Our government spends billions of dollars each year on lavish corporate subsidies, but these investments too often fail to create the good jobs New Yorkers need and leave local communities without much needed revenue. It’s time we get our money’s worth from economic development programs.New York created Industrial Development Agencies, or IDAs, in 1969 to serve as engines of economic growth for our communities and to advance the “job opportunities, health, general prosperity and economic welfare of the people of the state of New York.”
Unfortunately, IDAs are not living up to their promises. Each year, IDAs provide hundreds of millions of our tax dollars to private businesses who in turn commit to create or retain jobs. However, much of this money goes to companies that create poverty-wage jobs, no jobs at all, or some that actually cut jobs. The patchwork of 116 IDAs throughout the state often pits community against community, resulting in job shifting instead of new job creation.
As quasi-private agencies, IDAs don’t measure up to the level of accountability and transparency that taxpayers deserve, so we’re too often left footing the bill for failed IDA projects. IDAs are virtually autonomous from local and state governments, school boards, or any other government department or agency. IDAs grant corporations hundreds of millions of tax breaks each year—resources that would have otherwise been used for government services like schools and childcare programs, community centers, parks, libraries, and infrastructure like public transit and decent roads.
A growing coalition of public policy experts, government watchdogs, businesses, and environmental advocates as well as worker, community, and religious organizations are calling for a better solution. In a time of economic and budget crises, we need to reform our economic development programs to stem wasteful spending, create quality jobs throughout the state, and set New York on a path to economic recovery and sustainable growth.
As the main economic development and job creation engines in our state, IDAs could play a pivotal role in revitalizing our local, regional, and statewide economies. With common sense reform, they could become the strategic investment vehicles they were originally intended to be, investing in industries that build the middle class and creating the good jobs we need now. Through accountability and transparency measures, we could ensure that publicly-funded projects are actually benefiting the public, and that local community members have a voice in decision-making. We need to get our money’s worth by reforming IDAs now.