DMI Blog

Andrea Batista Schlesinger

Why you should join me on Monday

Dear Friend of DMI:

Economic development. Reducing poverty. Good jobs. Fair taxation. A strong business climate. Holding elected officials accountable. Supporting our cities. Community empowerment.

We talk about these topics, but usually on different days. With different "commissions," and in different press conferences. With different pieces of legislation championed by different politicians, while different interest groups clap or protest.

Why? Because it's simply easier that way.

It's harder to look at how these issues interconnect at the critical moment - when it comes to setting public policy.

Take, for example, the issue of accountability for economic development subsidies. While it's complicated, and I'll admit I'm just learning about it, the decision of whom we subsidize through tax dollars and what we get in exchange cuts through political rhetoric like few others. It gets right to the core of the question: what kind of city do we want?

We have all of these issues and more to talk about on Monday September 18th in the latest installment of DMI's Marketplace of Ideas series.

This is a national issue. But let's take New York, DMI's headquarters, where millions of dollars are spent to subsidize economic development projects. Like when Goldman Sachs threatened to leave downtown. Like the new Yankees stadium. Like some pieces of the proposed Atlantic Yards. Supporters say we offer subsidies to foster a positive business climate and make it possible for big businesses to stay here in NYC instead of moving out. We give them millions to stay, and in exchange, they are supposed to do their part by keeping New Yorkers employed.

Sounds good? Sure. But too often, these companies a) don't create the jobs they said they would, b) don't create the kinds of jobs that New York really needs and c) wouldn't have left New York anyways. So why the subsidy? As Bettina Damiani, head of Good Jobs New York said to me recently, "some think the sun wouldn't rise without a subsidy."

It's time to ask and answer some important questions: How can our economic development policy also reduce poverty? How do we choose which businesses need to be supported with subsidies? How do we ensure that corporations fulfill their promises? How do we do all of this while spending New Yorkers' tax dollars fairly and wisely? And, ultimately, what kind of New York do we want for New Yorkers?

The first step is to have conversations like this one, that aren't about why a particular project is good or bad - in fact, that's where too many of us concentrate our efforts. It's easy to be "for" and "against" something reflexively - but it's more important that we build standards through public policy that we look to even when the project isn't in our neighborhood. It is important to have enough transparency in these deals so that we can all make informed decisions before donning a placard.

On Monday, we'll hear from Minnesota State Senator John Hottinger, who sponsored Minnesota's groundbreaking law instituting new standards of transparency and accountability for state and local economic development subsidies. The 1995 law and its subsequent enhancements required that companies who receive public subsidies but fail to reach job creation goals repay the subsidy with interest. The legislation also mandated increased corporate disclosure, wage standards for the jobs created, and public hearings before large subsidies could be granted. The law is credited with recouping millions of dollars in state funds and increasing civic engagement around issues of economic development.

And we have a great panel lined up:

Errol Louis, New York Daily News columnist. Errol has taught college, co-founded an inner-city community credit union, and was once named by New York Magazine as one of 10 New Yorkers making a difference "with energy, vision and independent thinking." And he is one of the few media voices taking on the issue of subsidy accountability in his columns.

State Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky
represents the 92nd Assembly District. He serves as Chairman of the Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions, which oversees the state's public and private corporations. This includes jurisdiction over business corporation law and telecommunications, as well as all public authorities, such as the MTA, the Thruway Authority, the Public Service Commission, the Port Authority, and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

And Adrianne Shropshire, a DMI Fellow and Executive Director of Jobs with Justice, and who led the campaign for Industrial Development Agency reform.

The timing couldn't be better for our talk, as the city and state have to reconcile their goals of creating new jobs, keeping corporations here, eradicating poverty, and maintaining the middle class. And as we continue a conversation about the role of taxes in our lives, it's fair to pay as much attention to corporate use of our tax dollars as we do to other forms of "welfare."

So come and share your thoughts about subsidies and accountability on Monday, September 18 at DMI's next Marketplace of Ideas.


Andrea Batista Schlesinger
Executive Director

Space is limited. Please RSVP to or by calling 212-909-9663.

P.S. Please visit to learn about other policymakers challenging what is possible in public policy. You can watch our events, listen to them, even download them onto your iPod today.

Andrea Batista Schlesinger: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 10:22 AM, Sep 14, 2006 in Cities | Economic Opportunity | Employment
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