Subsidy Sheet: Unions, watchdogs and social welfare groups call for complete end to state Opportunity Zone tax breaks


This week a long list of prominent unions, watchdogs, and social welfare groups called on the state legislature to stop providing any state tax breaks for investors in federal Opportunity Zones. A bill sponsored by Senate Deputy Leader Mike Gianaris advanced out of the Senate Budget committee last week, and also needs to pass the Assembly before the year’s legislative session ends on June 2nd. 

The legislature sought to end the state’s Opportunity Zone tax break in last year’s budget, but the law included a loophole that could start costing NY $420 million a year by 2029.

From Reinvent Albany’s bill memo:  

Numerous studies have found that Opportunity Zones inordinately benefit wealthy real estate investors. The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg News have detailed how Opportunity Zones are essentially a government handout to the very rich that has been used for luxury apartments with pet spas and superyacht marinas. 

The Senate also unanimously passed S6809-A (Reichlin-Melnick), which would restore some of the Comptroller contract oversight powers removed at the behest of then-Governor Cuomo in 2011 (State of Politics). We thank the Senate for passing the bill as part of its economic development package and call on the Assembly to do the same.

Other bills we support in the package:

  • S8419-A (Ramos/Solages) – requires Community Advisory Committees to meet publicly.
  • S1196 (Gianaris/Solages) – prohibits nondisclosure agreements in subsidy deals.
  • S8062 (Reichlin-Melnick) – requires certain contracts to be subject to Comptroller review during an emergency.
  • S1656-A (Skoufis/Wallace) – limits IDAs’ ability to lure companies from one part of NY to another.
  • S7337 (Comrie/Paulin) – removes changes to the Public Authorities Control Board forced through by then-Governor Cuomo in 2019.
  • S5356 (Breslin/Bronson) – requires agencies to compare costs before entering into consultant contracts.

Last week’s NYC Independent Budget Office’s report raised big questions about the unusually secretive and complicated state-backed financing scheme for Vornado Realty’s mega-development around Penn Station (NY Times), and spurred editorials calling on NYS to show the math behind the project:

An audit by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli says New York State’s workforce development programs are in disarray, and “there is no functioning governing body to coordinate the programs and ensure they are meeting the needs of people” (Times Union).

According to experts like economist Tim Bartik, workforce development is one of the most cost-effective ways for governments to create jobs. New York State approved $350 million for workforce development in this year’s budget and roughly $4.5 billion in direct subsidies to businesses.

Upstate’s Ulster County IDA gave marijuana grower Cresco Labs $28 million in tax breaks (Times Union). The company claimed it would consider other locations without the tax breaks, but as we’ve pointed out, research shows that subsidies rarely determine where companies locate.

Other stories you might have missed:

  • The Amazon Labor Union called on New York State to claw back nearly $400 million in subsidies after the state’s Division of Human Rights alleged that the company discriminates against pregnant and disabled workers (Gothamist). Note that most of the subsidies Amazon gets in New York are from IDAs, not New York State.
  • The NYC Council delayed an oversight hearing on the 421-a property tax break that could influence the heated debate taking place in the waning days of the state legislative session (The Real Deal). Opponents of the program (including us) say it is a handout to real estate that costs NYC $1.7 billion a year.

If you got this from a friend, sign up here. Subsidy Sheet is written by Tom Speaker, Policy Analyst at Reinvent Albany. Please send questions and tips to tom [at] We look forward to hearing from you!