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Opinion Editorial by Candice Rubin

June 5, 2011

Residents of Monroe County are painfully aware of the impact of state budget cuts on our local economy. As leaders look at the local jobs crisis, they must take inventory of how our current efforts fail.

Industrial Development Agencies were created by the state in 1969 to fuel job development through the means of strategic tax breaks to businesses. Unfortunately, IDAs have become part of a sprawling economic development system which lacks transparency and accountability and simply fails to provide promised jobs.

The Fiscal Policy Institute estimates that corporate tax breaks and loopholes cost taxpayers more than $8 billion annually.

New York's IDAs have provided corporations with grants, tax breaks and/or low-cost bond financing. A Metro Justice report found that the missing revenue has, in fact, helped increase the levy on local taxpayers, with estimates of Henrietta homeowners paying an extra $500 per year to subsidize the largesse of COMIDA, Monroe County's IDA. In Brighton, it has been estimated that IDAs create a revenue loss equivalent to the removal of 142 homes from the tax rolls.

When businesses fail to provide promised jobs, there are no provisions for returning lost tax dollars. IDA boards are unelected, with virtually no accountability to the public. This formula seems to be a recipe for cronyism and abuse.

Is COMIDA creating jobs? In many instances, it functions to allow businesses to merely relocate from one suburb to another, sometimes giving a competitive edge to one business at the expense of another, producing few if any jobs in the process.

Statewide, the net tax exemptions to IDAs almost doubled between 2003 and 2008, worsening budget deficits that remove teachers and librarians from our communities.

Over 80 percent of IDA spending results in a net revenue loss to local governments, and many of the COMIDA subsidies seem to defy logic.

IDAs should not function as a public ATM for politically connected businesses, nor should they be extended to businesses which slash or fail to create jobs at a living wage.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's answer to IDA excess is the creation of 10 Regional Economic Development Councils. It is imperative that the councils not continue failed policies of the past. Cuomo must work with community and labor allies to create a sustainable economy with shared prosperity.

Our community needs more quality jobs at family-sustaining wages, not more wasteful corporate handouts.

Rubin, of Pittsford, is a councilmember of MetroJustice.