The Post-Standard, a Syracuse newspaper, has prepared a Special Report titled “Proof is in the Pork”on how the state’s top three leaders control a $1.2 billion slush fund”. Although this report was prepared in October, 2004, I feel that it is still an important topic worthy of review, especially in light of Governor Pataki’s (presumed) presidential aspirations.
The three men who run New York’s government have stuck state taxpayers with $1 billion in debt over the last seven years to pay for a series of secretive slush funds under their tight control.
Gov. George Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno pulled it off with a tactic that, while legal, skirts the state constitution’s requirement that new state debt be approved by voters.
The three used their dominance of a loosely regulated arm of state government called public authorities to borrow the money. The governor and legislature committed the workers who pay New York’s income tax to a decade or more of repayment — plus interest.
Did Cattaraugus and Allegany Counties benefit from this? It seems that although they received some benefit, it does not come anywhere near the benefit received in Erie County. Yes, Erie County is larger and has a considerably larger population base, but look at the “category” comparisons. In my opinion, most of the grant recipients in our two counties were acceptable candidates. Compare them to Erie County grants, though. Again, we were left behind.
The Post-Standard, under a Freedom of Information Law request, acquired the project lists from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York and the Empire State Development Corp. Those are the two authorities which borrow the money at the request of state leaders. Those lists were combined, and reprinted here. They may include mistakes made in the original authority records, may list a grant recipient’s headquarters city rather than the project’s location and may include grants that haven’t yet been paid.
The Post-Standard reviewed those pots of money which are created by state borrowing and which are spent with liberal discretion by state legislators and the governor. The debt is paid off through future income tax revenue. State legislators said in interviews they had never seen a list of other legislators’ grants.
Alfred University $2,500,000
Morningside Water Supply, Wellsville $300,000
Allegany Arc, Wellsville $70,000
Alfred 21st Century Group, Alfred Station $65,000
Kingston Hotel, Cuba $60,000
Allegany County Landfill Compactor, Belmont $50,000
Cuba Circulating Library $50,000
Sugar Hill Devleopment Corp., Alfred $50,000
City of Olean $500,000
County Dept. of Public Works, Little Valley $100,000
New Penn Secondary Inc., Little Valley $100,000
Cattaraugus Community Action, Salamanca $50,000
County Public Sfty Mobile Computer, Little Valley $50,000
Cattaraugus County Sheriff, Little Valley $50,000
Cattaraugus County Sheriffs Off/MCT, Little Valley $50,000
Cattaraugus Economic Devel., Olean $50,000
City of Salamanca Water Well Devel., Salamanca $50,000
Junior Dairy Barn, Little Valley $50,000
Limestone Vol. Fire Dept $50,000
Olean YMCA $50,000
When you calculate each county’s population vs. money borrowed for the county projects, Allegany county received a total of $3,145,000 – $62.99/person; Cattaraugus received a total of $1,150,000 – $13.70/person.
Erie County (Not a complete list – I left out most recipients relating to infrastructure, business development and emergency services.)
Rich Stadium/Improvements, Orchard Park $95,900,000
Shea’s Theatre EDF, Buffalo $1,900,000
Buffalo Zoo Sea Lion / River Otter $1,250,000
Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens $1,000,000
Tonawanda Grain Mill Demo, Kenmore $1,000,000
Graycliff Conservancy Inc., Amherst $500,000
Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo $500,000
Shea’s Performing Arts Center, Buffalo $500,000
Shea’s O’Connell Performing Arts Ctr, Buffalo $275,000
Alleyway Theatre Inc., Buffalo $250,000
Bob Lanier Ctr for Ed., Physical & Cultural Devel., Buffalo $250,000
National Ctr for Parenting & Char. Devel., Buffalo $250,000
Studio Theatre Schl. dba Studio Arena Theatre, Buffalo $250,000
Alleyway Theatre Inc., Buffalo $60,000
Studio Theatre School Inc., Buffalo $60,000
American Legion Tonawandas’ Post No. 264 Inc. $55,000
Boys & Girls Clubs of the Northtowns, Buffalo $50,000
Bud Bakewell Bruins Hockey Assoc. Inc., Buffalo $50,000
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Society Inc. $50,000
Excalibur Leisure Skills Center Inc., Buffalo $50,000
Shakespeare in Delaware Park Inc., Buffalo $50,000
Shea’s O’Connell Preservation Guild, Ltd., Buffalo $50,000
This is just a small snapshot for three NY State counties. If you really want to see “pork in action”, visit the New York City grant page.
And we wonder why we are one of the highest taxed states in the country. Maybe you saw this report from Alan Hevesi this past April:
New York State local property taxes increased 42 percent from 2000 to 2005 ― or more than three times the rate of inflation ― growing from $26 billion to $38 billion, according to a research brief on property taxes issued today by New York State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi. New York State’s local property taxes are nearly 50 percent above the national average and are the fourth highest in the nation per capita.
“New York taxpayers’ property tax burden is nearly 50 percent higher than the national average ― and shockingly, for areas outside of New York City, 73 percent higher than the national average,” Hevesi said. “Property taxes are by the far the largest and fastest growing component of most New Yorkers’ tax bills. Because local governments have little choice but to raise property taxes or cut services when other revenues fall short during tough economic times, this trend will likely continue.”
We have the highest local taxes, and the highest local and state combined taxes in the country. Our property taxes are higher than the national average, and they are continuing to rise.
The pork spending with its borrowing, the high tax rates; it is no wonder that we are losing population base, especially in upstate New York. Young people are moving away and middle-aged and senior citizens are becoming priced out of their homes.
Eliot Spitzer has a large lead in his campaign for governor, and he is currently airing a commercial addressing these concerns. The commercial states wording similar to, “On day one, this changes. We’ll make government leaner and we’ll lower taxes.”
Mr. Spitzer, I sincerely hope you are successful with these goals. The residents of this state don’t deserve to be treated as if we have an endless reserve of funds. We want our tax money spent wisely; we want government pork projects cut; we want a fair return to our areas on our investment to this state; we want our citizens’ interests and needs properly addressed and taken care of. If you do this, you will have my vote for as long as you wish to be governor of this state.
It’s time for a change in New York State. MAKE SURE YOU ARE REGISTERED AND VOTE THIS NOVEMBER!