This week New York City leapt to the front of the transparency pack with reforms to its Industrial Development Agency (IDA) that will improve taxpayer awareness of and participation in proposed economic development deals.
New Yorkers have spent years advocating for a more inclusive and transparent process around high profile proposals like Yankee Stadium, Kingsbridge Armory, Albee Square, Reuters America, Recovery Zone Facility Bonds (via IDA’s sister entity the Capital Resource Corporation), and post 9/11 Liberty Bonds.
The reforms are key to helping New Yorkers engage in a process that has been difficult terrain for those wanting to offer suggests that would improve, support or opposed IDA proposals, which grants discretionary tax-breaks and tax-free financing to companies that pledge to remain in New York City.
Of the more than 100 IDAs across the state, which have come under fire over the few years and most recently from the State Comptroller and New York Jobs with Justice, the NYC IDA is now clearly the most transparent.
These improvements, while certainly a step in the right direction, do not solve every problem. For example: The public should have online access to applications and cost/benefit materials of proposed deals 30 days in advance of public hearings, not 12 days. We also recommend that webcasts of hearings and meetings remain on the agency’s website longer than three days. That said there’s plenty of good news:
- The value of other non-IDA discretionary and as-of-right benefits will be included in the project materials. This isn’t the same as a citywide unified economic development budget, but for the first time it creates a more comprehensive picture of the multiple subsidies going to a particular project;
- Applications and the IDA’s cost/benefit application will be available 12 business days in advance of public hearings; and
- Meetings between applicants and staff at the IDA’s compliance division will happen in advance of approval to ensure a firm understands what its commitments are in exchange for the subsidies.
The New York City Industrial Development Agency is becoming an example of how other economic development agencies around New York State – indeed the Nation – can and should engage the public.