Since the Buffalo Billion scandal in 2016, government watchdog groups have been trying to pass a selection of bills that would restore oversight, as well as create more transparency around state economic development deals.
“There are a number of different bills that would go a long way to restoring some sanity to a rather chaotic economic development system,” Ron Deutsch, director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, told Capital Tonight. “For the last decade, I would suggest, we have been subjected to what I like to call ‘Cuomo-nomic Development’, where Gov. Cuomo was really trying to take the reins of the economic development programs, and moving things in the directions that benefitted him and the folks that he wanted to benefit.”
Three bills in particular are at the top of watchdogs’ “to do” list, including:
- ending State Opportunity Zone tax breaks
- ending nondisclosure provisions from being included in state or local economic development contracts
- restoring the state comptroller’s review powers
“A number (of bills) have been recently passed by the Senate in the past week. So, we are really trying to see if the Assembly will move these bills in the few days left of session,” said Deutsch.
There are only a handful days left in the legislative session.
“Speed is of utmost importance here in terms of getting these passed,” Deutsch said.
Both houses did pass one bill that Deutsch described as “low-hanging fruit." The Empire State Development Transparency bill A9622/S8419A will require Empire State Development to publicly post the listing of community advisory meetings, meeting agendas and minutes on its website.
Still waiting for passage in the Assembly is a bill that would end State Opportunity Zone tax breaks (A8081A/S6800A). While the 2021 budget was supposed to end the tax break, there is a loophole that Deutsch said could cost taxpayers $420 million a year starting in 2029.
“It’s a way for wealthy individuals to defer capital gains taxes on their investment income,” Deutsch explained.
Another bill that the state Senate has passed but the Assembly has not would restore the comptroller’s review power over state contracts (A7925A/S6809A).
“This would restore the comptroller’s 100-year-old power to audit and pre-audit contracts that the state enters into,” said Deutsch.
“Had the comptroller had that power when the Buffalo bid rigging scandal was taking place, they would have been able to catch that on the early end and prevent over $1 billion in wasted funds.”
The Legislative session is scheduled to end June 2.