Jack Martins, the GOP candidate for Nassau County executive, called Tuesday for an overhaul of the county’s Industrial Development Agency to increase transparency, boost the use of local labor and encourage better cooperation with local governments.
Nassau’s IDA, which provides economic assistance to companies to relocate or expand, has come under criticism in recent years for granting tax breaks to self-storage facilities and car dealerships that created only a handful of full-time jobs.
“Often times, the IDA is not working in tandem with our local governments,” Martins said at a news conference after a debate with Democratic County executive candidate Laura Curran at the East Farmingdale Fire Department. “The economic impact that should be there from these development initiatives aren’t seen.”
Martins, a former state senator and Mineola mayor, would require developers seeking IDA tax breaks to inform local community leaders of their intentions during the permitting and zoning approval process. He also would require the IDA board to include one representative from local government; make developers that win tax breaks use local labor and institute a “comprehensive conflict of interest checklist” to ensure IDA staff and board members do not stand to gain from projects.
Curran said Martins’ proposals do not go far enough.
“For too long, the Nassau County IDA has been a mechanism for rewarding the elected and connected rather than create real, good-paying jobs,” Curran said. “Jack Martins’ plan to ‘fix’ the IDA is nothing more than campaign-season window dressing and does nothing to separate the IDA from the political machine that’s used it as a tool to support the culture of corruption.”
Nassau IDA Executive Director Joseph Kearney said the agency has brought 25,000 new jobs to the county since 2010 “and the unemployment rate is currently the lowest in the metropolitan area.”
Martins declined to criticize Kearney and said he was not ready say whether he would keep him in place if elected in November.
However, Martins said the IDA “needs to think big again” and called it a “disgrace” that there are no Fortune 500 companies in Nassau. There is one in Suffolk — Henry Schein Inc. of Melville — three in Westchester and 16 in Northern New Jersey, Martins said.
A March 2017 report by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found that Nassau in 2015 — the most recent year available — gave $81.4 million in total tax exemptions, creating 5,323 jobs and retaining 15,075 more. Suffolk in 2015 granted nearly $25 million in tax exemptions to create 11,048 jobs and retain 7,771 others, the report said.
A report earlier this year from Good Jobs First, a watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. found the Nassau and Suffolk’s IDAs tied for third nationwide among government bodies that award tax breaks to businesses in terms of information available on the internet about companies receiving property tax breaks.