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New database tracks state tax breaks, loans, grants to firms since 2018

Empire State Development CEO Eric Gertler talk to

Empire State Development CEO Eric Gertler talk to reporters in New York City in June 2019. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo/Kevin P. Coughlin

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration has published a database of construction projects, company expansions, tourism promotions and worker training programs that have been granted state aid since 2018.

The Database of Economic Incentives from Empire State Development, the state’s primary business-aid agency, has been highly anticipated by state lawmakers and good-government groups in Albany who have been calling for one for years.

The public database contains information about 1,074 projects statewide, including 78 on Long Island, that were approved by ESD in the past three years for loans, grants, tax credits, employee training awards and START-UP NY tax exemptions.

The aid totals $3.1 billion — but only about $800 million has been distributed so far. Benefits are paid out once the work has been completed, and the projects in the database are all in their early stage, ESD officials said.

Job creation and preservation

The database shows only one project – a company expansion in Rochester – hasn't kept the employment and/or investment promises made in return for state aid.

Among the projects, 45% require a specific number of jobs to be created and/or preserved. So far, 2,870 jobs have been created across the state, 8% of the promised 35,450. An additional 85,780 jobs have been preserved.

ESD CEO Eric Gertler said the database "contains thousands of data points enabling New Yorkers to know more about the work of our agency and our commitment to public transparency."

The database supplements more than 50 reports that ESD produces either quarterly or annually about its efforts to bolster New York’s economy.

Impetus for database

Gertler and his predecessor, Howard Zemsky, have been criticized by legislators during budget hearings about the absence of what they call "a database of deals." Two years ago, Cuomo directed that a database be constructed, though ESD cannot go back in time more than three years because of its new "data management" software.

Calls for the database intensified after the 2018 conviction of eight people for steering more than $850 million in state-funded contracts to Cuomo allies for development projects upstate, including the Tesla solar-panel factory in Buffalo. The "Buffalo billion" scandal brought down longtime Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco, who was convicted of taking $300,000 in bribes from developers.

ESD officials said the database will be updated every three months.

One of the good-government groups that pushed for the database's creation, New York Public Interest Research Group, said Friday that information about more deals needs to be included.

ESD's database "is too weak," NYPIRG executive director Blair Horner said. "It needs to cover more contracts and provide more comprehensive information for the public to examine."

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