Malta Supervisor Paul Sausville’s reluctance to help the Luther Forest Technology Campus by rescinding a ban on tax breaks for the new businesses that officials want to attract, is somewhat understandable. Wasn’t the enormous GlobalFoundries plant, built there with more than $1.2 billion in state subsidies, supposed to act as a lure for the rest of the tech park, thus making local tax breaks unnecessary?
Apparently, it hasn’t turned out that way. In fact, not a single business has chosen to locate at Luther Forest since GlobalFoundries signed up three years ago, and the leader of the nonprofit corporation that’s been trying to fill the park’s remaining 1,200 acres cites the town’s prohibition on PILOT agreements — payments in lieu of property taxes — as a major culprit.
It turns out that such breaks — a form of corporate welfare — are what really attract new businesses or get existing ones to expand, and any community or business park that doesn’t offer them is at a distinct competitive disadvantage with ones that do.
Sausville defends the ban, citing a “promise to residents” that he feels obligated to keep; but the town, which basically sold its soul to the devil when it let GlobalFoundries in, would probably benefit more — financially, anyway — if the tech park had more tenants. The major damage from Luther Forest — the sprawl development it started — is already under way and irreversible.
Denying the change would be more likely to result in the state, which holds liens on the tech park because of multimillion-dollar loans, taking ownership of it. And in the long run, that may not be in the town’s best interests, as it will be that much more removed from control of the parcel.
Malta’s refusal to grant PILOTs may help other communities around the region as they compete for the multitude of ancillary businesses the GlobalFoundries operation is likely to spawn. But if it hastens the state’s takeover of the property, the town may get pressured into accepting such changes with little say on their terms.