Empire Center Pries Open Albany’s Biggest Pork Barrel

Records of more than $2 billion in discretionary state government grants, doling out taxpayer dollars to more than 4,000 projects sponsored by local governments, schools, private businesses and non-profit groups across New York, were added today to the expansive online pork-barrel spending database at SeeThroughNY, the Empire Center’s government transparency website.

The grants, funneled through the Dormitory Authority of the state of New York (DASNY), included:

  • $1 million to Tioga Downs Racetrack, LLC for a “wastewater treatment plant;”
  • $125,000 for an “educational oyster garden” in Queens;
  • $1.15 million to the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association for a training facility;
  • $300,000 to relocate a barn on village land in Setauket;
  • $50,000 for the 1199SEIU-controlled League Grant Corporation for “construction of a multi-service resource center;”
  • A total of $350,000 for “dog runs” in New York City and Suffolk County; and
  • A total of $575,000 for skateboard parks in five suburban and upstate communities, plus $150,000 for “splash pads” in Camillus and Long Beach.

The latest SeeThroughNY update marks the first time that all of the discretionary grants financed by the Dormitory Authority have been available for public inspection in a searchable online database. The Authority issues tax-backed, non-voter-approved bonds to finance projects under a dozen different programs created by the governor and the Legislature.

“New York’s governors and state lawmakers increasingly have used the Dormitory Authority as a credit card to pay for pet projects,” said Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center. “Unfortunately, few if any of these projects could be considered statewide priorities. Many are local amenities that could and should be funded by local taxpayers. Others could be classified as corporate subsidies, requiring taxpayer to underwrite benefits for specific companies or industries.”

The 12 grant programs run through DASNY date back as early as 1998 and are funded by broader appropriations, which are then divvied up into thousands of projects evaluated and awarded outside the budget process.

The data also show:

  • Lawmakers and Gov. Cuomo were drawing funds from 10 different grant programs during the first half of 2016, requesting $331 million in grants for 538 projects.
  • Of the 5,900 grants administered by the Authority since 1998, the largest 125 grants accounted for half of the spending. At least 43 grants, totalling $120 million, were directed to specific private businesses, including four hotels. Another 30 grants, totalling $32 million, were steered to Industrial Development Agencies (IDAs) to benefit specific projects. Additional grants were issued to government entities, such as the SUNY Research Foundation, with specific businesses noted as the intended recipient, such as $12 million specifically to purchase an IBM supercomputer.
  • Grants totalling $248 million, from four of the Authority’s programs, were steered to Fort Schuyler Management Corp. and Fuller Road Management Corp., the SUNY-controlled non-profits that are now the subject of criminal investigations.

The Empire Center, based in Albany, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan think tank dedicated to promoting policies to make New York a better place to live, work and do business.

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