Although the process often benefits worthy causes, the tradition of handing out millions of dollars in “discretionary funds” to be disbursed by City Council members calls to mind the days of Tammany Hall.
The Council recently revealed its plan for releasing $49.7 million in discretionary funds for fiscal year 2013. That’s an enormous amount of taxpayer money distributed in a process that reeks of favoritism.
Discretionary funds pay for various community-based, nonprofit, public service organizations and programs that benefit residents in the city. The organizations requesting the funds have to produce tax-identification numbers.
In western Queens, Councilman Daniel Dromm said sanitation and ensuring the success of burgeoning immigrant populations were his priorities when he doled out the $550,000 he received in discretionary funding this year.
These are worthy causes. We believe the councilman was on the right track in supporting programs that will assist the growing immigrant community in his district. Dromm gave $31,000 to a Jackson Heights-based immigrant advocacy group for efforts to help stop deportations of incorrectly detained immigrants.
In his largest allocation, Dromm gave $60,000 to the Doe Fund, which employs homeless and formerly incarcerated young people to clean up city streets.
The councilman’s district includes parts of Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst.
Other Council members have dispersed your dollars to less worthy undertakings, but it is the process, not the result, that concerns us.
The doling out of discretionary funding is done by a 24-member Council budget negotiating team, whose members are appointed by Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The allocation process has become a display of favoritism.
In a report released in April, the Citizens Union said “most discretionary funds are not distributed using an objective formula, but rather based on political relationships, which contributes to wide variances in funding among Council districts.”
While it makes sense that the Council members know what the needs are in their districts, the process of dispersing funds needs reconsideration.