Santa Cuomo—Michael Benjamin –

Today’s NY Post carried my latest op-ed examining politics, public policy decisions and their impact on NYC.  Governor Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Councils (REC) were supposed to stimulate job creation by competitively funding regional projects that responded to local needs.

That dicta did not seem to be followed by the NYC REC as only one-third of the funded projects could be characterized as job creation/retention and job training. Many projects were housing and open space-related. Many of these projects should have been funded via the regular housing or parks capital funds.

Merry Christmas! Don’t spend all of your income tax cut in one place. And if Santa Cuomo didn’t leave you a REC award, there’s always next year.

Cuomo’s Xmas pork

Last Updated:6:37 AM, December 12, 2011

Posted:10:37 PM, December 11, 2011

Christmas came early in Albany this year. Santa Cuomo bounded down the Capitol chimney with a sackful of relief — tax relief for middle-class New Yorkers and (with reductions in the downstate MTA payroll levy) small businesses and nonpublic schools and help for upstate communities hit by this year’s floods. (Oh, yes, wealthy New Yorkers got lumps of coal, with a partial extension of the “millionaires tax.”)

The biggest gifts came in the form of economic-development grants to a statewide list of businesses, local governments and nonprofits. Santa Cuomo had a broad definition of “economic development.” His “nice” list reads much like a bunch of member-item grants — cash doled out for reasons of political connections, not policy principles.

So excited was Santa Cuomo with these stocking stuffers that he immediately got his elves — Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver — to agree to fund even more such treats next Christmas.

How mixed a bag did Santa deliver? Well, New York City got some $66 million awarded to 50 projects — while Upstate and suburban communities got the rest of the $785 million pot. Of those 50 projects, 21 are related to affordable housing, four are “green-jobs” grants and seven involve parks.

Funding the Bushwick Ridgewood Senior Citizens Council and Bronx Shepherds to do home repairs for the frail elderly is more “Christmas in July” than true economic development.

The millions going to the City Parks Department to plant trees, renovate parks, build streets and improve waterfront access? Guess the governor’s decided that New Yorkers are fleeing the city for communities in Virginia, South Carolina and Florida because those places offer better recreational amenities.

Apparently, people have been leaving Brooklyn for areas with better opportunities in the ice-skating industry. The Prospect Park Alliance got $2.6 million in economic-development funding to build a state-of-the art rink.

The Gay Men’s Health Crisis Inc. won $49,842 to train current employees in writing, budgeting and public speaking (skills needed to lobby for more government funding). I can’t even manage a sarcastic excuse here. Yes, retaining jobs makes some sense as a goal of economic development, but where were these GMHC workers going to go? They alreadyhavejobs.

Queensborough Community College scored $1 million to “retrofit” a parking lot so it can be used as a “focal point for Earth Day Celebrations.” No, I’m not kidding.

Maybe those grants’ true purpose was to make the “green” gifts seem reasonable. Mayor Bloomberg’s pet project, PlaNYC, is getting $1 million to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and shrink the city’s carbon footprint. Do we really need more City Hall iPad-toting geeks telling us how to save the planet when all we really want to do is put food on the table and clothe our children?

Meanwhile, the Hunts Point Produce Market is slated to receive $29.5 million to modernize its food-distribution facility. The Bronx-based market is home to 115 businesses, employs hundreds of workers and generates more than $3 billion in sales. This gift ought to end its frequent threats to relocate to New Jersey.

Commendably, a number of nonprofits won funding to train unemployed city residents to as certified nursing assistants. Good jobs — but ones dependent on Medicaid funding of nursing homes and home-care agencies that happen to be facing cuts.

In all of New York City, Santa Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development team could only find nine commercial ventures (including the Hunts Point Market) worthy of assistance. Less than a third of the funding went to true economic-development or job-training/retention efforts.

OK, the grants in the rest of the state look more like serious efforts to support development, and less like pork. But, sadly, Cuomo has been derelict in fast-tracking the one serious job creator that could rescue Upstate — rules to allow natural-gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. Safe, well-regulated drilling would generate more jobs, economic activity and tax revenues than 10 sacks of “economic-development” stocking stuffers.

It’s not too late for Cuomo to announce in favor of an industry with the potential to save our state, make our economy less reliant on Wall Street and the financial sector and provide Southern Tier counties with a reliable revenue stream. That’s my Christmas wish for our state.


UPDATE: This afternoon, I taped an appearance on Capital Tonight, an Albany-based news program hosted by Liz Benjamin.


Click here to see the complete interview: Former Assem. Benjamin Criticizes Economic Development Awards.

Read more here. Leave a comment below.

What’s your Christmas wish?

About SquarePegDem

A former state legislator turned NY Post editorial board member, thought-leader, public affairs consultant and commentator, columnist and blogger. Michael has appeared on Al Jazeera America Tonight, NY1/Inside City Hall, LIVE, YNN/Capital Tonight, The Brian Lehrer Show, The Fred Dicker Show, The Capitol Press Room, and The Daily Show. His op-eds have appeared in the NY Post, City and State, The Legislative Gazette, Bronx Times, The Troy Record, Buffalo News, and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. To schedule speaking engagements, email
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3 Responses to Santa Cuomo—Michael Benjamin –

  1. Victor Tosi says:

    Michael – once again you are right on target. The truly frightening aspect is that it is not just one party at which we can point a finger!


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