Subsidy Sheet: Latest Disgrace in Penn Station Subsidy Saga


If you read only the headlines, you’d think that the Penn Station redevelopment was a done deal, and that the state can now let Vornado, a major Hochul campaign donor, build 10 (mostly) tax-free towers in Midtown Manhattan (Spectrum News).

In fact, the Public Authorities Control Board only approved the framework of a deal between the State and the City, incorrectly claiming this had to be done so the MTA’s refurbishment of Penn Station is eligible for federal funds, while leaving the actual dollar details, including tax abatements for Vornado, to be approved later. That way, as we pointed out in our statement, the Governor could claim victory while the State Legislature could placate the growing opposition by saying that the deal had not been approved.

We blasted the proceedings as “farcical” and a “disgrace” and we are not alone:

The story is supposed to be that it’s a done deal, and there’s nothing more you can do to stop it – but with many approvals still needing to go through, there’s still time for advocates to fight for greater transparency and a better plan. The alternative is sentencing New Yorkers 80 years from now to pay for decisions we made today.

More reasons to #BanSecretDeals: Participants in discussions for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) for the Buffalo Bills stadium will be required to sign non-disclosure agreements (Buffalo News – h/t to Jim Heaney at Investigative Post for sharing).

The Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz has stated that the NDA is important for finishing the deal, but a close read of the Buffalo News article shows that the NDA is actually about not hurting NFL teams’ feelings:

“Professional teams can be quite sensitive to bad press and public disclosures in these transactions are rarely made to shine a positive light on the team,” he wrote. “Once they circle the wagons to protect themselves and their interests, it is difficult to get them back to constructive discussions.”

Where’s the concern for constituents’ feelings about not being able to meaningfully participate in secretive negotiations over matters that affect the community? We hoped that once the Bills deal was signed, that would mean an end to all the backroom deals, but at this rate it looks like the secrecy won’t end until the last nail is set.

This week, Empire State Development released an RFP seeking a consultant to perform an independent evaluation of the State’s film tax credit programs. A law mandating an evaluation of economic and fiscal impacts of State film tax credit programs every two years passed in 2013, and the last evaluation took place in 2020. Perhaps not surprisingly, the last evaluation found a net positive impact. 

While regular evaluations of subsidy programs are a “win” for advocates, we are skeptical that the upcoming evaluation will show the true cost of NYS film tax credit programs. Which is odd, because independent studies show that film tax credits, which are offered in at least 45 states, are not a good deal for taxpayers but instead a handout to the film industry. In other words, we aren’t holding our breath for a truly independent look at the State’s film tax credit programs this time around. 

If you want to learn more about film subsidies, the National Conference of State Legislatures has a great recap.

Other subsidy stories from this week:

Fun fact: A proposed Niagara County Amazon warehouse was nicknamed “Project Fifi.”

Fifi is set to receive $123 million in tax breaks.

(From this week’s #BanSecretDeals workshop).

If you got this from a friend, sign up here. Subsidy Sheet is written by Tom Speaker and edited by John Kaehny. Elizabeth Marcello wrote this week’s third section.

Please send questions and tips to tom [at] We look forward to hearing from you!