Someday, sanity has to prevail. When reports show that taxpayers are coughing up millions of dollars to create jobs that never appear, somebody sooner or later is going to say “Enough!” Today wouldn’t be too soon.
The industrial development agencies in Erie County are back in the news because a state report said their projects produced only a handful of the promised 450 jobs.
IDA officials strenuously defended the system, saying the report failed to take note of hundreds of new jobs at companies that got tax breaks.
But IDAs in Western New York, and around the state, have chronically failed to produce the jobs they promise. It’s a failed system that we cling to only because IDAs have political staying power. If their existence relied on actual production, they’d have been shut down years ago.
Unfortunately, if New York didn’t already have industrial development agencies, it would have to create them, or something like them. The costs of living and doing business in New York are so out of proportion to the rest of the country that the state needs artificial incentives to attract and maintain businesses.
Some people are trying to fix this wreck of a system. Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, has been working to reform it, as has Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, who, by virtue of his position, sits on the Erie County Industrial Development Agency. They need to keep plugging away.
One solution is obvious, if politically difficult. The county simply does not need the many IDAs its taxpayers now support. The Erie County IDA’s existence may be defensible, but the local IDAs serve no legitimate purpose.
In fact, their purpose is in some ways illegitimate: They compel taxpayers across the county to subsidize businesses that move into their municipalities. In that, it is a variation on the revolutionary complaint of taxation without representation.
Like many other systems that people accept as normal – employer-paid health care, for example – the system of IDAs came together haphazardly, without great planning. It is an accident of politics and need, and is ripe for reconsideration.
It’s time for Albany to rethink this system and, at least, pare down the number of IDAs to one per county, each with greater accountability and more stringent rules on what kinds of business qualify for public support and under which conditions. That would be fair both to businesses and to taxpayers.