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Cuomo vetoes 'pork' items, as well as education funds

After repeatedly insisting there was no objectionable pork barrel spending in the new state budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday changed course and said he would veto a tiny fraction of the budget that steers money to legislators' favorite projects.

In all, the governor intends to veto 122 line items that legislators added in the way of pork barrel spending, Cuomo told an Albany radio station Wednesday.

The vetoes add up to just $640,000 and include spending that the governor accepted only a year ago in last year's budget, insiders said.

Besides legislative pork barrel items, Cuomo also lined out several reappropriations for various education aid and other programs that do not count as legislative member items. In all, 129 provisions of the budget were vetoed that legislative sources say is worth about $3 million.

The actual line items only list a name of a group without an address, making immediate identification of the group's location difficult for many of the vetoed items.

The Town of Amherst Youth Court saw $10,000 in funding vetoed. Other vetoes included money for schools for blind and deaf children, boys and girls clubs, museums, veterans groups, historic organizations, a food pantry, Holocaust center, cultural festivals, a NASA science program for children and the Stick Ball Hall of Fame, which is located at the Museum of the City of New York. In the days leading up to the budget's adoption on March 30, and several days after, top Cuomo administration officials dismissed any notion that lawmakers may have inserted pork barrel projects into the final budget.

When The Buffalo News asked April 2 -- the day after the new fiscal year's start -- about the possibility of vetoes in three appropriation bills totaling 2,453 pages, an administration spokesman noted that the governor already said he supported the bills and that only "normal procedures" were being taken during a review period to ensure no mistakes were made in the final round of bills. Line-item vetoes were not envisioned, the administration said that day.

But Cuomo said on Albany's Talk 1300 WGDJ-AM that he is vetoing the pork, known as member items, that involve money approved in past years but never spent on their intended projects. Lawmakers sought to redirect more than $600,000 of that previously approved funding -- which has been sitting in a bank unspent -- to new projects.

No new money was used to member items this year, legislative sources said, and a large share of Cuomo's Senate vetoes appear to be target projects by State Senate Democrats -- a group Cuomo has not gotten along with this year.

Of the 122 line-item vetoes, only 12 targeted State Senate Republican reappropriations and were valued at $152,000.

Ninety-nine of the vetoes are aimed at State Senate Democratic initiatives, sources said.

Seven of the vetoes are related to reappropriations for education and library aid, sources said.

Officials speaking on condition of anonymity said they also found it curious Cuomo was doing the line-item vetoes since the budget had been agreed to in a three-way deal by Cuomo, the State Senate and Assembly.

As always in Albany, pork is in the eye of the beholder. The governor's veto pen will not be aimed at millions of dollars in other discretionary funds that either he or lawmakers will be able to tap into over the coming year.

For instance, there are two pots of "bullet" aid -- totaling about $40 million -- that will be directed to various school districts around the state. Who or why schools would be eligible for such funding is not made certain in the budget. The money is in addition to the operating aid increases already approved in the 2012 state fiscal plan for New York's nearly 700 school districts.

A spokesperson for the GOP-controlled State Senate declined comment.

Thirteen separate appropriations worth $55,000 are being vetoed by Cuomo, according to Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

"Let's keep this in perspective. It's $55,000 out of a $132 billion budget. It's not even a bacon bit," he said.

"They are worthwhile projects, that's why they were included in the budget," Whyland added.

Pork barrel spending has always been a political maneuvering point in Albany. Governors, who traditionally have their own undesignated funds to spread out over the years, have tapped into voter sentiment to condemn the member item process.

Lawmakers, though, insist they know their districts best for such kinds of spending, which they say often goes to nonprofit agencies providing services that the state would otherwise have to offer.