Cost of Economic Incentives in New York Pegged at Nearly $10 Billion

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02/11/2019 | 11:37 pm


By Kate King



Spending on economic-development incentives in New York increased 17% over two years to $9.9 billion in 2018, according to a report released Monday by an independent watchdog.



New York's use of corporate tax breaks has sparked fierce debate in recent months, as some local officials and residents have pushed back against a deal Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio reached to lure Amazon.com Inc. to Queens. The company has agreed to bring 25,000 jobs to the Long Island City neighborhood, where it plans to build a campus in exchange for $3 billion in state and city tax incentives. Local criticism of the deal has prompted Amazon executives to re-evaluate the project, people familiar with the matter said last week.



State tax breaks and other incentives, such as grants and capital spending, increased 28% between 2016 and 2018 to nearly $4.4 billion, according to the report by the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit civic organization. Incentives from municipal and county governments grew at a slower pace of about 9% in the same period, to about $5.6 billion.



Riley Edwards, a research associate for the commission, said it isn't clear whether New Yorkers have gotten a good deal from corporate tax incentives. She said the state should build a public database that compiles economic-development incentive data from local, county and state programs.



"There's not really a centralized source of information on these things, " Ms. Edwards said. "Instead of looking at what we're spending and making sure we're getting what we want to get out of it, this number just keeps increasing."



A spokesman for Mr. Cuomo said New York's recent job growth shows the Democratic governor's economic-development approach is working. Mr. Cuomo's office will discuss with state lawmakers in coming weeks several proposals to strengthen oversight and transparency around tax breaks, including a searchable database of deals that receive state incentives, the spokesman said.



New York has approved state tax breaks for a variety of programs ranging from tax credits for cleaning up and redeveloping old industrial sites to incentives for film and commercial productions.



Some of the big-ticket projects that have been approved for state economic-development spending over the last two years include Moynihan Station in Manhattan, which is part of the Penn Station revamp, and Mr. Cuomo's ongoing Buffalo Billion public-private development project. More than half of the estimated $5.6 billion in local incentive spending has been concentrated in New York City, according to the report.



In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, has proposed scaling back corporate tax breaks. The state awarded nearly $11 billion in incentives to companies between 1996 and February 2018, according to a recently released audit by the state comptroller's office. Lawmakers are examining corporate incentives before two of the state's biggest tax-credit programs expire this summer.



Write to Kate King at Kate.King@wsj.com





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