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Groups call for economic development reform as debate around Amazon continues

The plan to bring up to 40,000 Amazon jobs to Queens, tied to $3 billion in tax incentives, remains one of the largest potential economic development deals in the state’s history.

And while voters in a Siena College poll broadly support the proposal for Long Island City, the plan has stoked controversy for organized labor unions, local elected officials and others who are concerned with the size of the incentive package, the power of large corporations and the economic development race fueled between states.

The project also comes after economic development spending has been in the spotlight in state government due to bid rigging scandals in the Buffalo Billion, a signature economic development program for western New York.

Good-government groups once again on Tuesday called for a series of reforms, including a database of contracting deals for state programs and make permanent the comptroller’s authority to review and pre-audit state contracts. Both are provisions Gov. Andrew Cuomo has backed.

“Before the legislature appropriates a dollar for economic development, it needs to answer three questions: First, does the legislature and public know how economic development funds are being spent?” Alex Camarda of the group Reinvent Albany told lawmakers in testimony on Tuesday. “Second, do we know whether they are being awarded fairly and cleanly? Third, is the public getting a good return on their economic development investments? Unfortunately, at the moment, the answers to these questions is ‘no, no and no.’”

The group is also calling for public hearings on development efforts as well as clarifications for the state’s Freedom of Information Law so that it covers all economic development agencies. That provision was included in the budget resolutions of both the state Senate and Assembly.