Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget makes important changes to several secretive slush funds first brought to light by the Empire Center.
Under changes proposed in Cuomo’s Capital Projects appropriations bill, lawmakers steering funds from one of the programs will have to submit a “written declaration” to the Division of the Budget verifying that the official has no “financial interest” in and has not and will not receive any “financial benefit” from the grant they’re directing.
The governor’s proposal will also require disclosure of the individual lawmakers who requested the funds. An example of the new restrictions, placed on the Assembly-controlled Capital Assistance Program, is found on page 757. Cuomo proposes attaching the new rules to at least 18 reappropriations of discretionary spending programs.
The Empire Center last year posted a searchable SeeThroughNY.net database of 5,000 grants awarded at the discretion of individual governors and lawmakers under these programs, totaling close to $3 billion.
However, the governor’s legislation inexplicably does not apply to the State and Municipal Facilities Program, the $1.5 billion program administered by the Dormitory Authority and used to steer $25 million to developers building an outlet mall on Staten Island, among other questionable purposes.
Taxpayers would be better off if these slush funds went away altogether, especially because many of them use money borrowed without voter approval to pay for political pet projects. But making the process more transparent—and adding barriers to curb abuse—is a step in the right direction.