When you have bad news to dump — say, about a poorly conceived giveaway to corporate interests that has cost tens of millions of dollars and produced virtually nothing in return — take a cue from Governor Andrew Cuomo; dump it on a Friday, before a holiday weekend, in a footnote halfway through an annual report.
That was the approach Cuomo adopted this past weekend, when the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) revealed that the multimillion-dollar Start-Up NY program had created a grand total of 408 new jobs in its two-year history.
Designed to spur investment in high-tech businesses that orbit college campuses, Start-Up was framed as a way to entice the state’s newest flock of corporate darlings. The Cuomo administration has dumped at least $45.1 million in taxpayer money into an ad campaign promoting the program, which offers a ten-year tax holiday to new businesses in certain parts of the state.
Based on the numbers released Friday, the cost of promoting the plan works out to about $110,539 per job created, even before accounting for lost tax revenue.
The businesses participating in the program span a significant range of plausibility. There are developers of efficiency software designed to help businesses wring every drop of shareholder value out of their lazy-ass workers; breweries like the Royal Meadery, which makes a wine from honey called mead, the drink of choice of medieval serfs; and of course Dog Ways, a software platform that helps you find social events for your dog.
Start-Up NY is just one of dozens of incentive programs the Cuomo administration has touted to lure businesses to the state and supposedly keep them from fleeing to libertarian utopias like Texas, where businesses needn’t contend with bothersome regulations, environmental or otherwise. Collectively they offer billions in tax breaks, subsidies, and other perks, all at taxpayer expense.
In a report issued last year by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, those programs, which are administered by more than two hundred different subagencies, were found to be strikingly opaque and too diffuse to accurately track.
The authors of the report go to pains to point out that things may well get better for Start-Up NY. “Like other tax incentive programs,” reads the footnote on the report that contains the numbers the state would rather you didn’t focus on, “START-UP NY is expected to grow exponentially as the program continues to move forward.” According to ESDC, 4,100 jobs have been pledged by 2020. So depending on how much the state pays to promote the program in the meantime, maybe it’ll all be worth it in the end.
As DiNapoli’s office wrote last year of programs like Start-Up NY, “ESDC’s efforts to publicly assess the effects of its programs appear limited.” This most recent report was released three months late, on a Friday afternoon, without so much as a press release accompanying it — at least they’re consistent!