Comptroller's Office shows that IDAs in Capital Region and Long Island provided the most tax breaks
Projects receiving tax exemptions created fewer jobs in 2012 than the previous year, a report by the Comptroller's Office found. According to a study conducted by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Industrial Development Agencies, which have the authority to provide tax exemptions to certain businesses and projects, yielded 2,400 fewer jobs than in 2011.
IDAs are one of the state's widely used economic development initiatives and seek to create and maintain jobs by providing tax breaks to businesses for locating to, or remaining in, New York. According to the Comptroller's Office, in 2012 the state's 112 active IDAs provided $1.3 billion in tax exemptions. However, this was partly offset by $766 million in payments-in-lieu of taxes meaning roughly $554 million in incentives was provided. This represents a 9.3 percent increase from 2011, yet fewer jobs were created as a result of the investments.
"In many parts of New York, IDA projects provide a much-needed boost to local economic development efforts," DiNapoli said. "However, I continue to stress the need for more accountability and disclosure to ensure taxpayers are getting their money's worth. Accurate reporting is vital for determining whether job creation goals are reaching their benchmarks and this report shows improvements need to be made."
According to comptroller's report, IDAs on Long Island and in the Capital Region provided the most tax breaks, totaling $118 million and $93.7 million respectively. Statewide, $552 million in local property tax exemptions and $461 million in school property tax exemptions were provided. Projects can also forgo local sales taxes, county property taxes and mortgage recording taxes with an IDA's approval.
IDAs are required to file a financial statement with the Comptroller's Office every year, including jobs created and exemptions provided. All but five Industrial Development Agencies filed information with the state — agencies overseeing the town of Corinth, city of Mechanicville/town of Stillwater, Montgomery County, city of Port Jervis and town of Waterford did not file the appropriate information, according to DiNapoli.
Sen. Liz Krueger, chair of the Budget and Tax Reform Committee, responded to the report saying it is further evidence that New York is wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on ineffective programs. Krueger said she recently met with farmers in the Hudson Valley who were desperate for money to preserve their farmland, and said $100 million in funding could change the agricultural future of New York.
"I heard testimony from environmental and medical experts explaining that our Department of Environmental Conservation somehow doesn't have the staff to ensure our environmental laws are being followed," Krueger, D-Manhattan, continued. "It's only quarter after three — I'm sure by five o'clock I'll have heard another sad example of how our state and local governments have to 'do more with less' because New Yorkers' tax dollars are being diverted into sweetheart deals instead of the services they're supposed to pay for."
Brian McMahon, executive director of the New York State Economic Development Council — which represents 900 economic development professionals — attributed the decrease in job creation to a slow economy and burdensome regulations imposed on businesses in the state. He also stressed the role of IDA projects in retaining jobs that would have otherwise been lost, saying just because a new job wasn't created, doesn't mean the incentive hasn't been effective.
"Job creation often is the reason why IDAs support a project, but retention is also very important, especially in regard to manufacturing projects," McMahon said.
Industrial Development Agencies file online with the Authorities Budget Office through the Public Authorities Reporting Information System. McMahon said this process could be improved by allowing for data to be edited once filed to correct mistakes.
Upon issuing the report, DiNapoli advocated for a number of reforms to the system, including improving the accuracy of data reporting; requiring IDAs to publish an annual report card on individual projects; using uniform applications and developing objective evaluations of projects; and allowing for the recapture of funds if goals are not met.
DiNapoli has introduced a piece of legislation reflecting his agenda for reforming the IDA system and the bill (S. 5551) is currently in the Senate Rules Committee. There is no same-as bill in the Assembly.
The Alliance for a Greater New York, a progressive economic justice group, has been highly critical of the incentive programs offered by the state, particularly Industrial Development Agencies, saying there is little accountability and reporting practices are unreliable. The group supports a piece of legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, called the Just and Open Business Subsidies Act.
"Oversight agencies like the Comptroller's Office have been sounding the alarm about the shortcomings — and huge expense — of job creation programs like Industrial Development Agencies, and lawmakers in Albany are taking notice," said Emily Goldstein, statewide organizer for ALIGN. "The Just and Open Business Subsidies Act was recently introduced to ensure New York's taxpayers get our money's worth from IDAs and other corporate subsidy programs. We are hopeful that by incorporating best practices in economic development and by bringing long overdue reforms to many of the state's legacy subsidy programs, New Yorkers can begin to see the job growth and better return on investment they deserve."
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