Published 11:01 pm, Monday, February 13, 2017
The state grants money to political contributors who don't seem to need the help.
Even if this is technically proper, what does it say about how public funds are doled out?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo assures New Yorkers there is nothing wrong with a politically generous company getting more than $25 million in taxpayer funds for projects it doesn't seem to have needed any help with.
Perhaps if Mr. Cuomo took off his governor's hat for a moment and put on his old attorney general's cap, he'd realize how odd this looks. Odd enough, surely, for an investigation. And odd enough, at least, for a second look at how the state doles out grants.
The projects were developed by Crystal Run Healthcare, which built two medical office buildings in Orange and Rockland counties, breaking ground in the fall of 2015.
There is no indication they were strapped for cash. The company, owned by affluent physicians, had picked up $141 million from the sale of properties in 2013. Yet last March, when the state awarded more than $1 billion for health care capital projects and infrastructure improvements, Crystal Run was awarded $25.4 million for the two ventures.
Officers in Crystal Run have together given $400,000 to the governor's campaign, mainly in 2013. For many, it was the only political donation in the last decade.
Those donations, says the administration, had nothing to do with the public grants. The governor's office scoffs at the idea that there is any cause for concern that all that public money materialized after the medical office projects were being built. "No donation of any size impacts a government action, period, and it is both irresponsible and a disservice to the Times Union's readers to imply otherwise," says the governor's spokesman, Rich Azzopardi.
The administration's response is as gratuitous as it is self-righteous. Is Mr. Cuomo really asking people to believe campaign contributions aren't the grease that makes so many wheels in government turn? If political donations were just some harmless expression of support for politicians, why then all the talk in Albany, year in and year out, including from Mr. Cuomo himself, about limiting campaign contributions to thwart corruption?
The state says the grant program considered a host of factors, of which financial need was only one, and that the grantees were chosen in the same order in which they ranked in the evaluation of their applications.
The circumstances raise at least two issues. One is whether there was any connection between the donations and the grant awards. That's a matter for the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or a prosecutor. And yes, this may be just a coincidence — some donors who support the governor and his positions on health care happened to propose projects worth underwriting.
The other issue is why, even if nothing is amiss, the state hands out grant money to projects that may not need such help. Shouldn't public dollars underwrite worthy projects that wouldn't otherwise get done?
It seems irresponsible, and a disservice to New Yorkers, to not ask.