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Governor signs bill increasing IDA transparency into law

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Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law on Aug. 27 a bill mandating that industrial development agencies livestream their meetings in a measure aimed at increasing transparency of the state-chartered entities.

Bills S.88/A.3002, which were co-sponsored by State Sen. Todd Kaminsky and State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages respectively, will require that IDAs, which are quasi-governmental agencies intended to incentivize business development primarily through tax breaks, livestream and post recordings of their meetings on the internet.

The law was at least partially aimed at the controversial 2015 Town of Hempstead IDA payment-in-lieu-of-taxes deal struck with the California-based Green Acres Mall owners, Macerich, for the mall and its newly constructed Commons annex. The PILOTs resulted in a sharp increase in school property taxes within Valley Stream’s School District 30, as well as its Central High School District.

“IDAs make critical decisions that can have profound impacts on the communities they serve,” Kaminsky said in a statement. “Like any similar governmental body, the public should be engaged in their decision making, and this law will easily enable that to happen.”

“In the spirit of transparency and accountability, I authored this piece of legislation to enable IDAs to increase their civic engagement as well as effectively communicate their message to residents,” Solages said, also in a statement. “While constituents may want to attend every governmental meeting, they cannot always be physically present to do so.”

While the Town IDA initially bore much of the blame for the property-tax increases, a late-2017 audit by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office would reveal that that the IDA had followed the correct procedures when approving the Green Acres PILOT agreement.

The audit contended that School District 30 and the Central High School District had under budgeted the PILOTs they would receive by as much as $1.8 million, resulting in a sharp property tax hike that ultimately proved to be unnecessary.

Other bills Kaminsky has co-sponsored aimed at IDAs, include S.97, which bars public officials from being paid for legal consulting work, and was drafted following a guilty plea by Hempstead Town Councilman Edward Ambrosino in April for tax evasion on money he earned doing legal consulting work for the Nassau County IDA. Another, S.4766, is intended to close the so-called “tourism loophole,” exploited by businesses near the Queens-Nassau border.