EDITORIAL: Economic oversight still falls short

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in April 2016.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in April 2016.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

A new state audit has found that some companies and programs that accepted state economic development assistance didn’t fulfill their promises to create jobs and revenue, and that the state’s economic development agency failed to provide adequate oversight.

Phew. You could have knocked us over with a feather.

State comptroller Tom DiNapoli once again, as he has in the past, has criticized the Cuomo administration’s Empire State Development organization for not doing the work necessary to protect taxpayers from throwing good money after bad economic investments.

He said  in the audit that the organization’s ability to thoughtfully and carefully analyze the return on the state’s investment “leaves a lot to be desired.”

According to the comptroller, Empire State Development (ESD) “did not perform comprehensive assessments and analyses” to warrant the allocation  of significant state investments and that it lacked “consistent and rigorous performance and evaluation standards” to measure whether intended goals were being met.

Among the projects targeted in the audit were the Buffalo Billion program and other high-tech projects.

Empire State Development countered that all of its investments were made appropriately and that all of its projects were up to date with their job creation and investment goals before the covid crisis tanked the state economy.

It also said it had no legal control over entities created under the State University of New York.

The comptroller respectfully disagreed.

None of this is anything we haven’t heard before — the state handing out millions in taxpayer dollars for ambitious economic development projects in hopes of generating jobs and tax revenue, then having the projects either go bust altogether or fall short of their promised goals.

This latest audit just continues a pattern of flimsy oversight and review of such projects.

Even if ESD has put into practice greater reviews and imposed more transparency, as it claims, it’s still not been enough to escape the regular criticism of the state’s own auditors.
New York needs economic development, particularly upstate. And state government can do a lot to help attract and support investment.

But that has to be done carefully, thoroughly and with strong oversight.

Until we stop seeing these findings in comptroller audits, New York taxpayers won’t be benefiting the way they should.

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