St. Lawrence County Legislative chair says revised ‘Tax Free NY’ program would foster economic growth, CSEA calls it ‘corporate welfare’
Thursday, June 20, 2013 - 5:54 pm

By CRAIG FREILICH

Praise is pouring in from many quarters in St. Lawrence County for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s revised Tax Free NY program of tax breaks for business aimed at creating jobs upstate.

St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators Chair Jonathan Putney says the plan will “foster regional economic growth,” Clarkson University’s president has voiced enthusiastic support and the state university chancellor “could not be more excited.”

But a CSEA union leader calls the plan a “corporate welfare gimmick.”

The governor says he has agreement, coming at the end of the current legislative session, with leaders of the state Senate and Assembly for a “startup” version of his Tax-Free NY plan.

And while the newly christened Start-Up NY has drawn the support of the leaders, so far no state legislators from St. Lawrence County have offered comment on the revised plan. But the chairman of the county legislature is for it.

“Under his Start-Up NY program, not only will our universities and colleges educate New York's future entrepreneurs, they will also serve as incubators to foster regional economic growth,” said Putney, a Democrat from Waddington.

His statement neatly summarizes the governor’s intent to lure businesses to state university campuses, private campuses, and other areas of upstate with promises of complete relief from state business taxes and property taxes for 10 years. Income taxes for employees will not be collected at all for five years, and at a reduced rate for five more years, a little different from the governor’s original plan for a straight 10-year break.

But there is open skepticism.

“Tax-Free NY, by any name, is a corporate welfare gimmick that further divides New Yorkers,” said CSEA President Danny Donohue, whose union represents hundreds of workers in St. Lawrence County including many at Clarkson.

Other public workers’ unions were critical of the plan as well.

The core idea is to recreate the purported success of a “center of innovation” near Albany where some high-tech businesses have set up shop. The governor’s announcement suggests that the generous tax incentives and the synergy of bright young students and motivated entrepreneurs promise to draw high-tech startups to unused space at SUNY campuses around the state, creating high-paying jobs and boosting the economy of upstate in general.

The idea is similar to what Clarkson University has been doing in recent years in trying to capitalize on research done at the university and fostering an environment of entrepreneurship.

The governor’s plan “transforms New York as a place that truly is open for business and ready for long-term investment,” said Anthony Collins, Clarkson’s president and co-chair of the successful North Country Regional Economic Development Council.

“START-UP NY spurs family sustaining jobs in the innovation economy that will have positive spin-off impact into many different sectors in our communities throughout the state.

“When higher education can create new products and innovative technologies that create jobs that stay in their communities and bring private investment to our own backyards rather than other states, everyone in New York wins,” Collins said.

In Albany, SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher said that “The leadership of the entire SUNY system coalesced around this proposal and we are now fully embracing the opportunity before us. I want to thank Governor Cuomo for his bold, innovative ideas and leadership, and our legislative leaders for backing this landmark agreement.”

Every SUNY community college and four-year college and university can establish a tax-free zone using empty buildings or vacant land, or if they find a place to establish a business “incubator.” Businesses that would compete with local businesses would not be eligible.

According to the governor’s announcement, there would be “robust protections against fraud” of the kind that eventually finished off the state’s Empire Zone tax breaks when it became clear that job creation did not materialize at anywhere near the rate that had been promised by businesses taking advantage of the program.