EAST ELMHURST — Since joining the Independent Democratic Conference, Sen. Jose Peralta has doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to local non-profits — saying his switch shows he can bring home the bacon for his district.
But good government groups have another term for it: Pork.
Peralta — who controversially split with state Democrats to join the Republican-aligned IDC in January — has given out five $50,000 grants to groups around western Queens since April.
The money totals $250,000 and will help fund everything from English as a Second Language classes to affordable health care. It shows that his new position allows him to provide for his district better than before, Peralta said in a statement.
“Joining the Independent Democratic Conference has given me a seat at the negotiating table, and that position allows me to support great community-based organizations by securing state funds for them,” he said in a statement. “These groups help New Yorkers in need, and it is vital that we keep on supporting them as many depend on these organizations as a lifeline to accessing important services.”
Government watchdogs questioned the grants, saying the distribution of discretionary funds is supposed to be banned from the state budget to prevent graft and patronage mills.
“[Peralta] says he’s receiving funding that is not available to the constituents of other representatives ... Here’s exactly why we continue to oppose discretionary funds — they are given out unequally on the basis of favoritism,” Susan Lerner, the Executive Director of Common Cause New York, said.
“Equally deserving non-profit organizations and projects in other districts that taxpayers might want to fund, if the funding were given out on an equitable basis. It’s taxpayer money. Why is it favoring one legislator over another?”
Sources in both the assembly and state senate said the distribution is one bonus the Republican-controlled senate has used to shift power with the IDC.
“There's a huge pot of money that a Republican leader of the senate controls and they do have a discretion to keep them happy,” one source said.
Another source called it a “buyout from the Republicans to keep the IDC happy.”
A spokeswoman for the IDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Peralta's team defended the move, saying the money comes through the “aides to localities” portion of the budget, his office said.