Despite a fiscal crisis that led Governor Cuomo to withhold aid payments for school districts and local governments, the Cuomo administration since spring has approved more than $46 million in new pork-barrel capital grants.
From April through July, Cuomo’s Division of the Budget directed the state Dormitory Authority to disburse 226 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 this re-election year. The largest grant in the batch was $5.6 million directed by a member of the state Senate to finance what appears to be a playground construction project in Marine Park, Brooklyn (a neighborhood now represented by first-term Sen. Andrew Gounardes).
The other grants include:
- $5 million for the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo;
- $1 million for the Hebrew Academy for Special Children in Brooklyn;
- $500,000 for New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) basketball courts in Brooklyn;
- $340,000 for a “composting education center” at the City University of New York;
- $300,000 for a “cheerleading team room” in the Levittown school district; and
- $69,500 to restore a sand dune in the village of Asharoken on Long Island.
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.