Not long ago, state legislators swore off their addiction to idiotic pork-barrel spending. Never again, they said, would they purchase their re-elections by raiding the public treasury for pet projects in their home districts. At the time, this was considered nothing less than a revolution in Albany. At long last, sanity had broken out in the capital.
Or so we thought. Silly of us, really.
The New York Post revealed the other day that lawmakers have found a way around their solemn pledges. Rather than load up the state budget with pork, they have simply switched venues. According to the Post’s investigation, the state Senate chose to fund favorite projects at home through the auspices of the state Dormitory Authority—another one of the state’s many unaccountable quasi-public agencies that operate in the dark recesses of state government.
The Dormitory Authority’s budget contains $31 million for 130 pork-barrel projects around the state, thanks to some last-minute budget gimmickry in the spring. The projects will be funded through bonds issued by the Authority, so taxpayers are on the hook not only for the cost of dubious projects, but for the interest to be paid to bondholders.
Here’s a sampling of some of the worthy causes that taxpayers will be supporting, thanks to the Senate’s secretive machinations: A nonprofit in Harlem will get 100 grand for a boiler, although the agency didn’t file required tax documents for four years; a development in downtown Syracuse will receive a quarter-million for washing machines (adding new meaning to the phrase “money laundering”); and a business improvement district in the Bronx will receive $100,000 for a pedestrian plaza that’s already been built.
Republicans and Democrats alike feasted at the trough, so this is not a partisan issue. It’s actually worse than that. Politicians on both sides of the aisle cooperate with each other in these raids on the public treasury. And those who find this tradition distasteful discover that they have to go along in order to keep the wheels of government running. Anyone who dares to challenge pork-barrel projects would be without friends and allies, unable to achieve anything.
And so, despite their public disavowal of pork-barrel spending, state senators found that they simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to funnel some cash to the folks at home, figuring that grateful voters will remember them come November.
Would that voters did remember these shenanigans. They might be more inclined to appreciate the cynicism that passes as electoral strategy in state politics.
What’s more, perhaps voters will begin to ask why the state requires scores of agencies like the Dormitory Authority, and what purpose they serve. Then again, the answers should be obvious.