There's been a lot of talk about business the State Legislature didn't take care of this session: IDA reform, stricter laws for teen drivers, property tax relief.
Let me add this to the list.
A lot of people in the know, including many local economic development officials, have been saying for a couple of years that there's a need to modify the criteria used to determine how the New York Power Authority allocates low-cost electricity to local industry. I did an investigative project 14 months ago that documented how the power is being squandered, and followed up with a piece in September that outlined how it could be put to better use.
The criteria is established by the Legislature, and thus far, no one has submitted a bill, much less gotten it acted on.
Several weeks ago I detailed how the Power Authority is selling low-cost hydropower earmarked for local industry and making a big buck off it. Very little of the money comes back to Western New York. There's hardly a peep out of our local delegation, much less legislative action to change things.
A couple of years back, a commission put together by then Gov. George Pataki and legislative leaders made a series of sweeping recommendations on how to make better use of nine power programs administered by NYPA to promote economic development across the state. The Legislature -- you guessed it -- has done nothing with the report.
Albany's inaction on economic develop reform extends to the state's two other major programs.
IDA reform again stalled this session. Reform of the Empire Zone program hasn't gotten past the talk stage, despite a series of investigations over the past five years by The News and Syracuse Post-Standard.
These subsidy programs involve hundreds of millions of dollars a year in Western New York alone. Alone, they're not going to revive the upstate economy. But used well, they could help.
Which begs the question -- where is our local delegation on all this?
Aside from Sam Hoyt pushing for IDA reform, they have shown no initiative. A year ago, the excuse, for hydro, anyway, was that the Legislature was waiting on Gov. Eliot Spitzer to present a comprehensive bill. Two sessions and another governor later, they're still waiting.
Western New York is in the eye of the subsidy storm. We've got six IDAs in Erie County alone, more than any county in the state. Buffalo, in terms of geography, has more acres of Empire Zones than any city in the state. And the region's share of discounted hydropower may represent the richest subsidy program in the entire state.
Isn't this reason enough for our delegation to show some initiative? In fact, given that these programs are rooted in state law, isn't it their job?