Last week before the meeting of the Niagara County Legislature, the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission doled out 19 checks to various business and community groups scattered across Niagara County. Ranging in amounts from $1,200 to $2,400, the grants largely went for flower baskets, tourist brochures and assorted projects including signage and banners, guidebooks and holiday lights.
As is the practice with government these days, the Bridge Commission's largesse was derived from the public in the form of bridge tolls, and then a portion of these tolls, what was left after satisfying numerous six-figure salaries, was ceremoniously returned to the public in the form of large symbolic checks amid enthusiastic applause. Also in keeping with modern times, the Commission assumed the role of picking winners and losers, since it lamented that the total $36,141 handed out fell short of total requests of $52,342.
In the past, we have reported on other ways the Bridge Commission buys love from local communities. For example, they bankrolled the Buffalo PBS-affiliate WNED-TV's warped and politically-correct "The War of 1812" show. The Bridge Commission also is donating over $9,000 to the 2014 Lewiston Jazz Festival.
This charitable giving is unauthorized and possibly illegal according to a ruling issued by Andrew Cuomo when he was New York State Attorney General several years ago. Cuomo strongly chastised a similarly structured public benefit corporation, NYPA, from making similar grants when he issued an opinion which stated in part, "With respect to the charitable giving program, we find nothing in the powers, duties, or purposes of (a public authority) that renders improving community goodwill or the well-being of the community unrelated to the provision of electrical service as part of (its) mission... Moreover, the beneficial corporate public relations generated by the largesse made in the name of public utilities essentially advances predominately the private interests of the utility corporations... and are too peripheral to the service interests of the ratepayers. For these reasons, we are of the opinion that the charitable contribution program is not authorized."
It takes rather large stones for the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission, a public authority, to continue to gift out toll revenue squeezed out of bridge users in the face of the AG ruling, don't you think?