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State Poised To Require Labor, Schools On IDA Boards

County Industrial Development Agency boards could be required to have a local labor representative and a representative of a county school district.

Legislation (A.7532/S.4040) passed both the state Senate and Assembly in the closing days of the legislative session and will now be sent to Gov. Kathy Hochul for her approval or veto.

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, D-Valley Stream, the legislation aims to make industrial development agencies more open and responsive to the communities they serve by requiring that their membership. Solages argued in her legislative justification that the actions taken by IDAs when they give tax abatements and PILOT deals affect workers and taxpayers who often don’t have a vote on such agreements.

“For instance, school districts are required to deal with the budget impacts of PILOTs without having a say in the process. Local workers, who have much at stake in this process and the projects, have been excluded from the discussion and decision making concerning the projects and the incentives. Concerned citizens can be blindsided by IDA agendas released hours before the meetings, leaving little time for public input,” Solages wrote.

The legislation passed 128-19 in the state Assembly, with Assemblymen Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, and Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, voting against it.

Goodell said his nay vote was rooted in his belief that such legislation is an overreach by state government into an issue where local officials have a better sense of who should be serving on boards and commissions like IDAs. He challenged any of the Assembly members to name one of Chautauqua County’s IDA board members. If they could not, Goodell argued, how could they know that a member of the Chautauqua County IDA board, or any other IDA board, isn’t qualified to serve. Chautauqua County’s IDA currently includes two members of labor organizations, but does not include any school superintendents or school board members.

“If you don’t know a single member outside of your own county, then what makes you think you’re qualified to say that two of them in each county will lose their position because of this legislation, unless by chance they happen to be a representative or a member of the school board or a school superintendent or a labor leader?” Goodell asked. “What makes us think that we know better than every one of those independent elected officials that make that decision on who’s the best qualified for their IDA if you don’t know a single one of them or any of their backgrounds, then what gives you the right to say two people have to be thrown off so that we for political reasons can appoint some special interest group? My county IDA has always had a labor representative. God bless them. From time to time they’ve had a school representative. God bless them. They’re focused on what’s best in their community. I’m sure your IDA is focused on what’s best in your community. They’re focused on having the best qualified people and it’s none of our damned business to tell them they should select somebody else.”

Assemblyman Charles Lavine, D-Glens Cove, said requiring labor and school district representation is a step in the right direction as more county IDAs are played off against each other by companies looking for the best tax abatements when they choose where to relocate.

“Developers and their attorneys have become very skilled at manipulating one community IDA against another community IDA,” Lavine said. “At great risk are our school districts, who depend on funding, municipal funding and taxpayer funding, to be able to maintain their programs. Having someone from labor, having someone from a school district, on an IDA is nothing more than a needed check and balance on today’s business of enterprises. So I think this is a great idea. It is not a panacea, but not too many of the bills that we do pass are panaceas. It’s a certain step in the right direction and I’m very pleased to support it.”

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