That’s how state Assemblyman Marc Butler describes the state’s economic development programs.
“Something pops up here. Something pops up there,” the Newport Republican said. “We’re a little fuzzy on how these projects are approved, what the process is and who really writes the checks.”
Following state and federal investigations into accusations of public corruption and bid-rigging surrounding multimillion-dollar projects in Buffalo, Albany and Syracuse, Butler, Assemblyman Brian Miller, R-New Hartford, and other members of the Assembly’s Republican minority are urging the passage of a bill that would include better oversight and transparency measures on economic development spending and lump-sum state spending.
“Some of these things just pop up out of nowhere,” said Butler, a co-sponsor of the bill. “Of course, we have the Buffalo Billion and what’s been going on with nanotech and some of the questions and some of the flags that’s raised. I just think we need more openness and more accountability with those types of projects.”
Miller, another co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement that a “great deal of controversy” has surrounded Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “pet economic development projects and the funding that accompanies them,” referencing the indictments of ex-Cuomo aides Joe Percoco and Todd Howe, who were indicted on federal bribery charges related to the Buffalo Billion project ,and the indictment of Alain Kaloyeros, former president and CEO of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, on charges related to a bid-rigging scheme.
“This legislation will make the governor and his cronies accountable to the taxpayers for how their hard-earned money is spent and stop him from continuing to use your tax dollars like a personal piggy bank to win favor with future political donors,” Miller said in the statement.
Cuomo’s office did not respond to a several requests for comment.
The push for reform follows a six-month investigation by USA Today’s Network in New York found that since Cuomo took office in 2011, state programs were underperforming and lacked transparency when it came to how taxpayer money was spent.
In a May, an audit by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli showed that Empire State Development, which is the state’s chief economic development agency, failed to meet more than half of the reporting requirements for tax credit and job creation programs, according to a news release from DiNapoli’s office. This diminished transparency and accountability, the release stated.
State Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, said he supports efforts for more transparency such as legislation that would strengthen the reporting requirement for the StartUp NY program so the public knows how many jobs are or aren’t being created, as well procurement reform and giving the comptroller greater insight. Brindisi also said he supports legislation that would close the LLC loophole that would prevent people or entities from making shady campaign contributions to candidates and hiding behind the veil of a limited liability corporation.
“I think there is always a need for more transparency on how we spend state dollars,” he said, “and I believe that we should give more authority to the comptroller to oversee some of these big ticket economic development projects to ensure state taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.”
State Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, and chairman of the Assembly’s Economic Development Committee, also has introduced legislation that would create a searchable database of state economic development benefits such as subsidies given to various entities. The database would be open to the public and Schimminger said it would better allow the public to understand job commitments that are made by businesses in programs run by Empire State Development and other stage agencies aimed at economic development.
“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.”
© 2017 Utica Observer-Dispatch