The Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus joined earlier today with community, labor and religious leaders to lay out their 2013 agenda, which includes a number of predictable policy initiatives – from raising the minimum wage and passing a microstamping bill to decriminalizing public possession of small amounts of marijuana and ending the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” practices.

None of that is terribly surprising. What was a bit eyebrow-raising was something called the New York Neighborhood Initiatives Program, which was described thusly:

“This program will restore funds that were set aside for legislative member items but have been eliminated from the budget the last four years. This program will support and foster good initiatives at the most local level to improve communities and neighborhoods.”

“The Caucus will create a task force to develop a transparent and effective initiative selection process that restores the role of local elected leader input in this process while ensuring a dynamic and transparent process. In terms of the budget, this is one of the most important issues for the Caucus.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made it quite clear that he is anti-member items, even going so far last year as to veto some $6.7 million of them (most of which was reappropriated from previous years, since new pork spending hasn’t been around for several budget cycles now).

Kamara said he understands the concern about using taxpayer dollars to fund lawmakers’ pet projects, especially since member items have been at the heart of a number of high-profile corruption scandals that have landed lawmakers – both at the state and NYC levels – behind bars.

But the Brooklyn Democrat says small community nonprofits are getting hurt by the lack of member item funding – the kinds of groups that aren’t reached by the governor’s big-ticket economic development grants, which, let’s be honest, are in themselves a form of pork.

I asked Camara whether this will line a line-in-the-sand issue for the caucus in 2013, and he said he can’t speak for all the members, since they haven’t yet met on the issue. But he did stress how important this issue is to him, personally, telling me during a CapTon interview:

“For me as an individual, the member items are very significant items for the organization I represent. As an elected assemblyman, a representative in a democracy, I should have a say in how the dollars are approriated for the people that I represent. I will say that that’s a very significant issue.”

“I need to be able to tell the people that I represent that I’m going to Albany to be their voice, that I’m making sure that their taxpayer dollars are being appropriated in a fair fashion to help the district that I represent.”

My full interview with Camara will air on CapTon this evening at 8 p.m., and re-air at 11:30 p.m.

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