Another big Albany “oink”

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A $500,000 grant to support a solar-powered carousel in Buffalo—raising that project’s total taxpayer subsidy to more than $1 million—was among the 1,782 local pork-barrel projects awarded grants by state lawmakers in the final hours of their 2017 regular legislative session, as documented in data posted today on SeeThroughNY.net, the Empire Center’s transparency website.

Seven legislative resolutions adopted as the regular session was wrapping up June 21, six in the Senate and one in the Assembly, steered a total of $52 million to hand-picked recipients, including nearly $29 million in “bullet aid” to schools, libraries and other educational organizations. In addition to the Buffalo carousel, the grants include:

  • $10,000 for the Canton school district to purchase “two trainer bikes;”
  • $5,000 for Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village, featuring 18th-century-themed “costumed interpreters;”
  • $21,000 for Saratoga Automobile Museum;
  • $15,000 for Sea Cliff Chamber Players, a Long Island classical music ensemble; and
  • $15,000 for “Tough Man, Inc.” A Westchester County-based not-for-profit of the same name funds “walks and races” in Croton-on-the-Hudson, federal records show.

One resolution redirected part of $500,000 in funding for “military base retention and research efforts” awarded previously for HVAC upgrades at West Point instead to Clinton County (which does not have any military bases).

The resolutions did not include the names of sponsoring lawmakers or, in most cases, a stated purpose for each grant, which are backed by a lump sum appropriation in the state budget adopted in April. The use of such lump sums has been criticized by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, for both the lack of transparency and, in several cases, the use of debt issued without voter approval, also known as backdoor borrowing.

The data are posted under the Expenditures section of SeeThroughNY.net, which lists more than $3 billion in legislative grants, including those from the state’s largest slush fund, the State and Municipal Facilities Program. The data can be viewed as a sortable spreadsheet here.

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 do business.