Dorm Authority: NY’s deepest pork barrel | Times-Union

Dorm Authority: NY’s deepest pork barrell

Dormitory Authority has grown into the top conduit of backdoor state spending

By Chris Bragg

Updated 11:01 am, Sunday, December 18, 2016 Times Union

Albany

The state Dormitory Authority, which was created by the Legislature in 1944 to build teachers’ colleges, received a letter in April from Gov. Andrew Cuomo‘s administration requesting that the quasi-governmental entity sign off on $200,000 in spending.

The money, however, was not intended to build dorms. Instead, it was to be steered to the city of Albany to build a skateboard park.

That project is just one small slice of what critics contend has quietly grown into Albany’s biggest pork barrel. Since 1998, state lawmakers have spent $1.9 billion for nearly 6,000 projects through a dozen mostly little-noticed programs financed by Dormitory Authority bonds.

Rank-and-file lawmakers, who are allowed significant influence as to where the money is steered, do not have to attach their names to the ones they push. When a project receives a grant, it is simply labeled as coming from either "Assembly" or "Senate," which makes it difficult for the public to flag any conflicts of interest.

And while the bonds are approved in the state budget, the specific projects are mostly chosen outside the normal budgetary process.

The public pays for the initiatives: The interest payments on the authority’s bonds are largely drawn from income taxes.

The programs have purchased computers, wheelchairs and snowplows. Funding has gone to nonprofits, universities, cities and even private businesses, and been earmarked for projects that include $125,000 for an "educational oyster garden" in Queens and $300,000 to relocate a barn on village land in Setauket, Suffolk County.

Before the funding goes out to a project, it must be approved by the Dormitory Authority (DASNY), which is one of the nation’s largest issuers of debt for many types of initiatives.

"Taxpayers have good cause to be concerned about state lawmakers and the governor using that borrowing power for anything besides its original purpose, especially when it’s to pay for political pet projects," said Ken Girardin, an analyst at the fiscally conservative Empire Center for Public Policy. "DASNY was created to finance dormitory construction, not to be Albany’s credit card."

Yet proponents say the programs allow the state to quickly get projects off the ground — from building a road to kick-starting the Capital Region’s nanotech empire — and permit lawmakers to address issues on a rolling basis through the year.

"Is it all perfect, neat and nice? No," said Roman Hedges, the former deputy secretary of the Assembly Ways & Means Committee. "Is it problematic? I don’t think that. But I do think it’s complicated. And that’s why people take shots at it."

In total, the Legislature has allocated more than $3 billion to a dozen pots of money, though some has been rescinded and some remains unspent.

Only one of these bond programs has been created during the tenure of Gov. Andrew Cuomo: the State and Municipal Facilities Program (SAM) in 2013. Through March 2016, lawmakers had authorized $1.54 billion in bond sales for the program.

A spokesman for the Division of Budget, Morris Peters, disputed the criticism that DASNY was acting as a "credit card."

"We finance these brick and mortar capital projects the same way as we finance other capital projects, whether it’s transportation infrastructure, an environmental facility, a prison, a dormitory or any other capital asset," Peters said.

With eight of the 12 pots of money still giving out grants, 2016 is on pace to be among the biggest-spending years on record. Through mid-June, nearly $330 million had been sent by lawmakers to DASNY for approval.

The only reason many of these broader details are known is because the Empire Center filed an open records request in June seeking information as to where all the money has gone. The think tank recently posted on its website, SeeThroughNY.net, a database of the nearly 6,000 projects.

For all the projects it approves, the Dormitory Authority requires recipients to disclose any potential conflicts of interest they may have.

Still, because lawmakers’ grants are only listed as coming from the Senate or Assembly, it’s difficult for the public to trace whether a grant recipient has, for instance, given campaign donations to their benefactor.

Consider the May 16, 2008, letter sent to DASNY by the state Senate asking it to approve $4 million for a private business, Empire Agrifuels, for acquisition and installation of equipment.

It’s not clear who was behind the grant, but one day earlier, Empire Agrifuels made its lone political donation in a New York for $200 to Republican state Sen. Tom Libous. The company never received the funds. (Libous died earlier this year.)

The bond programs are often created with broad specifications for the use of the money. The profits received by the buyers of these low-risk bonds are tax free, making them especially attractive.

Since these programs’ advent in 1998, new pots of money were formed on an almost annual basis in order to meet legislators’ pet needs, said ex-Assemblyman John McEneny of Albany, who retired from the Legislature after 2012.

He considered many of the programs were similar, but said new bonds were tailored to help facilitate lawmakers’ desired projects that did not meet specific requirements the prior year.

"Every year, it seemed to me, the rules needed to be changed," he said. "They’re basically the same thing."

As of four years ago, according to McEneny, each member of the Assembly majority between $500,000 and $1 million. Lawmakers would submit a list of desired projects to the Assembly Ways & Means Committee.

A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Michael Whyland, said individual members were not given specific amounts of money.

"Projects can be nominated by members and there is no allotment," he said. "These projects are vetted by staff to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest and (the requests are) consistent with the intent of the legislation."

On the Senate side, money goes through the Senate Finance Committee. A spokesman for the Senate Republican majority, Scott Reif, declined to answer questions, including how much money flows to Senate Democrats in the minority.

After receiving letters seeking project approval, the Dormitory Authority makes sure the grants fit in with the requirements of the bond funding it, and conducts legal and financial reviews.

Then a project can move forward with the consent of both houses of the Legislature and the Executive branch, according to Peters.

The Dormitory Authority bond spending started slowly in 1998 through a single program called Community Enhancement Facilities Assistance Program, or CEFAP. Its intent was to fund "projects that will improve communities within the State," and a total of $14.8 million was requested for initiatives its first year like construction of a tennis court and the renovation of a theater. Eighteen years later, $30 million in outstanding debt remains.

Before 2002, only the Assembly was distributing the bonded money, but then the Senate jumped into the action.

As of 2013, the executive branch has had its own program it shares with the Senate and Assembly in SAM, which has served as the major line of credit for the Cuomo administration to finance a $750 million investment in a solar panel factory in Buffalo.

Peters, the Division of Budget spokesman, said that state debt had actually decreased by $3 billion under Cuomo and the SAM program was fundamentally different from prior pots of Dormitory Authority money.

"Unlike some old member item pots, the State and Municipal Facilities program is limited in scope to bricks and mortar capital projects with the requisite useful life," Peters said. "The SAM program also has new levels of transparency, such as the posting of projects on the public website of the administrating state entity."

(Yet another, more controversial system of member items, which allowed lawmakers to directly pick projects within the state budget, was eliminated by Cuomo when he took office in 2011.)

Not all parts of the state have benefited equally from the under-the-radar bond spending. Of the 40 largest total grants, Buffalo appears to have gotten the most through Cuomo’s "Buffalo Billion" initiative. The Capital Region has also done well. Observers attribute that in part to the alliance of ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, former Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno of Brunswick, and ex-SUNY Polytechnic Institute founder Alain Kaloyeros to build up his nanotech empire. (Kaloyeros is currently facing state and federal charges for allegedly taking part in two bid-rigging schemes involving SUNY Poly projects.)

Some of the biggest dollar grants in the Capital Region have gone to projects at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Luther Forest Technology Campus Economic Development Corp., Fuller Road Management Corp., the University at Albany Foundation and the Arsenal Business and Technology Partnership in Watervliet.

Other parts of upstate and New York City have gotten fewer of the biggest grants.

Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco introduced a bill this year that would require grant recipients to be clearly outlined in the state budget, with a period of at least three days for public review. It would also require the disclosure of all campaign donations for five years from the person or group getting the money.

Tedisco is set to be sworn in as a member of the state Senate in January. Asked if his soon-to-be Senate Republican colleagues — who are likely to retain the majority — would support casting more sunlight on this type of spending, Tedisco said, "You’d have to ask them that. But there shouldn’t be any reason not to do it."

cbragg • 518-454-5303 • @chrisbragg1

Since 1998, state lawmakers have made requests for $3 billion from the state Dormitory Authority outside the normal budget process to fund various economic development initiatives. About $1.9 billion has been spent. Here is a look at how much was requested. The number of projects is in parenthesis.

CLICK LINK TO SEE CHART:

https://infogr.am/95daef1b-3470-4aab-ba2a-b3721df065bd

*The figures for 2016 are only through mid-June.
Source: Empire Center

Michael Benjamin
@SquarePegDem
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The City Council’s phony slap at de Blasio’s scummy fund-raising | NY Post Editorial

The City Council’s phony slap at de Blasio’s scummy fund-raising | NY Post Editorial

December 14, 2016

Hand a much-ado-about-nothing award to the City Council, which on Thursday will pretend it’s dealing a fatal blow to corruption with new campaign-finance laws.

The truth? These bills won’t make a dent in corruption — or even improve a campaign-finance system ripe for abuse.

Take the ban on donors with business before the city giving more than $400 to groups controlled by public officials. It’s supposedly a slap at the sleaze made infamous by the Campaign for One New York, which targeted donors seeking City Hall favors.

But only a symbolic slap. Another slush fund can skirt the ban simply by not referring to the official who runs it in its “communications.” Or by getting the (mayorally appointed) Conflicts of Interest Board to say a donor doesn’t do business with the city, even if he does. Or by publicly distancing itself from a pol whose water it still carries.

The bills also ban public matching funds for gifts “bundled” by lobbyists. Expect the lobbyists to get around that, too.

Bottom line: These tweaks won’t curb de Blasio-style (or any other) corruption. Nor will they make the city’s campaign-finance system fair — or even sensible.

Unions will continue to enjoy a deck stacked in their favor. And crafty pols will keep gaming the system.

On Thursday, the Campaign Finance Board will slap Bill de Blasio with big fines for abuses in his 2013 mayoral run, but he’ll still be mayor. Meantime, taxpayers shelled out a hefty $38 million in matching funds these past four years.

If the council really wants to curb corruption, it’s better off scrapping the public campaign-finance system itself.

http://nypost.com/2016/12/14/the-city-councils-phony-slap-at-de-blasios-scummy-fund-raising/
Michael Benjamin
@SquarePegDem
From my Samsung S6

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Justice delayed for Shelly Silver | New York Post Editorial

Four months later…

Justice delayed for Shelly Silver

By Post Editorial Board

August 25, 2016

Shelly Silver will stay out of jail for what looks to be another year, thanks to US District Court Judge Valerie Caproni’s ruling Thursday that the disgraced former Assembly speaker can remain free on bail pending his appeal of his landmark corruption conviction.

But it’s justice delayed, not denied — yet. And he still must start making payments on the $7 million he owes in fines and restitution as a result of his conviction.

What’s up? Caprioni saw a decent chance that Silver could win his appeal thanks to the recent Supreme Court ruling that tossed the conviction of Virginia ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell.

But that’s far from a sure thing — because the crimes that earned Silver a 12-year bribery sentence were markedly different from the McDonnell case.

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The high court let the Virginian off because he hadn’t actually provided official actions in exchange for the gifts he received from a businessman.

Silver, by contrast, plainly did abuse his office: most notably, to funnel $500,000 in state funds to a doctor who then referred patients to Silver’s law firm, for which the firm paid the speaker millions.

That leaves Silver’s lawyers hoping to make a procedural case — namely, that because Caprioni didn’t define “official action” for the jury, his conviction might be tainted.

We trust US Attorney Preet Bharara’s team can persuade the courts otherwise. Sheldon Silver plainly belongs in prison.

http://nypost.com/2016/08/25/justice-delayed-for-shelly-silver/

Michael Benjamin
@SquarePegDem
862-232-4085
From my Samsung S6

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Councilman Andy King Dodges Dutie

Councilman Andy King Dodges Duties

Bronx Councilman Andy King has skipped roughly a third of his required meetings as council member, leaving him with one of the worst attendance records on the City Council. Of 89 hearings he has missed 29, further marring his political career after accusations of sexual harassment earlier this year. He claims the two are not connected.

Michael Benjamin

http://CorruptionCrusher.com/
@SquarePegDem
www.Facebook.com/SquarePegDem
www.YouTube.com/SquarePegDem
Skype: SquarePegDem

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Miss World’s obscene pro-China censorship |NY Post Editorial Board

Miss World’s obscene pro-China censorship
By Post Editorial Board | December 14, 2016

Spoke aout against China’s illegal organ harvesting and persecution of Falun gong practitioners

‘Beauty with a purpose” is how the Miss World Organization bills itself — but that purpose apparently includes covering up the ugliest of human-rights abuses.

Miss World execs muzzled Anastasia Lin, the Chinese-born Miss Canada who moonlights as a human-rights activist.

This is actually her second year as Canada’s Miss World entry: Chinese authorities refused to allow her into the country to compete in last year’s final.

She’ll make it to this year’s pageant in Washington — but she’s spent the last three weeks under orders to not speak publicly about Beijing’s horrors, especially its abuse of prisoners of conscience.

Her friends and family said she’d even been banned from attending the US premiere of a film she stars in, “The Bleeding Edge,” an exposé of China’s organ-harvesting from political prisoners.

Miss World Organization chief Julia Morley insisted Lin “is a free person to do exactly what she wishes to do.” Yet it took a wave of publicity before pageant officials would give Lin the OK to speak freely to the news media — and to attend the premiere next Wednesday.

The Miss World finale on Sunday is expected to draw 1 billion viewers — and plainly the pageant sponsors feared losing revenue if they upset the rulers of the globe’s most populous nation.

The corruption of international competition goes far beyond the filthy world of global sports contests.

Michael Benjamin
http://SquarePegDem.com/
Twitter: @SquarePegDem
Contact Telephone: 862-232-4085

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Elections 2016: Where Do We Go From Here? | CUNY TV Video

Michael Benjamin (aka @SquarePegDem) was a guest panelist on CUNY Forum talking about Trump’s victory. To see the discussion, click on the CUNY Forum YouTube link below.

Elections 2016: Where Do We Go From Here?

Host: Bob Liff

Panelists:
Prof. Heath Brown, John Jay College
Leticia Remauro, Von Consulting
Gerson Borrero, City and State NY
Michael Benjamin, NY Post

https://youtu.be/WCQvQS9Z7oU

Michael Benjamin
@SquarePegDem
From my Samsung S6

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What Donald Trump’s Preet pick means for de Blasio, Cuomo and Giuliani | Crain’s

What Donald Trump’s Preet pick means for de Blasio, Cuomo and Giuliani

The possible reasons behind President-elect’s decision to keep U.S. Attorney Bharara By Jeremy Smerd

Of President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees so far, the most curious—from a New York perspective—is Preet Bharara, President Barack Obama’s U.S. attorney for the Southern District, who agreed last week to work under Republican Attorney General-nominee Jeff Sessions.

Sen. 
Charles Schumer, who had long ago hired Bharara as his chief counsel, reportedly blessed the deal, lending it an aura of bipartisanship.

The choice indicates that Trump, who has said he will “drain the swamp” in Washington, likes what Bharara has done so far in New York, where he has taken down former state Sen. Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, among others.

In Bharara, Trump finds a prosecutor who is above reproach and who can keep the pressure on Mayor Bill de Blasio, whom Trump has called “the worst mayor in the history of New York City.” Bharara is investigating the mayor’s fundraising operations and role in the sale of Long Island College Hospital. Retaining Bharara also makes life uncomfortable for Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Bharara recently obtained a guilty plea—and cooperation—from a Cuomo confidant and has charged others, including a former top aide, in a wide-ranging indictment involving the governor’s upstate economic-development programs.

All this suggests that Bharara will continue to be given wide discretion in how he conducts his job. Some insiders are speculating there could be fallout from Rudy Giuliani’s boast in October about having connections inside the FBI that would affect the election. “We’ve got a couple of surprises left,” the Trump surrogate told Fox News on Oct. 25. Three days later, FBI Director James Comey said agents working on the Anthony Weiner sexting investigation had found emails that appeared relevant to the Hillary Clinton email probe, which he had previously said was closed.

Some former prosecutors believe a Southern District investigation into a possible leak in the Weiner case is imminent, if not already underway. Bharara’s office declined to comment. “A leak of confidential law enforcement information is always troubling because it corrupts the integrity of our criminal justice system and calls its fairness into doubt,” said a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District.

“Nowhere is this more true than when the investigation itself involves allegations of corruption by public officials, because the leaks are inevitably seen as politically motivated attacks.” Giuliani was an effective surrogate but, like Gov. Chris Christie (and perhaps for similar reasons), he seems to have been pushed aside. If an investigation materializes, then Trump—intentionally or not—would really have a bipartisan claim to draining the swamp.

A version of this article appears in the December 5, 2016, print issue of Crain’s New York Busines

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Lobbyist’s income has tripled since Heastie became speaker | nypost.com

Lobbyist’s income has tripled since Heastie became speaker
By Carl Campanile
November 28, 2016

It pays to be a pal of the Assembly speaker.

Patrick Jenkins, a longtime friend and $4,000-a-month political adviser to Speaker Carl Heastie, who replaced corrupt Sheldon Silver in the powerful post, has seen his lobbying business triple since his buddy became speaker last year, according to records reviewed by The Post.

The number of lobbying clients represented by Patrick B. Jenkins & Associates skyrocketed from nine during the 2013-2014 legislative session to 27 in 2015-2016 sessions — making Heastie’s chum an emerging Albany power broker, records filed with the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics show.

https://www.google.com/amp/nypost.com/2016/11/28/lobbyists-income-has-tripled-since-heastie-became-speaker/amp/

Michael Benjamin
@SquarePegDem
862-232-4085
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Giving thanks: presidents from Washington to Obama | NY Post

By Post Editorial Board November 23, 2016 | 7:18pm

The first Thanksgiving in the New World was celebrated in 1621, nearly a year after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

In 1789, George Washington became the first of many US presidents to formally proclaim a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer”:

I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln likewise called for a day of Thanksgiving in November:

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

President Obama on Wednesday issued his own Thanksgiving proclamation:

Nearly 400 years ago, a small band of Pilgrims fled persecution and violence and came to this land as refugees in search of opportunity and the freedom to practice their faith. Though the journey was rough and their first winter harsh, the friendly embrace of an indigenous people, the Wampanoag — who offered gracious lessons in agriculture and crop production — led to their successful first harvest.

The Pilgrims were grateful they could rely on the generosity of the Wampanoag people, without whom they would not have survived their first year in the new land, and together they celebrated this bounty with a festival that lasted for days and prompted the tradition of an annual day of giving thanks.

This history teaches us that the American instinct has never been to seek isolation in opposite corners; it is to find strength in our common creed and forge unity from our great diversity. . . .

On this holiday, we count our blessings and renew our commitment to giving back. We give thanks for our troops and our veterans — and their families — who give of themselves to protect the values we cherish; for the first responders, teachers and engaged Americans who serve their communities; and for the chance to live in a country founded on the belief that all of us are created equal. . . .

For generations, our Nation’s progress has been carried forward by those who act on the obligations we have to one another. Each year on Thanksgiving, the selflessness and decency of the American people surface in food banks and shelters across our country, in time spent caring for the sick and the stranger, and in efforts to empathize with those with whom we disagree and to recognize that every individual is worthy of compassion and care. As we gather in the company of our friends, families, and communities — just as the Pilgrims and the Wam­panoag did centuries ago — let us strive to lift up others, promote tolerance and inclusiveness, and give thanks for the joy and love that surround all of us.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 24, 2016, as a National Day of Thanksgiving. I encourage the people of the United States to join together . . . and give thanks for all we have received in the past year, express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own, and share our bounty with others.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-third day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand sixteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-first.

http://nypost.com/2016/11/23/giving-thanks-presidents-from-washington-to-obama/

Michael Benjamin
@SquarePegDem
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Bill de Blasio’s Budget Blues | NY Post

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