Editorial: Bills would provide oversight

Lawmakers have chance to increase transparency, reduce corruption in economic development
State Capitol Building in Albany.
State Capitol Building in Albany.

Well thought-out. Pragmatic. Workable. In the best interests of the citizens.

Those are four fair ways to described proposed legislation designed to improve the state’s largely ineffective, secretive and potentially corrupt economic development efforts.

State lawmakers have a chance to score an ‘A’ for effort if they pass three such bills before they leave Albany for the summer this week.

The odds of them doing so are slim, especially considering all the work they’ve left for the last scheduled day of the legislative session. But economic development reform —where hundreds of millions of tax dollars are distributed, often in an ineffective and unethical way — is where the Legislature has a chance make a significant mark this week.

We’ve editorialized in favor of one of the bills already, the Procurement Integrity Act (A6355/S3984), which would restore and expand the power of the state comptroller to review state contracts, as well as make the process more transparent. This independent review is needed to assure New Yorkers that lucrative state contracts aren’t being granted to favored businesses and individuals in exchange for campaign contributions or other financial favors.

The governor doesn’t support this because he wants to keep the authority for himself or one of his own appointee, which is exactly why the Legislature should pass this bill.

There are two other bills pending that also will help add a degree of integrity and public accountability to the economic development process.

One bill, S6613, would require the Urban Development Corporation to work with the state Department of Economic Development to create a searchable online database listing  those receiving economic development benefits in the state. The list would include the types and amounts of economic aid entities received, as well as the programs for which they received the benefits, the number of jobs they created, and a statement declaring the company had complied with all conditions for receiving economic development aid.

Often, the state awards money to companies that promise a certain number of jobs, but fail to meet those goals. And detailed reports are often incomplete or the public is denied access to them. This would put all that information online for all to see to ensure the taxpayers’ economic development money is being spent effectively and as intended. 

A third bill (A5405/S922) would require more information about members of the state’s Regional Economic Development Councils, which together distributed nearly $3 billion of economic development aid from 2011-2015. Right now, membership is determined by the governor with little oversight.

This bill would require members to file financial disclosure forms and adhere to state ethics rules regarding conflicts.  Since these 10 regional groups control so much taxpayer money, it’s vital their potential conflicts be disclosed to the public.

These bills could have a significant impact on reducing corruption and wasteful spending on economic development projects, and give the public and the media a greater opportunity to identify and expose fraud.

Lawmakers have a chance to do something important for all New Yorkers today.

Let’s hope they find the time to squeeze it in.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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