By Raymond Walter
New York spends more than $8 billion each year on economic development and job creation programs, far more than any other state in the nation. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Empire State Development (ESD) seem quite content with this enormous investment, which as recently as 2015 exceeded the combined total of the next three largest states. However, when pushed to quantify the positive results of these programs, our state’s leadership was unable to do so.
Despite billions of taxpayer dollars being expended in the upstate economy, three out of four jobs created in the last eight years were in New York City. One would be hard pressed to find data suggesting Gov. Cuomo’s programs have had the positive impact expected from such a significant investment. New York continues to have one of the nation’s harshest economic landscapes, ranking 49th in the non-partisan Tax Foundation’s 2018 State Business Tax Climate Index. The Federal Reserve recently reported that “job growth slowed to a crawl” in Buffalo, and in Rochester the picture is even worse. Since early 2016 there has been an outright decline in employment driven by the loss of more than 4,000 manufacturing jobs.
While it appears that there are positive changes in Buffalo’s economy, much of the evidence is anecdotal and due to initiatives and programs unrelated to the Buffalo Billion and the Cuomo administration. The economy in upstate and Western New York continues to struggle despite the massive amounts of taxpayer dollars being thrown into the governor’s pet projects. START-UP NY, for example, has created just a third of the 3,300 jobs it pledged to deliver three years ago, despite a nearly $60 million investment of state funds. The programs that have created jobs, including the Buffalo Billion, carry staggering per-job price tags, in this case over $250,000 for each new position generated.
More troubling is the lack of transparency, accountability and oversight in these programs resulting in the indictments of many of the governor’s top aides and donors on corruption charges. A state comptroller study released earlier this year found that ESD has operated with a complete disregard for state-mandated reporting requirements, with annual reports submitted for only 15 of 173 of its subsidiaries.
Similarly, the state’s regional development councils have operated with minimal reporting requirements, making it extremely difficult to tell exactly how the $750 million they allocate annually is actually spent.
Many of my colleagues and I continue to advocate for increased oversight of the governor’s economic development initiatives, unfortunately multiple pieces of bi-partisan legislation have been bottled up by the governor and his allies. Transparency and accountability are not too much to ask when billions of tax dollars are at stake. I’m happy to withstand personal attacks from whatever powerful places they may come, as long as it means we get the honest, accountable and ethical state government that we all deserve.
Raymond Walter is a Republican member of the New York State Assembly representing District 146, which includes the towns of Amherst and Pendleton.