and relied on the $2,000 or $3,000 they got from the state each year to do that work.
That money went to filling the gas tank in a car used by a civilian patrol group, or helped a local civic association buy paint to cover up graffiti, or funded an art program in a local senior center, to name a few.
Last week, State Senator Tony Avella and Assembly David Weprin unveiled a plan to take the proceeds from a new scratch-off lottery game and give it to an independent organization that would allocate the money to various non-profits and community groups that do honest and good work in their neighborhoods.
This independent group could vet funding requests and make sure that the money is going to worthwhile organizations.
We think this is a great idea.
We’re not saying it’s time to bring back the discretionary funds - there are too many opportunities for abuse - but it is time to figure out a way to restore this little bit of state money that helped local nonprofits make ends meet and allowed them to serve the community.
This idea to fund them through proceeds from a lottery game, with those funds overseen by an independent group free of political pressure seems like it could work.
If we don’t find a solution, those groups are going to quickly disappear, and we’ll all suffer.