For Immediate Release
May 7, 2008
Media Contact:
Sara Stuart
212.227.0342 ext. 16

Executive Director of Citizens Union
On Supporting City Council Discretionary Budget Reforms

"Regrets Quinn's Decision May Prevent Needed Public Debate"

Recent disconcerting revelations have unfortunately squandered the public's trust in the Council's past handling of member items and discretionary council initiatives. As a result of reform proposals presented nearly four weeks ago and refinements announced today, the Council now has a second chance to show to the citizens of New York that it can continue to exercise its prized discretion and responsibly spend taxpayer dollars.

I commend Speaker Quinn and her many colleagues on the City Council who have worked together and thoughtfully responded to the public outcry for reform of the member item process. In doing so, they have proposed awarding public funds to non-profits by creating a uniform qualification process applicable to all who seek discretionary city funds given out by the Council and requiring greater public disclosure of actual and possible conflicts of interest.

"Under the system announced today, Council members will still have discretion in the awarding of member items and funding of council initiatives, but more importantly, with these changes, there now will be a necessary process of pre-clearance by an entity outside the Council and a level of heightened review that hopefully will weed out illegitimate organizations and strengthen public support for funding legitimate non-profits.

Taxpayer dollars fund important and needed work by thousands of legitimate non-profits that provide valued public services to millions of New Yorkers. We need to see that continue and Citizens Union supports the reforms being presented today.

These reforms are not a panacea and will likely require further refinement after there is a year's worth of experience behind us; properly implemented, they should bring stronger integrity to the Council's budget process and restore some measure of public confidence that their hard-earned tax dollars are supporting qualified organizations which perform valuable public services.

It is our hope that as more sunshine is cast on this process, not only will the public know more and be in a better position to scrutinize the Council's funding decisions, but that council members themselves will more vigorously question one another and hold each other accountable for the individual discretionary funding decisions that are made in their collective name as the City Council of the City of New York. Greater disclosure will also help the public better evaluate the groups that receive city funds and hold elected officials accountable for the discretionary decisions they make in funding these groups.

It also is our hope that these reforms of increasing disclosure, strengthening transparency, and creating a uniform process of pre-qualification will remove much of the mystery that has clouded this process in the past. We believe that creating a balanced system of merit-based pre-qualification while keeping understandable council discretion in the funding of non-profits will work as intended.

The citizens of New York need and deserve a strong City Council that responsibly exercises its power and authority. These reforms challenge the Council to seize this moment in time to strengthen itself as an institution. As additional revelations are no doubt made and questions answered from the on-going investigations, additional reforms may be needed. But for today, these reforms are good, though they are not a cure-all. Only time will tell if these proposals to create more honest budgeting by the City Council and prevent bad funding decisions will achieve their intended results. Reform is a never ending process, and today, these budget reforms fortunately take us further down the path of reform.

Citizens Union of the City of New York, a non-partisan force for good government for more than 100 years, works to inform and engage New Yorkers, to ensure local and state government values its citizens, addresses critical issues, and operates in a fair, open, and fiscally sound manner.

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Peter J. W. Sherwin, Chair • Dick Dadey, Executive Director •