There has been a sharp and growing economic divide between upstate and downstate.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s economic development programs have been the subject of two federal corruption trials that ended with convictions for two of Cuomo’s former associates. But some say problems with the $9 billion programs go beyond corruption and that the structure of the programs is flawed.
Since taking office in 2011, Gov. Cuomo has doled out more than $10 billion in public funding and tax breaks in the name of economic development — costly giveaways that have resulted in a series of broken promises and boondoggles.
The overarching scandal here wasn’t bid-rigging or the pay-to-play pattern in the developers’ contributions to the governor’s reelection campaign. At the root was a simply awful public policy — corporate welfare on steroids — that neither Cuomo nor most of his critics have definitively renounced, even now.
The Empire Center, a government watchdog group in Albany, calls it the “biggest, murkiest, pork-barrel slush fund Albany (and perhaps any state capital) has ever seen.”
The allocation is slipped into the state budget without any explanation from legislative leaders and the governor.
“There should be a way to make this happen without giving away the store,” said E.J. McMahon, research director of the Empire Center for Public Policy, an Albany think tank that advocates for smart-government and free-market policies.
“We’re passed the point of needing to increase the scrutiny on the state’s economic development programs,” said Ken Girardin, communications and marketing manager with the Albany-based Empire Center of Public Policy. “Lawmakers should be pulling the plug on them. They’re a distraction from the policies that hinder economic growth, especially upstate. Every time the state launches another economic development program, they’re basically shaking a jingly set of car keys to distract people from the underlying policies that they are unwilling to fix.”
Earlier this month, Gov. Cuomo paid a visit to the centerpiece of his upstate economic development strategy: a massive, still unfinished “gigafactory” taxpayers spent $750 million to build and equip for SolarCity, a money-losing company with a foggy future.
“This is the economy of tomorrow,” the governor gushed, according to a Buffalo News account. “It’s such a metaphor — a symbol of everything we’re doing.”
Indeed. But rather than symbolizing a shiny high-tech future, the solar-panel factory could become a monument to what US Attorney Preet Bharara described as “pervasive corruption and fraud” allegedly infecting Cuomo’s signature economic development programs.