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By Rick Moriarty

New York spends $7 billion annually on dozens of economic development programs, but it has no way of knowing whether it's getting its money's worth, according to a report by a coalition of public policy experts, government watchdogs, labor unions and community organizations.

The Alliance for a Greater New York said few of the state's programs require recipients of subsidies to set performance goals such as job creation. It said few require project-specific reporting or monitor the success of projects and that few allow for adequate public review or recourse when corporations fail to live up to their agreements.

"Our findings show that New York's current spending on economic development is more of a gamble than an investment," the group said Wednesday.

"This opaque and unaccountable system makes it impossible for the public or policymakers to determine if our $7 billion investment is working for New York," said the group, which is based in New York City but has affiliates across the state.

The alliance called on the state to adopt performance standards to evaluate the success of spending in relation to key goals, including job creation.

It also recommended that the state require companies to give back the subsidies they receive if they fail to meet their promised job creation goals.

"There's no good explanation why we should not have a money-back provision," said Matt Ryan, the alliance's executive director. "There shouldn't be any secret deals."

The group also urged the state to create a single web portal that allows the public to monitor the progress of every development project that receives a taxpayer subsidy.

Ryan said the organization believes the report is the first attempt by any organization to estimate the cost of New York's many economic development programs.

"This is the first comprehensive data gathering that we're aware of," he said. "This is the best estimate we have come up with, and we think it's a conservative estimate."

To come up with the estimate, the group analyzed the annual reports and audits of the state's economic development programs and the agencies that oversee them, he said.

Myriad programs hand out tax exemptions, tax credits, grants, tax-exempt bonds and discounted land to corporations in the name of job creation, economic growth and an improved quality of life. However, many do not set performance standards or give the public an easy way to monitor the spending of public money, the report said.

For example, there is no obligation that industrial development agencies establish job

retention or job creation goals for subsidy recipients, the report said. Of the 4,486 current IDA projects across the state, 1,161 of them do not promise to create a single job, it said.

"For the projects that do aim to create jobs, we found that 56 percent of these IDA projects failed to meet their job creation targets in 2011," the report said. "For the rest

of the economic development programs in New York state, we cannot analyze job creation data because comprehensive data is simply not available."

Read the full article at Syracuse Post-Standard.