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State watchdog seeks end to employer tax breaks

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul at a Cabinet Meeting in the Red Room at the Capitol in Albany on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. Credit: Governor’s Office


An independent, nonpartisan watchdog said Tuesday that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed budget should end the practice of providing tax breaks to employers, including Hollywood producers, in the face of questionable results in preserving or creating jobs.

“These proposals should be rejected and a moratorium on new economic development programs imposed until more transparency and results are achieved in the existing programs,” Citizens Budget Commission President Carol Kellermann said in a letter to legislators.

Cuomo has greatly increased tax breaks and aid to major employers since he took office in 2010.

In his 2017-2018 budget proposal, he seeks $319 million more in funding for the state’s Empire State Development agency. Cuomo also would boost other economic development capital spending by $334 million to $650 million, according to the CBC’s analysis.

The CBC, a nonprofit civic group which focuses on state and New York City finances, also called for an end to the state’s $420 million per year film tax credit aimed at luring Hollywood film and television productions to New York.

“Many other states have repealed or substantially decreased their film tax credit, and it is time for New York to do the same,” Kellermann stated.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has also questioned the value, oversight and accountability of Cuomo’s economic development programs.

A federal investigation is underway into allegations of bid-rigging and corruption in Cuomo’s signature Buffalo Billion project and another near Syracuse that involves developers who are significant Cuomo campaign contributors. Cuomo hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing.

In a rare news conference in Albany on Tuesday, Cuomo defended the economic programs and their oversight.

“You do have independent oversight, that’s called 62 district attorneys, the state attorney general, U.S. attorneys general,” Cuomo said. “So that is independent oversight and obviously it has been effective. You can’t say there hasn’t been independent oversight ... I am saying there is enough.”

Cuomo didn’t respond to a question about whether he has talked to or is scheduled to talk to the U.S. attorney’s office about any of his economic development programs.

Cuomo said his economic development programs are doing “extraordinarily well ... You go to Buffalo, and it is a different city. You go to all the numbers of this state and it’s irrefutable that the economic development programs have worked.”

Asked to point to proof of the specific programs’ effectiveness, Cuomo cited declining unemployment and rising employment rates since he took office at the end of the recession.

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