Watchdog groups push for inclusion of a “Database of Deals” in budget

Legislative Gazette photo by Maria Enea
Common Cause Executive Director Susan Lerner emphasizes the importance of business subsidy transparency when it comes to taxpayers getting their money’s worth. She is joined by Reinvent Albany Senior Policy Advisor Alex Camarda (right) and League of Women Voters Director of Program and Policy Jennifer Wilson (left).

With the passage of the 2018-2019 FY Budget fast approaching, watchdog groups are calling for the governor to pass a measure to make business subsidies transparent.

Both the Senate and the Assembly have included in their budget bills (S.7508-b, A.9508-b) proposals for the creation of a searchable database that will make public all economic development benefits, including grants, loans or tax abatements awarded to a particular business or organization.

As per its nature, legislators and watchdog groups have christened the proposed database the “Database of Deals.”

This is intended to be a transparency measure, that will show for each company, all the economic development benefits they are receiving from the state and local governments. From this information, taxpayers will be able to see what their return on investment is, in terms of jobs produced and jobs retained.

The Database of Deals would also disclose information on how much each job created costs to taxpayers, and will create a uniform definition of what a “job” is across subsidy programs including full-time, part-time, permanent and contract jobs.

The names and location of the benefit recipient, the type of benefit received, the total number of employees at all sites of a project and other specific business information would be disclosed on this database, increasing transparency between taxpayers and state spending.

“The Database of Deals would provide us with a valuable tool to measure the efficacy of economic development spending,” said Ron Deutsch, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute. “After the countless scandals and indictments swirling around economic development, we need to restore public trust and this would be a great first step.”

A press release by Reinvent Albany, Citizens Budget Commission, Fiscal Policy Institute, Common Cause and League of Women Voters drew similarities between sections of both houses’ budget bills and Assemblymember Robin Schimminger and Sen. Thomas Croci’s bill on the creation of a searchable database (S.6613-b and A.8175).

At a press conference on March 26 at the Capitol, reformers expressed their disappointment in the current operations of the Empire State Development Corporation, citing a May 2017 audit where Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found that the EDSC failed to meet more than half of the reporting requirements for tax credit and job creation.

As seen by the indictments of numerous senior state officials and corporate executives involved with the awarding of some of the state’s signature mega-development projects, the conversation regarding a Database of Deals has come at a relevant time in New York politics.

“This legislative session has been unprecedented, because we’ve had seven major trials across the state related to corruption,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy adviser at Reinvent Albany. “It is important we have sunlight on these  subsidies because we want to make sure these programs are actually working.”