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OpinionEditorial

Another IDA cautionary tale

The headquarters of Kravet Inc. in Bethpage on

The headquarters of Kravet Inc. in Bethpage on Feb. 19, 2020.  Credit: Randee Daddona

The story is a familiar one.

A company says it wants to stay on Long Island. Company executives say they’ll contribute to the economy, maintain existing jobs or even create new ones, but without tax breaks, they’ll leave.

And so, an Industrial Development Agency says yes.

But the story of Kravet Inc., a Bethpage fabric and furniture designer that wants to move to Woodbury, shows it shouldn’t be that simple.

Kravet is set to appear before the Nassau IDA for a discussion and potential vote Thursday on a 15-year package of tax incentives worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. IDA Chairman Richard Kessel says the agency is carefully looking at the company’s application. But Kravet’s request has left far more questions and concerns than answers. The IDA should turn it down.

Start with the supposed notion that without tax breaks, Kravet would leave Long Island. This is a company that designs and promotes luxurious linens, wall coverings and furniture. There’s a reason it is headquartered in an affluent market like Long Island. Even when asked this week by Kessel, company chief executive Cary Kravet didn’t indicate that the firm had definitive plans to leave, or even alternative locations in mind.

During a 15-minute public hearing Tuesday, Kessel also asked Kravet whether he’d commit to adding jobs. The company has cut about 60 jobs since the coronavirus pandemic began, Kravet said. His response didn’t guarantee any job creation: "Ideally, we would like to," he said.

That’s not good enough.

Then there are more sweeping questions regarding Kravet’s path to Woodbury. Kravet claims it was forced to leave its current headquarters because the Metropolitan Transportation Authority threatened to use eminent domain to take the property for use in the Long Island Rail Road’s third-track project. The MTA, which will use the property for long-term storage, says there was no such threat, that the property isn’t a part of third track, that it was on the market before the MTA approached, and that a deal was negotiated in good faith. Even if Kravet felt pressure to sell, that’s no reason to grant breaks. And the troubling lack of clarity muddles the application further.

Earlier this year, the company made the same claim when it was prepared to head to Suffolk, where it received extensive tax breaks for a property in Melville. But then, the firm pulled out of that deal, and came to Nassau instead. Why? So far, there’s no answer to that, either.

If approved, the Kravet application would be yet another example of why IDAs are seen as rubber stamps, offering tax breaks like candy to nearly all who seek them. Approving a request like Kravet’s without clear answers to the many questions would undermine the agency’s credibility and its promises to approve only deserving applications.

Instead, this should be a cautionary tale. Give every applicant going forward greater scrutiny and skeptism. That way, when worthy applications emerge — for job-creating companies, truly affordable housing, or important community projects that really need the assistance, taxpayers can have faith that "yes" is the right call.

— The editorial board

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