Despite a fiscal crisis that led Governor Cuomo to beg for a $15 billion federal government bailout, the Cuomo administration approved more than $45 million in new pork-barrel capital grants last year. From July through October of 2020, Cuomo’s Division of the Budget directed the state Dormitory Authority to disburse 159 grants to recipients selected by the governor and individual state lawmakers. The list of projects is posted on SeeThroughNY, the Empire Center’s government transparency website.
Most of the approved grants are non-essential amenities sought by local politicians and organizations whose support is coveted by lawmakers in an election year, as 2020 was.
“These so-called grants are nothing more than legislative pork by another name,” according to Tim Hoefer, the Empire Center’s President & CEO. “There’s no discernible reason for state taxpayers to pay for local projects that could be otherwise funded by existing state programs, local taxpayers or private philanthropy. It reeks of favoritism and impropriety. The whole program should be abolished.”
The largest grant in this update was $3.3 million directed by the state Assembly, and was given to the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy for the expansion and development of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Other grants include:
- $1.1 million for the renovation of an early learning center in the City of Cortland in Central New York;
- $700,000 for the construction of a splash pad at Glen Meadows Park in Western New York;
- $500,000 for a turf field at the Central Islip Community Park on Long Island;
- $313,000 for renovations to the Watervliet City Hall in the Capital Region;
- $250,000 to construct a “comfort station” at Pascone Park in the Village of Ardsley in the Mid-Hudson Valley;
- $125,000 for the renovation and expansion of a recreational trail in the North Country Town of Peru; and
- $50,000 for the replacement of the Town Hall roof in Afton in the Southern Tier.
The grant funds are generated from bonds issued without voter approval. Most of the grants were authorized by the State and Municipal Facilities Program (SMFP), a $2 billion slush fund created in 2013 that lets state lawmakers and the governor direct cash to personal political priorities. The Budget Division anticipates paying out $260 million from SMFP alone during the current fiscal year.
The Empire Center, based in Albany, is an independent, not-for-profit, non-partisan think tank dedicated to promoting policies that can make New York a better place to live, work and raise a family.