GOP lawmakers seek reforms of economic development programs

Robin Schimminger: "Who's minding the store?"

June 13, 2018 - 7:24 pm
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ALBANY, N.Y. (WBEN/AP) — The state Assembly's Republican minority called Wednesday for passage of bills that could make economic development programs more transparent, an issue the GOP and even some fellow Democrats have hammered Gov. Andrew Cuomo over as he seeks re-election to a third term.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, backed by other Assembly GOP lawmakers, said during a news conference held outside the Democrat-controlled chamber that New York taxpayers deserve more transparency and accountability for the billions spent each year to spur economic growth across the state.

Assembly Republicans specifically are calling for votes on two bills that would provide stronger oversight of state procurement and establish a "database of deals" that would include information on entities receiving state economic development benefits. Both measures overwhelmingly passed in the Republican-led state Senate.

"So we ask: 'What's the holdup? Why are we not voting?'" said Kolb, who represents part of the Finger Lakes region.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, didn't respond to a request for comment on the economic development legislation.

Critics of Cuomo's economic development policies say the state gives out billions in tax breaks and other corporate incentives each year without providing clear evidence New York taxpayers are getting a good return on their investments.

Good-government groups say the current system leaves programs vulnerable to insider manipulation and corruption. For evidence they point to this year's conviction of a former top Cuomo aide on bribery charges and the impending bid-rigging trial of a former top adviser to the governor, with both cases stemming from economic development projects.

"People are wondering, 'Who's minding the store?'" said Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, a Buffalo-area Democrat who sponsored one of the two still-languishing oversight bills.

Republicans have pointed to some of the state's economic development moves as examples of Cuomo's wasting taxpayer dollars on handouts to billion-dollar corporations. Marc Molinaro, the GOP Dutchess County executive running for governor in November, particularly took issue with the $1 million in incentives Cadillac received as it moved its headquarters from Detroit to Manhattan.

"Andrew Cuomo needs to explain why he would give a million taxpayer dollars to a company that sold more than 356,000 vehicles last year," Molinaro said this week. "To suggest that Cadillac would abandon its New York City headquarters unless it was handed a million public dollars is preposterous in the extreme."

Cynthia Nixon, the actress and activist challenging Cuomo in the Democratic primary, has also criticized his economic development policies, particularly regarding upstate projects that haven't produced the number of jobs promised.

"The money Cuomo has spent upstate has been riddled with corruption, going into the pockets of his donors rather than toward projects that will create good, high-paying jobs for local residents," Nixon said this month.

The Cuomo administration defends its policies, saying they've helped generate billions in investment and brought thousands of jobs to New York state.

"In an increasingly competitive and globalized economy, New York will never stop working to attract quality, good-paying jobs and top-notch companies from around the world," said Amy Varghese, spokeswoman for Empire State Development, the state's main economic development agency.

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