April 29, 2009, Greene County Daily Mail: Greene IDA decries state legislation, Lopez calls proposed bill a “witch hunt”

Greene IDA decries state legislation

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Lopez calls proposed bill a “witch hunt”

By Susan Campriello

CATSKILL — A bill in the state Legislature would jeopardize new ventures facilitated by the Greene County Industrial Development Agency, according to officials.

The most contentious provision in the bill calls for paying prevailing wages for construction and building work, which, according to Sandy Mathes, executive director of the Greene County IDA, will increase the cost of projects by one-third.

“It will make a challenging situation worse,” he said, adding that New York already has a non-competitive market for work on industrial parks.

The legislation demands that work on IDA projects be completed by contractors and subcontractors that have appropriate apprenticeship agreements.

The bill requires a company receiving funding from an IDA would have to pay its employees no less than the median hourly wage for five years after a project is completed.

IDAs would also have to make available to the public all payment in lieu of of taxes schedules, including the name of the taxpayer and payment amounts.

The bill also sets rules for appointing board members from environmental organizations, school boards, organized labor, and other groups with community interests. It also directs IDA to support three projects of less than $100,000 a year if such projects exists and also to maintain a Web site.

Mathes said his agency, and agencies across the state, follows rules set forth by the Public Authority Law. In Greene County, the IDA is subject to an independent audit and other aggressive requirements and performs State Environmental Quality Reviews.

Mathes said the requirements in the legislation will significantly decrease the efficiency of his agency.

“There is nothing in that bill that would help us,” Mathes said.

Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie, said he worries that the bill will gut functional IDAs in his district.

IDAs, he said, provide essential assistance for businesses in certain locations which would otherwise be unable to open.

Lopez said has heard anecdotally about problems the legislation targets within IDAs around the state, but is unaware of issues within his district.

He said the bill offers one solution for all the problems that may or may not face each IDA in the state.

“There is a tendency in Albany to overstate a case and sometimes take it beyond a rational approach and it reaches the point where it is like a lynch-mob mentality, it becomes fashionable to attach something,” Lopez said.

He worried that economy would suffer if IDAs were rendered useless.

“If we engage in this witch hunt, and we try to use this one-size-fits-all and if we try to impose an artificial wage framework that may fit in urban settings or Downstate but not our rural communities, we are going to come up empty-handed,” Lopez said.

The state Economic Development Council, the AFL-CIO and the Working Families Party were a few organizations that opposed a similar bill; that bill was rejected by the state Senate last session.

Lopez said that many hospitals and not-for-profit organizations have benefited from IDA initiatives because at times they cannot seek necessary funding through other programs.

State Sen. James L. Seward (R-Oneonta) said that for years Republicans in the legislature worked to re-authorize IDA legislation that did not put forth the restrictions in the current bill.

“This legislation would hinder economic development and discourage job development, something we sorely need during these tough economic times,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

The Greene County IDA has a hand in 65 projects around the county including the Catskill Waterfront Revitalization project, the Greene Business Park, in Coxsackie, and the neighboring Kalkberg Business Park, in both Coxsackie and New Baltimore.

Lopez said some of the wage argument has grown out of conflicts between organized labor and the business communities, and employers and their workers.

Coxsackie Town Supervisor Alex Betke said that upstate communities do not have the organized labor force found in urban centers.

“We have seen a good mix of union workers and local small contractors and it has all worked out very well,” he said.

To reach reporter Susan Campriello, please call (518) 943-2100, ext. 3333, or e-mail [email protected].

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