ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s economic development agency has often failed to adequately report data that would show whether the tax breaks it provides to attract and retain employers have been good deals for taxpayers, according to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
In a report disputed by Cuomo, DiNapoli said Wednesday that the Empire State Development Corp. failed to meet more than half the reporting requirements for tax credits and job creation as it dispensed hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks. DiNapoli said that from 2012 to 2016, the period reviewed, there were no reports for 12 programs that provided $500 million in aid.
“Too often Empire State Development Corp. is either late or not reporting on the results of economic development programs,” DiNapoli said in issuing his report on Wednesday. “We need better reporting to ensure transparency in economic development spending and to promote an informed analysis on the return of the investments state taxpayers make in these programs.”
For example, DiNapoli said 47 percent of reports required by law about job production weren’t filed by the ESD. In addition, 61 percent of reports required for 152 job-creation programs weren’t completed, he said.
DiNapoli unfairly and inaccurately focused on select programs that resulted in a conclusion that “profoundly misrepresents our efforts,” said Empire State Development spokesman Jason Conwall. He said many of the reports DiNapoli said are missing are connected to programs that aren’t required to issue reports, other projects are headed by local development companies, not the ESD; and other projects are no longer active or have been transferred to other agencies.
Conwall said the audit by the Democratic comptroller is fueled by politics, which is a concern raised by the Democratic governor after some past critical audits.
“This report is yet another example of a politically motivated ‘independent audit’ that cherry-picks information . . . ,” Conwall said. “ESD holds itself to the highest standards and consistently adheres to robust standards of transparency and disclosure.”
A spokesman for DiNapoli, a Great Neck Plaza Democrat, denied any political motivation in the audit.
“Our audit showed that, despite its protestations, ESD is not reporting to the public the results of myriad programs that are supposed to create economic development and jobs,” said spokesman Mark Johnson. “The comprehensive audit, conducted by professional staff, is an honest assessment of ESD’s failure to show taxpayers what they are getting for their money.”
Cuomo has said the best proof of the success of his economic development programs has been a record increase in private sector jobs, reduced unemployment and major commercial projects being built statewide with help from the tax breaks.