screen-shot-2015-01-29-at-10-52-11-am-150x150-6863091Albany’s biggest, juiciest capital pork pie, the mysterious State and Municipal Facilities Program, just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

The newly adopted fiscal 2016 state budget increases the program’s total spending authority by 50 percent, to $1.13 billion from $746 million. It’s the second big jump in funding in two years for this program, which last year had its appropriation doubled.

So, what’s the rationale for the State and Municipal Facilities Program?

Well, aside from the underlying assumption that all sorts of state-funded capital spending is both necessary and worthwhile, no one in the Capitol has gotten around to offering one.

In fact, Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders uncharacteristically have said virtually nothing about the program (in public) since its inception two years ago. They just keep agreeing to spend more on it.

And what’s eligible for State and Municipal Facilities Program funding?

Just about anything, at this point, as reflected in the lengthy, very inclusive appropriations language we’ve excerpted here. This year’s wrinkles include the addition of “heavy duty road maintenance and construction vehicles” to eligible capital equipment purchases. The types of entities eligible to apply for funding were expanded in the latest budget language to include non-profit park conservancies and volunteer fire departments.

This added language and appropriations authority were not in Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget, by the way. They were added in the final deal by the governor and Legislature this week.

And where will the money come from?

Backdoor borrowing by the state Dormitory Authority, of course—duly reflected by an increase in DASNY’s bond cap for this purpose, so you know they mean it.

Huh?

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office noted in its enacted budget report last year that it is “unclear” how funds will be allocated under the State and Municipal Facilities Program. “The Enacted (FY 2015) Budget does not include specific language that provides for the distribution of these moneys among the various purposes or between the various entities authorized to receive funding,” the comptroller’s report said.

Based on the latest appropriations language, that’s still the case. In contrast to the capital pork appropriations first initiated in the Pataki era, there’s not even a requirement for a “memorandum of understanding” between the governor and legislative leaders to divide the pie. Technically, that would seem to give Cuomo carte blanche to spend the money as he wishes. It’s also possible that there’s an unspoken deal conveniently not committed to FOIL-able paper.

The appropriations totals would suggest that $25 million has been spent or committed by the State and Municipalities Program fund.

Hmm. Perhaps that relates to this $25 million project involving improvements to a Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) right-of-way near the huge Empire Outlets project in St. George, Staten Island.

Or maybe there’s more. Perhaps, eventually, the governor or Legislature will get around to explaining it.

About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is a senior fellow at the Empire Center.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

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