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Small Talk

Profiles in courage: At this week’s meeting of the board of the Erie County Industrial Development Authority, a contingent of directors, including Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and board vice chairman Chris Johnston of World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara, blocked the approval of $4.24 million in tax abatements for the $100 million Conventus project, a medical office building at the corner of Main and High streets on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

The Conventus building, sited alongside the proposed new digs for UB’s medical school and a new women and children’s hospital, is a project of Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation, an outfit that is unaccustomed to such effrontery.

As a rationale for blocking the tax abatements, Poloncarz invoked an argument similar to the “but for” test he’d deployed at last month’s ECIDA meeting, when he alone voted against tax breaks for developer Uniland’s construction of a new headquarters for the Catholic Health system downtown, a project that has already broken ground: Would this project fail to materialize, but for the tax breaks? Or would the project be built anyway—in which case, the tax breaks simply sweeten the deal for the developer?

Also opposing the tax breaks were Amherst Town Supervisor Barry Weinstein and Brenda McDuffie of the Buffalo Urban League. Frank Mesiah, of the Buffalo branch of the NAACP, abstained.

Apparently surprised by this turn of events, ECIDA board chair John LaFalce moved to table consideration of Ciminelli’s tax breaks until next month’s meeting. They may yet be approved.

Begging the question: In that same January ECIDA board discussion of the tax breaks for Uniland’s Catholic Health project, Andrew Rudnick, the lame duck president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, argued in favor of approving the tax breaks, noting, according to the meeting minutes, “that there is not a single major development project in the region that doesn’t have a combination of state and local incentives.” So, tax breaks are good because everyone gets them, and everyone gets them because tax breaks are good.

• One more thing about those tax breaks for Uniland’s construction of the new Catholic Health headquarters: The debate opened with Erie County Legislator Tom Loughran suggesting the proposal be tabled, due to concerns aired publicly by Assemblyman Sean Ryan, who has made IDA reform a signature issue since taking office last spring. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, an ECIDA board member, objected to tabling the matter based on comments by an assemblyman who is not a member of the ECIDA board—not surprising, perhaps, as the project benefits the city’s downtown core, even if regionally it amounts to moving existing jobs from one location to another.

Here’s what Ryan said in a statement about the sum effects of Tuesday’s ECIDA meeting, which included the approval of tax breaks for the Buffalo Sabres’ development proposal for the Webster Block:

Today the Erie County IDA gave away nearly $40 million in taxpayer dollars to four projects, all of which promise to create jobs, without any clawback provisions to ensure Erie County taxpayers are getting the jobs that were promised. Unlike other state programs, which require annual accountability reports, our IDAs have no policy which ensures that promised job creation actually occurs. Instead, the IDAs hope the businesses will deliver on their promises, but never verify that our tax dollars are being well spent. Most of the projects approved today are actually very worthy projects that will be beneficial for economic development, and should receive public support. These projects will benefit the waterfront and Canalside, and neighborhoods in North Buffalo, but the Erie County IDA needs to make sure job creation goals are being properly enforced. When it comes to the Kittenger deal, we now have another example of taxpayer dollars being used to subsidize a business moving to another municipality. All of our local IDAs need to stop giving away taxpayer dollars without any regard for accountability or job creation.

Protest of the week: On Thursday morning, you may spot some scrappy folks gathered in front of Bank of America’s Elmwood Avvenue branch, near Utica. They are there to release new campaign finance research showing that multinational corporations, which have taken advantage of offshore tax havens to hide income costing New York at least $2.4 billion, made more than $670,000 in campaign contributions to state legislative candidates in the last election cycle.

Fair Elections for New York, the group organizing the 11am protest, argue that publicly financed elections will reduce the influence of corporate cash on tax policies and save New Yorkers billions in needed revenue for vital social services. Similar events will take place across the state on Thursday.

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