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Pork gets more lean Spending reforms in D.C., Albany increase accountability for tax dollars

The pig may not quite have been roasted, but from Washington to Albany, pork may never be the same.

In the national capital, the Senate voted to tighten rules on this venerable category of spending, while in Albany, the governor and leaders of the Legislature agreed on a number of new "sunshine" rules, including one that won't directly reduce pork-barrel spending but will at least make it public before the money is spent.

Egged on by Republicans, who made high art of so-called earmark spending when they controlled the Senate, Democrats passed an even tougher bill than they had intended. Passed 98-0, the rule change requires senators to be more public about the district spending they insert into legislation. From water projects to tax breaks, the earmarks would have to be revealed and posted on the Internet 48 hours before a vote.

The process doesn't eliminate earmarks, nor should it. Plenty of such spending is both useful and legitimate. Making it public achieves two important goals: It bows to the central fact of democratic government, by allowing citizens to know what their representatives are doing. Additionally, making earmarks public reduces the chances of a senator surreptitiously inserting a questionable project or tax break into a measure.

In Albany, meanwhile, an agreement was reached among Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno to detail in advance how they and members of the Legislature spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year in pork-barrel spending, also known as member items.

Albany's pork spending has been an ongoing scandal in state government, partly because state honchos never recognized it -- or at least, wouldn't admit recognizing it -- for the scandal it is.

Public money in the highest-taxed state in the country was routinely siphoned off for elected officials to use as they saw fit, with no oversight and no accountability.

The fact that most of this money went to worthy causes is beside the point. The state has so many worthy causes, most of them unfunded by the government, that the only conclusion is that worthiness, alone, is not sufficient justification for secretly distributing New Yorker' hard-earned tax dollars.

Such spending should be part of the budget, and if this agreement doesn't achieve that goal, it at least opens the smarmy process to the cleansing power of daylight. It's not perfect, but as in Washington, the change makes it a lot better than it was. In this state, that's worth noting.

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