IDA Reform Needed Now
by Daniel J. Ward
True, this is one big mutual back-scratching deal—and everyone is in on it because they all have some pet project. Jacobs pays everyone, as does Uniland. (I never got any, never asked, that’s why I am here typing, and not still in office.) As long as we have a campaign finance system (or lack thereof) that is like the Wild West out there, this is bound to happen..
I am sure these greedy corporate types would rather not have to pay for elections/candidates out of their hard(ly) earned money, but they cannot afford not to. I am happy to have been a part in the creation of a super agency from a sleepy little do-nothing IDA, and the intentions of all were good at the time, but looking back I regret it because the totality of circumstances led to the perversion of function. As we are always in a degree of economic distress, I guess it is or was too much to expect that any agency with so much power and staff, needing to justify its existence and paychecks, to hold the developers to any discipline or set of rules. Their success and paychecks would soon be tied to big dollar amounts of as many projects as could be done, and no one was ever able to stay the course and demand the true creation of jobs.
They soon became a monster unleashed—both the Erie County Industrial Development Agency and the Amherst Industrial Development Agency. They were designed to attract and assist companies, or industries, but instead became perverted into assisting the development companies and contractors, who then in theory were supposed to bring in the companies/jobs. They probably tried, on the theory if you build it, they will come. Instead, it probably just upgraded the stock of available industrial and commercial buildings and put a lot of money in the pocket of the developer class.
The developer class became the ultimate arbiters of local elections, due in part to the departure of so many real businesses, and due to their emergence as the only ones left standing, with great public subsidy, who had available cash to throw around in elections.
And this system just became worse and worse. The name of the game is no longer (if it ever was) job creation, or even job retention (poor as that is); it is to navigate the any number of exceptions cleverly carved out by IDA staff, and approval to them nodded by well meaning but not analytical boards, to make any project fit and go.
This is a system that cannot last and must end. Otherwise we are like a dog eating its own tail. We have few jobs to show for it, and most of the jobs are not of high quality or pay, and the ones that have been created are so heavily subsidized that they cannot be worth it.
Ever ingenious at preserving their cottage industry status, IDAs have expanded their functions into college dormitories and senior housing. Instead of stopping the cancer, it is spreading. Will there be no end? Every possible project cannot be IDA-eligible. In theory, all or most business ends up tax exempt or subsidized, and the public picking up the tab. This is as ludricous as gambling our way to prosperity.
Somewhere in this philosophical morass, it is not someone who has to arise to champion the public good; it is a community that must arise and not so much throw the rascals out (we are the rascals after all) but devise a system that appeals to the sacrifice of all for the benefit of all. Companies must resist the corporate welfare in the public interest. As well, the public must demand reform that does not give away the store in a blind belief somehow, somewhere prosperity will trickle down on the general welfare. This requires a recapture of the revolutionary spirit that founded this country, not the decadence of Rome, an empire in decline. Are there any patriots out there?
- Daniel J. Ward, Amherst
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