In May of last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio was blunt.
“I do think it’s time to end member items. I think that’s the smart path going forward,” the mayor, a Democrat, told reporters. He added that he respected the City Council’s desire to keep them.
“But I think this may just be one of the areas of respective disagreement,” he said.
Since then, Mr. de Blasio has done nothing to abolish so-called member items–and appears to have lost any desire to take up the fight in the future, sources say. The quiet decision to back away from a pitched battle with the City Council represents another win for the body, and may also be evidence that Mr. de Blasio’s quest to end member items was little more than a talking point.
Mr. de Blasio’s office did not return a request for comment.
In the city’s $78.5 billion budget for the 2016 fiscal year, just under $50 million was allotted for discretionary funding. The cash includes a $16 million pot of money that goes to Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, with the rest of the money being split up roughly evenly among the members of the City Council. It can then be dispensed at the individual council member’s discretion to various nonprofits, charities and pet projects.
These member items, though representing a very small slice of the hefty budget, have drawn scrutiny from good government groups, reporters and some elected officials. The system, critics say, can breed corruption by giving politicians the ability to reward allies with taxpayer money and patronage. Used in the worst way, member items can be a vehicle to buy votes.
Mr. de Blasio may be done trying to fight this battle with the Council, sources say. The reforms to member items put in place last year—a more equal distribution of funding based on poverty levels of the 51 districts—appeared to placate the mayor. Previously, the speaker had sole discretion to award member items as he or she saw fit, and members close to the speaker often brought home the most cash.