As NYC courts Amazon and other big-name corporations, there is almost always talk of tax breaks. Often, the city relies on incentives offered by the state. When Amazon decided to open an office in Hudson Yards, for instance, up to $20 million in state tax credits were part of the deal.
But NYC offers its own tax breaks, too, through its industrial development agency. The agency is part of a statewide system in need of reform, with the evidence provided in a recent report from the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission.
Statewide, 107 IDAs distribute hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks. Often, it’s hard for the public to know whether the breaks made the difference for a company to locate here and whether it created the jobs promised.
Two years ago, state lawmakers passed legislation to improve IDA accountability, but more change is needed. That starts with consolidating IDAs across the state. NYC can be a model, as its one IDA promotes the whole city, rather than pitting communities against one another.
But NYC’s IDA should make a better effort to tie its approvals to the city’s economic development goals. Too often, that doesn’t happen because there’s no state legislative requirement to do so. The IDA does offer specific incentives for life sciences companies in fields like biotechnology, and for those building research and development space. The IDA could extend that model to other key industries. Companies seeking incentives should have to show how their projects reflect the city’s priorities and be obligated to create specific jobs and deliver on their economic impact promises. If they fail to do so, the tax relief should be returned. This would require amending state law.
No change will work without more oversight, enforcement and a more open process. Penalties and clawbacks must be stronger, and IDAs should provide a searchable public database of every project, the reasons it was approved, what the company received, and whether applicants executed their promises.
Only then can the agencies that decide who doesn’t have to pay taxes be accountable to the rest of us who do.