Watchdogs to Empire State Development: Publish Database of Deals Immediately

Groups Started Push for Database and Economic Development Transparency
In 2015 Following $1B Upstate Bid-Rigging Scandal


Six watchdog groups on Friday sent a letter to Empire State Development (ESD) urging them to publish a Database of Deals.

The groups noted that it has been six years since the Buffalo Billion scandals that resulted in the conviction of Alain Kaloyeros and upstate corporate executives, but the state still has no database tracking state economic development projects, how much they cost, and whether or not they are creating jobs.

While sympathizing with the strain agencies are under due to COVID-19, the groups stated that “ESD has had plenty of time to get this done.” At last year’s joint legislative hearing on economic development, ESD President Eric Gertler said the database would be out by “the end of the year,” but 2020 came and went without a database. At this year’s February hearing, Gertler said the database would be up “in a matter of weeks.” The database is still not available.

The letter was signed by Reinvent Albany, Citizens Budget Commission, Citizens Union, Common Cause New York, League of Women Voters of New York State, and NY Public Interest Research Group.

The full letter is here and below. Last week, Reinvent Albany also published a timeline detailing the history of the push for the database.

April 30, 2021

Eric Gertler                                                                                                    Via Email
President, Empire State Development

Re: Publish the Database of Deals

Dear President Gertler,

We urge Empire State Development (ESD) to publish the Database of Deals immediately.

It has been more than two years since the state allocated $500,000 to build a database of the state’s economic development projects. At last year’s February 13th joint legislative hearing on economic development, you told the committee that the database would be ready by December 2020. We understand that 2020 was an extraordinary year, so your statement at this year’s February 23rd joint legislative hearing on economic development that the database would be launched in “a matter of weeks” seemed reasonable. However, over 2 months have passed and still no database has been launched.

As fellow New Yorkers, we are deeply sympathetic to the disruption and distress caused by COVID-19. That said, ESD has had plenty of time to get this done. We have been calling for fundamental improvements in transparency and accountability for State subsidies – including a Database of Deals – since 2015. The legislature concurred and both the State Senate and Assembly included the Database of Deals in their one-house budgets in 2017, 2018 and 2019. In 2018, we noted that the trial of Alain Kaloyeros and other corporate executives highlighted the urgent need for transparency and independent oversight of state economic development spending, but the public still does not have a way to evaluate the effectiveness of billions of dollars in economic development spending and business tax subsidies. Six years after a billion-dollar scandal is much longer than New Yorkers should wait for the state to be more transparent about its economic development programs.

We ask you to promptly publish the Database of Deals or explain why ESD has not yet fulfilled its commitment to publish the database of state economic development projects.

Thank you,

John Kaehny
Executive Director
Reinvent Albany

Andrew Rein
Citizens Budget Commission

Betsy Gotbaum
Executive Director
Citizens Union

Susan Lerner
Executive Director
Common Cause New York

Laura Ladd Bierman
Executive Director
League of Women Voters of New York State

Blair Horner
Executive Director
NY Public Interest Research Group