When Kathy Hochul was sworn in as governor in August 2021, she told New Yorkers that she would govern differently than Cuomo.
And so she has….
Unlike Cuomo, who fought tooth and nail with state legislators, Hochul has rolled over to their demands in order to get $600 million for the new Buffalo Bills stadium.
To secure that funding, she resurrected—what Cuomo had buried—pork spending for legislators known as “members items.”
On top of that, Hochul has kept alive Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development programs that replaced “members items” and served as Cuomo’s personal pork barrel spending for local projects that have often been dubious in nature or were rewards to supporters in the form of capital grants or tax credits.
Ed McMahon, of The Empire Center for Public Policy, has noted that the more than $12 billion committed to RED projects in recent years “is in classic terms almost Marxist. This is the state owning the means of production. It’s corporate welfare on steroids.”
Many corporations that received grants failed or the payback promised never materialized. Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion,” for example, which included the Solar City factory, employed only about 20% of the 3,000 jobs projected.
Another flop, the Central New York film, hub cost taxpayers $90 million.
And let’s not forget that several of Cuomo’s economic development shenanigans led to the conviction in 2018 of two of his political cronies, Joe Percoco and Alain Kaloyeros.
Which brings me back to Gov. Hochul. Did she learn anything from the Cuomo-era regional spending boondoggles?
To get a budget passed, “…she managed to make everybody happy on something,” Kathryn S. Wilde, president of the Partnership for New York City, told The New York Times.
The deputy senate majority leader, Democrat Michael Gianaris (whom I’m guessing is getting his share of pork for his district), likened Hochul to Cuomo “in terms of looking out for corporate interests and her ideological positioning.”
The state comptroller’s analysis of the 2022-2023 budget pointed out that “several new discretionary lump sum capital appropriations were added, with little detail regarding intended purposes…” In other words, political swag. These appropriations include:
• $800 million for “the New York State Regional Economic and Community Assistance Program”—also known as corporate welfare.
• $385 million for the Community Resilience Sustainability and Technology Program to support “projects intended to improve the quality of life of the residents of the state … through investment in facilities which support arts, cultural, athletic, housing, childcare, education, parks and recreational … tourism, community development … and other civic activities.” These are pork grants that state legislators could dole out to 501(c)(3)s, and community groups in their home district.
• $350 million for the Long Island Investment Fund to support “manufacturing, agriculture, business parks, community anchor facilities … and main street revitalizations.”
This is more corporate welfare with few strings attached.
• $185 million for the Local Community Assistance Program to “support community development or redevelopment, revitalization, economic development, economic sustainability … and local infrastructure improvement or enhancement.” Even more corporate welfare.
Here’s a tiny sampling from a “members items” list compiled by Newsday’s Albany reporter Michael Gormley:
• $5 million for a Rochester soccer stadium.
• $108 million to redevelop the Bronx Kingsbridge Amory.
• $8 million for a parking garage in Rochester.
• $20 million for Syracuse University’s basketball team Carrier Dome.
• $8.5 million for a Syracuse “Landmark Theatre.”
• $1 million for Old Fort Niagara.
There are hundreds of millions of dollars of such pork barrel projects.
Blair Horner, the executive director of the N.Y. Public Interest Research Group, stated that these funds “are used to bolster the image of elected officials in an effort to curry favor with voters.”
“Big lump sums,” like the $350 million coming to Long Island, Blair added, “limit public accountability and have been abused in the past.”
Yes, several legislators have gone to jail for abusing these grants by taking care of friends, relatives and donors.
Giving away the store may help Hochul get over the finish line in November, but it will not help taxpayers who will be stuck paying the tab for Albany’s unsatiable spending appetite.