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IDAs would get new scrutiny under new state bill

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli speaks during

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli speaks during the annual meeting of the Business Council of New York State at the Sagamore Resort on Friday, Sept. 19, 2014, in Bolton Landing, N.Y. DiNapoli has pushed for more scrutiny of industrial development agencies, which give tax breaks to companies that create jobs. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

ALBANY -- Industrial development agencies that dole out millions of dollars in tax breaks would face greater scrutiny under a new measure that would force companies to repay the value of their tax benefits if they fail to deliver on job promises.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is reviewing the bill, which he could sign into law or veto, Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said.

The measure pushed by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli includes the first "claw back" provision that could apply to all tax breaks issued to companies in exchange for creating or retaining jobs.

A state law two years ago required companies that fail to keep their promises to increase or retain jobs to pay back the state sales tax they avoided.

Local agencies often have required claw backs, but they weren't in law.

The pending bill would require each IDA to create standard forms for companies seeking tax breaks that would be enforceable by perjury laws. Companies also would have to specify the number of projected jobs, their salaries and benefits and a deadline for creating the positions.

The legislation would require firms to provide a schedule for making "payments in lieu of taxes," report on progress toward job goals annually and state in writing that they "likely" couldn't retain or increase jobs without the tax break.

"This is the first time in I don't know how many years there has been a breakthrough on IDA reform," DiNapoli said in an interview. Negotiations with business, labor and IDA lobbyists led to unanimous approval in the Senate and a 138-2 vote in the Assembly last month.

DiNapoli, a Great Neck Plaza Democrat, issued a report in May that showed that tax breaks had grown dramatically in recent years, but job creation from the projects slowed.

Statewide, 4,709 projects were given breaks by IDAs valued at $76.8 billion in 2013. The largest number of projects -- 851 -- were on Long Island. DiNapoli said the agencies' operations cost on average $823,000 a year.

"Looking at IDAs not just in Nassau County but across the state, there needs to be more accountability and transparency," said Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont), co-sponsor of the bill. "We want to make sure we use taxpayers' dollars in the wisest way, and with these IDAs, we don't know."

"Are they really creating jobs?" asked Sen. Kathy Marchione (R-Halfmoon), the Senate sponsor. "This will be a tool."

Former Assemb. Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester) said that under the legislation a "deviation letter" can be written late in the process that suspends the requirement that jobs be created. Brodsky called that a "giant loophole."

"Most of the time these projects are for the wealthiest corporations in the nation and don't create jobs," said Brodsky, now a political scientist at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University. "Until they close that loophole, these are just parlor games."DiNapoli's office said the new measure still provides more transparency in the rare instances when companies seek to avoid job commitments, and provides agencies with more power to push back.

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