Yesterday, Governor Hochul announced the launch of ESD’s new, “enhanced” Database of Economic Incentives, which is supposed to answer a decade-old demand for basic information about who is getting state subsidies, when, and how much.
In 2014, Reinvent Albany launched a campaign for a state Database of Deals. Our basic request was for a public database New Yorkers could enter a company’s name in to see its subsidy history and how many jobs the company reported keeping and adding.
In 2022, ESD was finally required to create the database by a state law. Unfortunately, that law was repeatedly watered down by Governor Hochul and legislative leaders pressured by New York’s multi-billion-dollar subsidy-industrial complex. (In case you’ve wondered, this is why the database does not include subsidies by local governments.)
We’ve been championing a useful database for almost a decade and really do want to be able to cheer and applaud ESD’s efforts. We’re genuinely disappointed that the “enhanced” database still does not provide simple answers to the basic subsidy questions we’ve been posing since 2014.
Glaring Transparency Problems with ESD’s “Enhanced” Database
- Zero history: The public still cannot see the last twenty, ten or even five years of state subsidies or what a company’s track record is. Corporations that have gotten billions in state subsidies are not in included. For instance, Alcoa has gotten $5.6 billion in subsidies, but you could never find that out from the database. ESD has the data – it needs to methodically add years of past subsidy deals. This would also be extremely helpful for analysts looking at how much state taxpayers pay per year for each job created or kept and how that subsidy compares to inflation or across programs. Measuring change is part of measuring.
- Does not show when project goal posts are moved (“re-baselining”): The database does not include data fields recording the original commitments made by the state and subsidized companies. This means that the public cannot tell if a project agreement is amended to allow a subsidy recipient to vastly reduce the number of jobs they committed to retaining or creating. The State’s infamous Buffalo Riverbend mega-subsidy deal with SolarCity/Tesla was amended ten times in four years (2014 to 2017). Those amendments allowed SolarCity/Tesla to significantly reduce the number of onsite jobs, saving them from big penalties. We appreciate that ESD has begun publishing archival datasets from the database, but a much better solution would be to add data fields for original and current commitments that are far more useful to the public.
Further, the new “enhanced” interface de-emphasizes the core purpose of the site – showing the public who got and is getting taxpayer subsidies. The basic search function is on page four of the new site and comes after three pages of flashy and not very useful data visualizations.
Finally, the interface is surprisingly clunky, as if ESD never bothered to beta-test its own bells and whistles. The portal directs users to “drill through to appendix to view project details” (who drills through appendices?), makes detailed jobs numbers hard to find (8-point font text at the bottom reveals that the interface has not one, but four pages), and features “(Blank)” as a jobs creation number for certain programs.
Other NY corporate giveaway news:
- Another LI school district wakes up to how corporate tax breaks are hurting schools (WSHU).
- Investigative Post writes about the Governor’s decision to provide even more state money for the beleaguered STAMP industrial park in upstate Genesee County.
- NYS Focus covers the opposition to wind and solar tax breaks on Long Island.
- The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities details the federal “corporate tax break wish list.”
If you got this from a friend, sign up here. This week’s Subsidy Sheet was written by John Kaehny and Tom Speaker. Thanks to Subsidy Sheet alum Elizabeth Marcello for her input.
Please send questions and tips to tom [at] reinventalbany.org. We look forward to hearing from you!