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Local lawmakers celebrate their pork, without apology

A day or so before the state budget was passed last week, Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, a Kenmore Democrat, stopped by the Capitol's press room to share with a reporter details about three recipients of his successful pork barrel requests that he said will support entrepreneurship to global trade efforts.

The Canisius College Center for Professional Development and the Women’s Business Center got $200,000, with lesser amounts to the World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara and the Buffalo Niagara International Trade Gateway Organization.

Such post-budget passage announcements are commonplace in Albany, where lawmakers trumpet how they use taxpayer dollars to fund projects in their home districts.

Lawmakers bristle at negative connotations associated with pork spending; the governor gets far more spending items in the budget that he will tout in the coming months, they note. And, legislators should be able to direct money to needs they know as their district’s chief cheerleader in Albany.

“If we’re doing our job properly, I’d like to think at my office we have an idea of the needs that people in our district have and they’re asking us to meet some of these needs with funding,’’ said Sen. Patrick Gallivan, who also secured funding for Lake Erie watershed protection efforts and a worker safety training program.

To understand the state's pork projects, you have to meet SAM

The Buffalo News asked other regional lawmakers – in majority parties that control spending decisions – to provide their own “member items,’’ as legislative pork is called in Albany.

• Gallivan, an Elma Republican, said his money falls into various categories. One, such as $250,000 to the Center for Elder Law and Justice, which provides legal services and elder abuse prevention services in the region, carries on funding that began with retired former Sen. Dale Volker.

He cited another program that will expand this year to three other Western New York counties: the Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer to Peer Program, which assists veterans facing post-traumatic stress disorder. It gets $185,000 in the new budget.

• The office of Sen. Robert Ortt, a North Tonawanda Republican, said the senator helped secure $40 million for Lake Ontario flood relief, as well as $1 million for a statewide mental health resource program based in public schools and $1.6 million for the Niagara Falls Economic Development Tourism Target Zone.

• Sen. Chris Jacobs, a Buffalo Republican, got $1 million for a new community health center to serve developmentally disabled people by People Inc. Additionally, he got $425,000 in the budget for Save the Michaels, which serves people and families affected by heroin and opioid addictions. And he got money restored for Neighborhood Legal Services – $250,000 – that provides various legal services to low-income people, his office said.

• Over in the Assembly, Sean Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat, was instrumental in getting colleagues to reverse Cuomo’s plan to sharply curtail a tax credit program used for historic preservation and brownfield development projects, of which Buffalo has been a key beneficiary.

Ryan’s office said he also successfully pressed to get $2 million for a statewide program that provides services to refugees and their families, a portion of which will go for services in Buffalo that could draw more refugees to the city that have helped with revitalization efforts in areas such as Grant Street, his office said.

• Longevity in the Legislature and committee chair status plays out when it comes to member items dollar distribution. Consider Sen. Catharine Young, an Olean Republican, who first came to the Assembly in 1999. Today, she is chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee, making her one of the most powerful women in Albany.

Young’s office provided a multipage list of items she helped secure in the budget. In all, the list totaled $2.2 million.

They included: $371,000 for a University at Buffalo rural dentistry program that services 3,500 people, including a new expansion of free dental benefits to veterans and low-income seniors in her district; $500,000 for various law enforcement capital needs in her district; $150,000 for help the Chautauqua Lake Association remove invasive species and $95,000 to remove weeds at the lake; $200,000 for the Cattaraugus Youth Bureau, which will partly go to provide services to homeless and runaway youths; $200,000 from a multiregion breast cancer education and support group; and money for health food programs in Cattaraugus County and two symposiums in her region for lupus patients and their families.

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