Over the past three years, the state budget has set aside about $1.1 billion into a program to fund local projects across the state. But critics say the program is lacking oversight.
News10NBC wanted to know if enough being done to protect your tax dollars in an exclusive New York State Exposed report.
It’s designed to give state legislators more input on how your tax dollars are being used. But a fiscal watchdog group says you should be concerned with how that money is being spent and the lack of transparency.
Business owner Thomas McCoy says, “Once again we have a state that is falling apart and they are just allocating money for whatever.”
When Webster business owner McCoy heard about the State and Municipal Facilities Program, he was outraged, saying it isn’t fair for the state to have a large sum of money sitting around waiting to be assigned to projects.
“I’m not surprised, what else would New York State do?” says McCoy.
He adds, “Being a business owner, I have checks and balances, I have to go under. If something isn’t making a profit for me, I have to get rid of it. If I can’t make ends meet, I have to cut something. I don’t have an unlimited check book or credit card like the state does.”
“What you have is basically a $1.1 billion credit card that officials in Albany can use with minimal oversight and no explanation of who’s directing the money or why they’re directing the money,” said Ken Girardin, Communications Director, Empire Center.
According to the Empire Center, about $190 million has already been handed out to fund 588 different projects. We went line by line through the projects. The biggest amount was $35 million which went to SUNY Polytechnic Institute. We checked locally, what kind of money has our area received? The City of Rochester got $1.5 million to help fund the Inner Loop East project. But the total distributed for all Monroe County is only about $4.5 million.
Girardin says this system is set up so we, the taxpayers, won’t notice if the money is being given out fairly.
“Someone could direct $1 million to an economic development project where the legislator is the attorney on that project, or the legislator is one of the landowners on the project,” says Girardin. “There is no way of knowing without proper oversight.”
Remember the program is funded with your tax dollars, so we took those concerns to the leaders in the state assembly. Is enough being done to safe guard your money?
Amanda Ciavarri: “Is this a good way to dole out money, a good way to do business in New York State?”
Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle: “It is public, it is transparent. We really have tried to identify transformational projects in the region without regard of whether they are in a majority district or a minority district.”
Ciavarri: “Critics of this call it a slush fund; say it is a way for legislators to put money in projects that are pet projects. Are there enough checks and balances to make sure this money is going to places that really need it?”
Morelle: “I don’t think in my years in government I have seen a process more devoted to local priority and with as much transparency as there has been in this process.”
Morelle adds, “We have many, many public meetings. We have another one today. We have gone through a process to identify transformational work. We have assigned work groups from the community to identify specific regions and what are priority projects.”
We took the same question across the aisle to the Brian Kolb, the Assembly minority leader.
He says, “There are guidelines that any of these projects have to follow, so you can’t just arbitrarily say, ‘I’m going to give it to anybody I want.’ That is just not the case whatsoever.”
The money from this fund does have to be approved by the dormitory authority before it is allocated to any project! If you would like to reach out and tell them how you feel about a local project getting funding, you can call their grants department at (518) 257-3177.
© 2015 WHEC