Saturday, August 4, 2007

Call The Waaaaahmbulance

Sen. Joe Griffo is upset with the revelation that the Empire Zone program is filled with failure.

State Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, wrote Gov. Eliot Spitzer's top Upstate New York economic-development official Friday questioning the state's tactics in enforcing Empire Zone standards...

In his letter to agency's Upstate chairman, Daniel Gunderson, Griffo asked what publicize the names of those companies is supposed to accomplish.

"I strongly believe that companies who accept Empire Zone benefits should live up to their end of the bargain," Griffo said. "However, (the state) went and posted a list of people they deemed to be not in compliance, without telling the whole story."

The O-D story neatly summarizes Sen. Griffo's press release, but why settle for the quick and dirty version when we can critique the real thing?

Dear Chairman Gundersen:

I have been in contact with a number of our local business leaders who were listed as not being in compliance with the standards set for accepting Empire Zone Benefits in the local media. While I strongly believe that companies that accept these benefits should fulfill their obligations, I take issue with the manner in which the report was released and the validity of the report’s findings.

Sen. Griffo's concerns about the release of the information are absurd. Once these companies agreed to reap the benefits of the Empire Zone program it became a matter of vital public interest if they were actually meeting their obligations. It's a bit disingenuous to suck at the public teat and then complain that someone is watching you slurp up that sweet, sweet milk.

On the other hand, it's a fair cop that there may be problems with the accuracy of the data.

Oh, and what do you want to bet that those "local business leaders" upset about being on the deadbeat list are also listed as making significant political contributions during the same time frame?

In particular, I disagree with the tactic of releasing the information to the press before contacting the business owners directly to work with them to discuss their status.

I disagree with the tactic of giving companies preferential tax treatment and then letting them skip out on their obligations. If shaming them gets them to live up to the agreement then so be it.

Publicly rapping companies that are on the road to compliance is not productive.

"On the road to compliance"? That's politician-speak for "not in compliance". As in "Sorry for not paying my video porn-on-demand bill, but I'm on the road to compliance. You can't cut me off now!" Sadly, I won't be able to watch Video Vixens 12: The Snake is Awake until I actually, you know, pay the bill.

It also does not present the image that New York wants to help industry flourish. It give the impression that your organization is just out to get them. That type of perception has dogged New York for many years.

Expecting companies to meet their obligations isn't a bug, it's a feature. See also: Hotel Utica.

I also disagree with the way that the report based its findings on old statistics dating back to 2005. As an Economic Development expert, I am sure you are aware that business ebbs and flows. A fluid program like Empire Zones should be designed to allow companies to adjust to changing environments. They should also be given the courtesy of using the most up to date statistics available. I am confident that a review of performance in 2006 would paint a much different picture of compliance.

Ebb. Flow. Whatever. If they took the tax break in 2005 they need to meet 2005's goals. In the private sector we call meeting 2005's goals in 2006 "Failure".

Finally, I want to stress the need for a Mohawk Valley Regional Empire State Development Director. We have been without this important official in our community since the Spitzer Administration took over. I wonder, if any of the companies who were rapped so publicly in your report, might have had a better chance of meeting their standards, if a local ESD director were in place?

I can answer that: no. A local ESD director isn't going to hire a single worker or spend a single dollar in investment. That's the responsibility of the company, not a highly-paid government errand-boy.

Filling this position is a vital component of the region’s economic growth and it would be a signal to our local business leaders that the Spitzer Administration is serious about improving the business climate in Central New York.

Yeah, that's just what we need. Christ, half the jobs in our area are in government or government-sponsored non-profits already. That's a disaster, not a "business climate".

I understand that your organization is evaluating all of the programs that were instituted by prior administrations and discussing the merits of keeping them going. I believe that is a needed exercise. However, while you are evaluating, our community still has important needs that must be met. We need a vision for the future of Empire State Development and when we can expect anticipated changes to these important programs.

Here's an idea- get rid of Empire Zones. Make the whole state an Empire Zone and give every single company the same benefits without any of the bureaucratic friction. Unfortunately, that would mean politicians would lose the ability to take credit for economic growth as well as the power to extract fealty from companies looking for favorable tax treatment.

And really, that's what the Empire Zone program is all about. Political power. As a great man once said, "The power to tax is the power to destroy." Empire Zones are just a dandified way of codifying tax favoritism based on patronage instead of letting the free market decide who succeeds and who fails. Maybe that's why companies that take a good, hard look at the state's horrific business climate decide that the real Empire Zones are "anywhere but New York".

With all due respect Mr. Gundersen, we are well past Day One and we have no clear idea of what this administration plans to do to improve our economic future. I think the time for action is now.

Okay, this part I can agree with. Speaking of pressing economic needs Sen. Griffo, there's this little sewer problem you might have heard about...