ALBANY – A State Senate report on public authorities and industrial development agencies found growth of public authority debt, inadequate statutory oversight, and insufficient transparency.
The Medline Industries warehouse project seeking Montgomery IDA incentives was singled out as one the revealed “unethical, if not illegal, behavior” and serves as an example of how financial incentives can be abused to the detriment of local taxpayers, the report said. The Senate Committee on Investigations, headed by Senator James Skoufis (D, Woodbury), said document requests produced evidence of potential collusion between these quasi-government agencies and the government entities that consider local approvals for a project.
Skoufis said in the case of Medline, the company asked for its incentives request to be moved from the Orange County IDA to the Town of Montgomery IDA for “one-stop shopping” purposes.
He said that implies the company wanted the financial incentives considered in the same community as the town approvals, and that is improper.
“Here, the implication was they are moving their application so that they could co-mingle both and that is highly unethical if not illegal and when we asked all of the players, whether it’s the Orange County Partnership, whether it’s the IDAs, what does one-stop shopping mean, they all ran for the hills and no one wanted to explain what exactly what that meant because they knew it was highly unethical and maybe illegal and they were caught red-handed doing something like this,” he said.
The 137-page report offers several recommendations statewide: Public Authorities Investigative Report
- Enact new laws that compel a more responsible consideration of IDA applications
- Prohibit elected officials from serving on IDA boards
- Increase oversight of public authorities board members
- Fill the over 40 board vacancies that exist at state authorities
- Improve existing statutory oversight of public authorities
- Increase the Authorities Budget Office’s (ABO’s) appropriation in the state budget in order to ensure more robust compliance
- Require public authorities to respond to ABO recommendations
- Develop legislation requiring certification under penalty of perjury for knowingly filing false or inaccurate information
- Require public authorities to plainly disclose all conflicts of interests on their website
- Make PARIS, the database for all reported information of public authorities, accessible to the public and expand it to include additional data such as information on a project’s construction jobs
The Committee urges the Legislature and Department of State to develop and expand on these reforms in the upcoming 2020 legislative session.