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Fiscal watchdog urges single IDA for Nassau and Suffolk

Carol Kellermann, president of the Citizens Budget Commission

Carol Kellermann, president of the Citizens Budget Commission Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Long Island should have one industrial development agency, not eight, to increase accountability and reduce competition between Nassau and Suffolk counties in attracting businesses, an influential fiscal watchdog said Monday.

The Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan think tank based in Manhattan, said each of the state’s 10 regions should have one IDA. There are now 107 IDAs across the state, and only one region, New York City, has just one IDA.

The commission, in a 31-page report, said IDAs and sister Local Development Corporations form a system that “is broken.”

“These quasi-governmental entities dole out billions of dollars with insufficient oversight and accountability,” CBC president Carol Kellermann said. “The system needs to be reformed to make sure taxpayers are getting the benefits they are promised.”

Advocates for IDAs said their familiarity with town and village issues makes them more effective in building local economies than agencies that are more removed.

“Each region is very different, and to make a blanket statement that ‘all IDAs need to operate in a certain fashion’ isn’t what’s best for regional economic development across New York State,” said Ryan M. Silva, executive director of the state Economic Development Council, an Albany-based group representing IDAs. “The IDAs and LDCs are working on the ground with various planning and zoning boards . . . to help get projects off the ground.”

He and others cited a March report from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli showing IDAs backed 4,484 building projects statewide in 2015 with nearly $700 million in tax incentives. Together, the projects had created 224,734 jobs through 2015 and were valued at $88.7 billion.

“By any objective evaluation that’s a pretty good return on investment,” Silva said.

CBC state studies director David Friedfel said the comptroller’s report is based on data from IDAs and some IDAs have been lacking in their reporting.

He said IDA projects with no job retention or creation requirements received almost $50 million in tax breaks in 2015.

All the projects were outside of New York City, and at least three were in Suffolk County, though each of the local projects had created jobs through 2015.

The CBC report concluded that businesses from one town or village “can be lured to another in the same region through tax incentives, without generating any real new jobs or additional revenue.”

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