EDITORIAL: Deja vu. Oversight of economic development programs still lacking

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

When it comes to evaluating state stewardship of billions of dollars in taxpayer money spent on economic development programs, the outcome always seems to be the same. Poor.

So citizens shouldn’t be surprised if they’re feeling deja vu all over again over the latest report from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli on Empire State Development’s oversight of nearly $2 billion in economic development programs.

The business programs, loans, grants and tax credits administered by ESD are supposed create jobs, generate taxes and boost the economic fortunes of communities in the state. The agency is supposed to monitor nearly 60 programs and 5,000 projects regularly to determine if they’re effective and to ensure that taxpayer dollars are actually generating the benefits the businesses promised when they accepted the financial assistance.

But as we’ve seen in the past, and as we continue to see through the comptroller’s latest report on ESD’s performance, New Yorkers are not getting what they paid for.

“The authority has not fully evaluated which programs work and which don’t,” DiNapoli said in his report. “ESD does not use the data it collects to assess the effectiveness of its programs and see if the billions of dollars spent are creating opportunities across the state.”

As they say, “You had one job.”

And clearly, ESD is failing at it.

Among the issues raised is that ESD doesn’t track all the programs in the central database it has set up just for that purpose.

Centralizing all the programs, the comptroller said, would help the agency be more efficient and effective in compiling and reporting data. Yet only 37 of the 57 programs are fully tracked.

If all this sounds a bit too familiar, you’re not imagining it. Back in 2017, the comptroller reached the same overall conclusion — that the agency failed to adequately evaluate many of the economic development programs and failed to report the results of the programs in an orderly, timely or transparent manner going back to 2012.

If the agency can’t get its house in order after all this time, then the Legislature and the governor’s office need to step in. That might mean providing more oversight of the agency itself beyond reports and recommendations, and perhaps finding new management or a new way of overseeing these programs.

Failure to properly evaluate and monitor these programs not only wastes billions of taxpayer dollars, but also deprives New Yorkers of the economic benefits.

Without a full understanding of the effectiveness of existing programs, it’s possible that other enterprises were deprived of the opportunity to provide the jobs and economic benefits to struggling communities.

New Yorkers deserve better for their tax dollars … and from their government.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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