By Rich Bockmann
A trio of Queens City Council members had their discretionary funding budgets cut this year, while five lawmakers got double-digit increases to dole out to non-profit groups.
Councilmen Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), Ruben Wills (D-South Jamaica) and Peter Koo (D-Flushing) all saw reductions in their discretionary expense funds, according to the number crunchers at the government-watchdog group Citizens Union. As opposed to capital funding, which generally goes to improvements at schools, the expense part of the discretionary budget funds operations at a variety of nonprofits.
The decision on how to divvy up Halloran’s share was made by Queens Delegation Chairman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) in conjunction with Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) after the northeast Queens lawmaker was arrested in April on corruption charges.
The $364,000 in expense funding doled out on his behalf was about $51,000 less than he distributed last year.
Wills was stripped of his ability to allocate discretionary funds last year after the state attorney general’s office filed court documents claiming he had been uncooperative with an investigation into a non-profit he controlled. No charges have been brought against Wills.
His funding dropped $6,000 to about $572,00, according to the Citizens Union data.
Koo’s pot of almost $500,000 was $3,000 smaller than last year’s. The Flushing lawmaker may have angered Quinn by endorsing one of the speaker’s opponents in her bid for mayor.
Critics have contended for years that Quinn uses the so-called member items to keep Council members in line.
“This speaker has not hesitated to use member items, it appears, to award her favorites and punish those people who have not been as cooperative,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of the good-government group Common Cause NY.
A Council spokeswoman said decisions concerning funding allocations for Halloran’s and Wills’ districts were made by the speaker’s office in consultation with Comrie.
Lerner said Common Cause would prefer to see a need-based formula that distributes funding among Council districts and stricter guidelines for how they are parceled out within the districts.
According to the Citizens Union’s analysis, the entire council’s discretionary expense budget grew by more than $650,000 this year.
Council members Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), David Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) all had their budgets increase by $50,000 or more.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) had her budget increased by $126,000, which is still more than $150,000 shy of where it was two years ago.
Her budget was slashed by more than $286,000 last year, and at the time her spokesman blamed the “political favoritism” that drives the funding process.
Councilmen Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), who this year replaced his mentor, James Sanders, Jr., saw either a slight increase or none in their discretionary expense budgets.
Comrie received a $3,500 increase, but even without it he would have been on top of the borough’s list. He took home more than $1.1 million, good enough for fourth throughout the city.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.