The sixth round of the Regional Economic Development Council’s (REDC) annual competition took place this week. However, taxpayer-funded economic development programs work only if they are administered equitably. There must be more transparency and accountability in the way the state hands out these funds. Are they being allocated in a way that ensures taxpayer dollars are being invested in the most efficient manner? Are they helping to create jobs and career paths? Are they stimulating business growth?
CREATE A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
There is no doubt yesterday’s funding awards will go a long way to help upstate, and I am proud of the hard work of those who helped secure the Finger Lakes Region’s award of $80.5 million. That money will support 97 regional projects. State investments have always been important to New York’s economy, but it is our duty to ensure that taxpayers across the state are seeing a tangible benefit.
If New York is truly to be a “state of opportunity,” it must be a state of opportunity for all. Every taxpayer, regardless of geography, deserves fair treatment. There must be proper checks and balances with respect to the state’s discretionary spending practices.
The Assembly Minority Conference has sponsored legislation (A.10531, Oaks) that would increase transparency, accountability and oversight of the state’s economic development programs.
Specifically, the bill’s Appointee Contribution Prohibition would strengthen the equity of economic development programs by prohibiting individuals who distribute discretionary state funds (like REDC grants) from making political donations to the appointing authority that they represent. By prohibiting appointees and their families from making political contributions, we could limit the instances where political donors are distributing state money, and reduce instances of fraud and abuse. In addition, the bill would:
- provide stronger oversight of taxpayer-funded programs by creating a three-member board to review and approve funding originating from lump sum appropriations worth $1 million or more;
- hold the salaries of the governor and appropriate agency commissioners and deputy commissioners when economic development reports fail to meet reporting deadlines; and
- require an independent third-party to conduct a comprehensive audit of all economic development programs, as well as the Personal Income Tax and Corporate Franchise Tax rates to determine the best alternatives to create a more fair tax system.
If the state is truly going to thrive and grow, we can no longer turn a blind eye to potential conflicts of interest from state-administered programs. As economic development programs stand, the potential for big donors to not only receive appointments, but perhaps grant funding, is a threat to effective development.
What do you think? I want to hear from you. Send me your feedback, suggestions and ideas regarding this or any other issue facing New York State. You can always contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, email me at email@example.com, find me by searching for Assemblyman Brian Kolb on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter.