Gov. Cuomo’s slush fund needs to go

| The Post Star Editorial

New York state and Gov. Andrew Cuomo continue to pick the pockets of hard-working taxpayers.

That’s you.

We suspect this does not surprise you, but it is the insidious way the state does it that should inflame your sensibilities and get you screaming at your legislators to stop the practice.

On Friday, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released an analysis of the enacted state budget — the one passed in the middle of the night with no transparency in April — that sums up the spending and borrowing planned in mind-numbing prose that few of those pilfered will ever read.

We offer up this example from the fifth paragraph of the press release:

“The budget provides nearly $6.5 billion in increased state-supported debt authorizations for public authorities to conduct ‘backdoor borrowing’ on behalf of the state, a 21.5 percent increase over the Executive proposal. The largest change from the Executive proposal is a $398.5 million increase in borrowing authority for SAM.”

We suspect few of you know exactly what that means, or maybe even whether you should care, but it is not good.

It means the Legislature approved nearly $400 million in extra spending without really explaining why.

“SAM” is shorthand for the State and Municipal Facilities program, a 5-year-old invention of the Cuomo administration that is a slush fund controlled by the governor and legislative leaders to reward state politicians who do their bidding.

Perhaps the most important piece of information in DiNapoli’s 70-page report comes on page 42 where under “Public Authorities” we learn that SAM will get $398.5 million in increased spending for 2018-19.

But it does not stipulate for what.

There are no details on how the money will be spent, or when. That will be decided later.

There was no debate or discussion over why SAM needs to be increased by $398.5 million.

And every penny of it will be borrowed.

It gets worse.

The fund has gotten approximately $2 billion since it was created in 2013. Originally, there were defined limits on how money could be spent, but those restrictions continue to be relaxed each year.

SAM money often goes to a wide variety of community projects, allowing legislators to show up with checks for community projects — often right before the election.

E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center had this to say about SAM in his analysis of the state budget:

“Even more borrowed cash was shoveled into the capital pork barrel. It wasn’t proposed in Cuomo’s original budget or in the legislative one-house bills. Yet with no warning, explanation or justification, another $425 million was authorized for the State and Municipal Facilities program, aka SAM, raising to $2.4 billion the total appropriated for the program over the past five years. Of that amount, roughly $500 million has spent — mainly in small allocations of $50,000 to $200,000 for strictly local facilities and equipment including skateboard parks, town hall improvements, highway department garages and fire trucks. The largest SAM grants — more than $200 million in all — have been directed by Cuomo to SUNY Polytechnic Institute subsidiaries that have figured prominently in a federal indictment of Poly’s founder and former president, Alain Kaloyeros.”

Remember, this is our money.

Where is the oversight?

Where is the frugality to prevent spending on projects that are gratuitous or simply not worthy of state funding?

The fund drew headlines two years ago when SAM funds were used to cover $82 million in lapsed payments to workers on the Buffalo Billion project. That funding is expected to come up again when the Buffalo Billion corruption trial begins in June.

This is an election year.

If there is an issue that should be raised, this is it.

If there is something that needs to change in state spending, this is it.

This is not an indictment of the projects that SAM fund, but a criticism of a process that is political and lacking in oversight.

We recommend you check for your wallet, because we believe Albany politicians have picked your pocket — again.