PULASKI, NY — United States Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” What Justice Brandeis wrote 100 years ago still rings true in government today. Transparency by its nature leads to more accountability and helps restore public trust. If we look at the scandals that have plagued Albany, lack of transparency is always a common theme. While it is true that we cannot legislate morality or ethics, what we can do is enact better oversight, eliminate conflicts of interest, and prevent situations where one person has sole discretion over billions of taxpayer dollars. New York needs to do better and we can by passing the Economic Development Transparency Act.
The Economic Development Transparency Act would provide more oversight of our state’s multi-billion dollar economic development program. For starters, the act would establish a three-member committee to review and approve financial and personal relationships between potential grantees and the entity requesting the allocation to determine if a conflict of interest exists. The three-person committee would then be empowered to deny any allocation from these funds in order to prevent them from being granted to entities where a conflict has been found to exist.
The bill would also institute penalties related to late reports by state agencies including withholding salaries of those responsible for the reports. These reports serve the public and show how state investments are or are not working. The public deserves to have these on time and that has not always been the case in the past. Other than public criticism, there should be a consequence for those responsible for the late reporting. In addition, the bill would also prohibit the Legislature or the Governor from providing an appropriation or grant to an entity or individual that donated to their political campaign within the past year. Again, to anyone outside of the Albany political bubble, this would be a commonsense reform.
Finally, the bill requires an independent, third-party study of the cost benefits of the state’s economic development programs. Such a study is long overdue. The state has moved away from broad-based qualifying economic development programs to policies that enable the Governor to subsidize various companies in the hopes that jobs are created. The programs have had mixed results and in too many cases have underperformed. For example, the state invested millions in a Central New York film hub which was supposed to bring in 350 jobs. The deal never materialized. The state is also providing film tax credits to the film industry. These credits totaled roughly $1.4 billion over two years which is costing taxpayers an estimated $42,000 per job. While there may be ancillary promotional and tourism benefits that coincide with the film industry in New York, it is not unreasonable to ask if they are worth the price.
If the state is going to continue to approach economic development by subsidizing various favored businesses, at the very least, accountability, oversight and transparency need to be part of the program. Indeed if anything has been illuminated by recent scandals, it is that unchecked access to money breeds corruption. If you have any questions or comments regarding this or any other state issue, please contact me. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (315) 598-5185. You can also friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.