The Cuomo administration has approved 2,740 capital grants for more than $1 billion in executive and legislative pork-barrel projects funded by the state Dormitory Authority through the State and Municipal Facilities Program (SMFP), according to an updated list posted today at SeeThroughNY.net, the Empire Center’s government transparency website.
In addition to SMFP grants dating back to 2014, the SeeThroughNY database lists another $583 million awarded since January 2011 to local governments and nonprofits through 11 other Dormitory Authority-backed programs.
The SMFP, initiated in fiscal 2014 as a $385 million budget allocation, has received additional appropriations every year for the past five years—always as agreed-upon legislative additions to the final budget, rather than as Executive Budget proposals. Including $475 million added to the program in the fiscal 2019 budget, the program is now authorized to spend over $2 billion on a wide array of buildings and other projects sponsored by the state, local governments and—under language added for fiscal 2019—nonprofit institutions.
“This is essentially the old legislative ‘member items’ program on steroids,” said E.J. McMahon, the Empire Center’s research director. “While the member items pork of the past consisted mainly of small grants paid out of state operating funds, the SMFP will saddle all New Yorkers with debt service on billions in new state borrowing to pay for strictly local amenities and improvements that do not deserve to be state-level priorities.”
“The SMFP finances political campaign talking points and ribbon-cutting events while sapping capital resources from state infrastructure projects that would better serve the interests of all New Yorkers,” he added.
The largest SMFP allocations included $234 million steered by Governor Cuomo to nonprofit development organizations set up by SUNY Polytechnic Institute under its former president, Dr. Alain Kaloyeros, whose trial for federal bid-rigging charges begins next week. Almost $47 million went toward now-floundering projects, including the Central New York Hub for Emerging Nano Industries, and the Advanced Technology Silicon Carbide Line at SUNY Polytechnic, for which General Electric withdrew its support in December.
The list of 2,041 projects picked by state senators totalled $383 million, the largest being $10 million to build a playground at Kelly Park in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Senate SMFP grants included $3 million for ski jumps at Lake Placid, $1.5 million for an Irish “cultural center” in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, and $500,000 for a brewery in Cattaraugus County.
The list of 574 projects picked by Assembly members totalled $216 million, the largest being $21 million for school construction in Yonkers. Sizable Assembly SMFP grants also included $3.5 million for an auditorium in the Red Hook School District, $1.7 million for a hotel in Syracuse and $300,000 for a reptile house at the Buffalo Zoo.
The full list SMFP allocations included:
- 687 grants of $50,000;
- 812 grants of more than $50,000, up to $100,000;
- 787 grants of more than $100,000, up to $250,000;
- 241 grants for more than $250,000, up to $500,000;
- 109 grants for more than $500,000, up to $1 million;
- 83 grants for more than $1 million, up to $5 million; and
- 20 grants for more than $5 million.
Virtually all of the smallest allocations were for local purposes traditionally underwritten by local taxpayers, such as park improvements; additions or renovations to town buildings, libraries and firehouses; and specialized public works, police and firefighting equipment and vehicles.
Over the past four years, more than $50 million in SMFP allocations have also been approved for 161 projects involving improvements or additions to public school buildings and athletic facilities around the state, even though the state budget already distributes $3 billion a year in building aid to subsidize a large share of the debt service on building projects financed by school districts. Thirty-one of school building grants, totaling $5.4 million, were approved for New York City, although the city has its own massive, multi-billion dollar capital budget for schools.
Last year, Governor Cuomo and state lawmakers also appeared to award at least five SMFP grants totalling at least $13 million to nonprofit entities that were not eligible to receive them under statutory language effective at that time.
SMFP grant allocations posted at SeeThroughNY were obtained by the Empire Center in response to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to the Dormitory Authority, which does not collect or report the names of individual legislative sponsors. The Assembly and Senate include sponsor names in separately released, voluminous lists (602 pages and 1,579 pages, respectively) formatted as PDF documents rather than spreadsheets, in an apparent effort to thwart independent analysis.
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.