New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), who was elevated to that position to replace disgraced Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) following his resignation, appears to be seeking any advantage she can get over her Republican gubernatorial nominee, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R), ahead of the general election in November.
That apparently involves her doling out taxpayer funds from a nearly $1 billion purported “slush fund” in order to “buy” support and votes, particularly in Zeldin’s home district of Long Island, the New York Post reported.
Eyebrows have been raised by the seemingly political disbursement of the funds, more than half of which is not subject to any sort of earmarks by the state legislature and can be handed out by the governor to just about anyone, anywhere, for any or no reason at all.
Massive slush fund at Hochul’s discretion
In July, a nonpartisan watchdog group in New York known as the Citizens Budget Commission announced that its review of the state’s recently approved $220.5 billion 2023 budget included numerous “late additions” that had not been included in any of the submitted budget proposals or were part of any negotiations that totaled around $1.6 billion, including $920 million in “lump sums” that could be spent with little or no direction or oversight.
That $920 million, all financed by debt, were divided into three separate pots, only the first of which, worth around $385 million, was subject to any prior agreements with the legislature and required the approval of the Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader prior to distribution.
Of the remaining $535 million, $350 million was designated as the Long Island Investment Fund while $185 million was designated as the Local Community Assistance Program, and aside from some pre-existing “parameters” on how the Long Island funds could be disbursed, there were no agreements with the legislature on how and where those funds should be spent, with such decisions being left to the governor’s discretion.
The CBC warned that the “lump sum” funds were “ripe for political allocation” instead of being based on actual needs and lamented the lack of proper legislative oversight or transparency that risked allowing “ad hoc spending on just about any purpose with limited oversight or input outside the Executive branch.”
Dishing out taxpayer funds in Zeldin’s backyard
The CBC’s concerns in July about how the nearly $1 billion slush fund could be abused for “political allocation” appear to have been prescient, as the local Spectrum News reported in late September that Gov. Hochul was already doling out tens of millions of taxpayer dollars in Rep. Zeldin’s home base of Long Island just weeks ahead of their election.
That included $10 million for Northwell Health to construct new research labs on Long Island, according to Spectrum, as well as $50 million made available by Hochul in competitive grants to “attract and grow companies in the life sciences, health technology, and medical device sectors” in Zeldin’s home district, per the Post.
“Kathy Hochul hasn’t simply blurred the line between governing and campaigning — she’s completely erased it,” state Senate Minority Leader Will Barclay (R) told the Post. “New York has the least transparent budget process imaginable and what we’re seeing now is a product of creating pools of money with no guidelines whatsoever.”
Corrupt like Cuomo
The Post noted that several critics compared Gov. Hochul to her predecessor, ex-Gov. Cuomo, and harshly maligned the apparent “crony capitalism” and “pre-election Santa Claus giveaway to key voting constituencies” that used taxpayer funds to “benefit her reelection drive.”
Of course, Hochul’s office defended her actions without addressing the specific critiques, as a spokesperson told the Post that “Hochul worked with the legislature to craft a fiscally responsible budget, using an influx of federal pandemic relief to make strategic investments in public safety, infrastructure, and tax relief while also making unprecedented deposits in rainy day reserves to protect against future uncertainty — even leading to Moody’s upgrading the state’s credit rating after the budget was passed.”