Like many states, New York set up a nifty website to solicit public input about how to spend its share of federal stimulus dollars. In casting a wide net, the state received some off-the-wall proposals, including $500,000 for a marijuana farm in Rochester in a state that has yet to legalize medical marijuana. And, not surprisingly, the sum cost of all the ideas submitted (about $100 billion) greatly exceeds the amount available for distribution (about $4 billion).
That the state surveyed citizens for suggestions about how to spend their share of the stimulus money is commendable. But that’s only part of the equation. It’s equally important that the state make public the process by which officials vet, prioritize, and green-light the more than 18,000 project submissions received. Without clear and transparent guidelines, it’s impossible for citizens to know how state agencies will weigh the stimulative value of a $500,000 pot farm against a $1.2 million composting facility or a $10 million aquatics center.
More than likely, the vast majority of New Yorkers who took the time to submit a request will soon receive a form rejection letter — “thanks, but no thanks” — without any explanation as to why their project was deemed unworthy of funding vis-à-vis the “winners.”