BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Since 2011, New York's regional economic development councils have awarded several billion taxpayer dollars for projects across the state, even as some legislators grumbled the councils technically didn't exist in state statute.
"The governor has willed them into existence," said Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore.
This year, the Assembly is considering legislation that would codify the ten councils, or REDCs, into law. As part of the bill, members would be subject to the Public Officers Law, which requires an annual financial disclosure statement.
"It's not a big imposition and the form is nowhere near as long as the form which the REDCs require applicants for funding to fill out," Schimminger said.
This week, members of both the Finger Lakes and Western New York Regional Councils sent letters to the legislature, voicing their concerns about the bill. They said REDC members, who are volunteers, mostly from the business and academic communities, follow extensive rules to avoid conflicts of interest.
"The fear on the part of Empire State Development and the Governor's Office is that if these private citizens are forced to disclose a lot of personal, private information, that they would decline to serve," WNY Regional Economic Development Council Co-Chair Jeff Belt said.
Despite the objections, the bill was moved from the Assembly's economic development committee to its codes committee Wednesday. While Speaker Carl Heastie wouldn't say if it would come to the floor for a full vote, he did express tacit support for it.
"I think we're in a place where many people including the governor and all of you and the government groups have screamed for transparency, so this isn't any different," said Heastie.
Belt believes for some, not all, members of the legislature, this is an attempt to derail the REDC process and put the disbursement of economic development funds back in their control.
"We need more time to show the people of Upstate New York and the western region that this strategy is really working," said Belt.
Schimminger, who co-sponsored the legislation and chairs the economic development commmittee, said unpaid commissioners all across the state are subject to the same rules though.
"All that's in this proposal is that sunlight fall on the operation of the REDCs so that maybe some problems such as those we've seen in some other entities in the past couple of years don't occur in the future at the REDCs," he said.
Long Island Republican Tom Croci is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill.