Community, faith and labor leaders held rallies and press conferences in five cities around the state to protest the use of taxpayer dollars to subsidize projects that do not create good jobs or broader community benefits. As part of the statewide Getting Our Money's Worth campaign, advocates gathered at wasteful development projects in their local communities, highlighted a new report, Seizing the Moment: How Regional Economic Development Councils Can Build a Good Jobs Economy, and called on state leaders to create a good jobs plan that improves upon current economic development outcomes.
The events were organized as "hunts for the missing jobs plan" because with the state legislative session days away from ending, Governor Cuomo and the Legislature have failed to put the issue of jobs on the state agenda. While the administration has proposed Regional Economic Development Councils as their new flagship jobs program, the councils have yet to be created and few details have emerged about their future mission and operation.
After failing to find the missing jobs plan in Albany last week, a diverse coalition went looking locally, but instead found examples of how New York's current job creation efforts fail. Advocates in East Greenbush in Rensselaer County found a FedEx processing plant that is hiring workers from out-of-state and receiving incentives to shift jobs from nearby towns.
"For the last year I worked at GlobalFoundries, where I was paid well and had benefits, but had to drive over 70 miles per day to get there. Now I am laid off, and I drive by this FedEx site every day, wondering why my tax dollars are paying for a company out of Indianapolis that's bringing in out-of-state workers to build this," asked Susan Clark an unemployed Rensselaer County sheetmetal worker.
In Central Islip, Long Island, advocates found the Cintas plant, where workers' right and environmental violations have occurred.
"Cintas was found discharging twice the legal limit of lead from its Central Islip plant and has intimidated and fired workers who tried to unionize the plant to improve their harsh working conditions," said Charlene Obernauer, the Executive Director of Long Island Jobs with Justice. "Taxpayers should not be subsidizing low-road employers like Cintas that show such disregard for Long Island's workers and environment."
In Buffalo, advocates found that the ECIDA approved $300,000 in sales and property tax breaks to Carl Paladino's Ellicott Development to subsidize the construction of a Family Dollar store, which is expected to employ 10-15 people.
"Public subsidies should be used to promote the public good," said Andy Reynolds of the Coalition for Economic Justice. "We cannot afford to subsidize millionaire developers and low-wage jobs that keep people in poverty."
In Rochester, advocates found the Medley Centre, a $260 million mall renovation project that has only created fifty jobs to-date.
"Far too much spending in the name of economic development results in revenue loss to local communities, which in turn means that regular people end up footing the bill for these failed projects," said Candice Rubin, a Councilmember of Metro Justice.
In Elmhurst, Queens, advocates found one of the most profitable malls in the country, the Queens Center Mall, has received $48 million dollars in property tax subsidies and provides mostly part-time, low-wage, no-benefit jobs that keep people in poverty.
Rodney Bullock, a Queens resident, retail worker and member of the Retail Action Project stated, "As a retail worker, I know the difference it makes to earn a living wage and have a voice on the job." He continued, "The Queens Center Mall should not be allowed to treat people so poorly and keep their big tax breaks."
Although advocates found numerous examples of negative development around the state, they also highlighted some positive examples of economic development projects from the Seizing the Moment report.
"This report highlights both the bad and the good, demonstrating that New York has the opportunity to learn from successes at home and around the country when creating Regional Economic Development Councils," said Matt Ryan, Executive Director of ALIGN. "Alstom Transport and Noble Bliss Wind Farm in Western NY and Just Bagels Manufacturing, Inc., a small business in New York City, are just a few examples of the direction we need to move economic development efforts."
The report also reviewed accountability policies in states like Minnesota and Connecticut, and transparency policies in Illinois and Wisconsin as models for the baseline criteria recommended in the report.
Speakers at the events emphasized that the opportunity to do economic development differently is not a luxury, but a necessity with unemployment high, wages depressed and communities suffering from budget and service cuts.
"State leadership needs to use all the resources at its disposal wisely," said Allison Duwe, Executive Director of the Coalition for Economic Justice. "They can start by shifting the focus of new Regional Councils from wasteful spending on corporate subsidies to developing a more sustainable economy and environment for all New Yorkers."