Rightfully so, local leaders call for IDA reform
In response to the growing desire for change to the local IDA, Cheektowaga Supervisor Mary Holtz introduced IDA reform legislation at Tuesday’s town board work session. But it’s not just Holtz and Cheektowaga Town Board members who wish to see IDA reform; it’s residents, business owners, even Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
The problem with IDAs, according to those who object to the agencies, is that they give tax breaks to projects that do not profit the region as a whole. And according to Poloncarz, the tax breaks provided by IDAs do not substantially create jobs and certainly do not benefit neighboring towns.
This creates unfair competition in recruiting businesses to Western New York towns – businesses are more likely to set up shop in a town that gives them tax breaks, of course.
There are local IDAs in Amherst, Clarence, Concord, Hamburg, and Lancaster; but what about the rest of us? The playing field must be leveled out. This is downright unfair to towns like Cheektowaga that are without their own IDA.
But that doesn’t change the feelings leaders of towns with their own agency, who believe that something is better than nothing – which is true. But why not let that “something” be “something more,” something that extends to the region as a whole and not merely to town lines?
A lot of what it comes down to is simple: it’s about decision-making. Will giving an up-and-coming pizzeria tax breaks really help the greater economy? Are projects that seem simple in comparison – such as opening a pizzeria that will create 15 jobs as opposed to a company that creates hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs – really the ones local IDAs should be taking on? Why would something as small as a pizzeria receive significant tax breaks in one town, while a company that can generate genuine profits in another town receives no incentives?
Poloncarz and other leaders, like Cheektowaga’s own Mary Holtz, are right in their criticism of local IDAs. It seems the only supporters of the agencies are those towns that have their own, which makes sense. While the towns with IDAs benefit from new businesses opening up after they receive incentives, neighboring municipalities reap little to no benefits of the projects.
It’s time things change. It’s time to level out the playing field. It’s time for IDA reform, whether we want to acknowledge it or not.
The Erie County executive is scheduled to meet with supervisors of towns that lack local IDAs, rightfully so. Something must happen to make things fairer, so that businesses do not choose their home bases based on tax breaks, but rather on a bigger picture. Development agencies should be focused on job creation and company growth, not tax breaks and how much they can save.
Between the efforts of Mark Poloncarz, Mary Holtz and the town board, and other local leaders, IDA reform seems possible. And for our sakes, let’s hope the possibility of reform becomes a reality.