If you’re excited about the tax-free zones to be created at state colleges, let the world know, but if you have concerns, keep them to yourself.
That was the message from Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy, who gave a hard sales pitch Wednesday at SUNY Empire State College in Saratoga Springs for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s START-UP NY initiative, which was approved by the state Legislature in the final days of session last week and awaits Cuomo’s signature.
The program creates areas at State University of New York campuses and private colleges where new and expanding businesses can locate with the promise of no state taxes for 10 years.
Critics of the idea, who have popped up on the right and left side of the ideological spectrum, say the program is unfair to existing businesses outside of the zones and isn’t fair for employees who work outside the zones, as new employees in the zone making less than $200,000 annually won’t have to pay state income taxes for 10 years.
“I don’t argue one bit with the issue of the existing companies; [it] is a very valid point to make,” said Duffy, who later encouraged people with reservations to give them up and support this movement.
Existing businesses have some protection under the rules of the tax-free zones, which require the state to consider whether a new business in a zone would compete with existing businesses.
Duffy argued this is the right proposal for New York because it offers lower taxes, which he said are the biggest obstacle to economic development. Addressing the state’s high taxes in an all-encompassing fashion would have taken too much time, he said.
Additionally, it would have been impossible for an across-the-board tax cut, he said, because it would cut needed revenue.
“If we did nothing ... maybe there is certain small-level gradations of change [in employment],” he said, “This is a game-changer.”
Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chairman Alan Grattidge, R-Charlton, agreed with Duffy’s premise that low taxes spur job growth, citing Saratoga County’s low unemployment as evidence. He didn’t enthusiastically support the program, though, saying the county was reviewing the concerns of existing businesses.
Possible areas for expansion in the county include Empire State College in Saratoga Springs and SUNY Adirondack in Wilton. Initially sold as Tax-Free NY, with the benefits geared toward upstate New York, the rebranding to SUNY Tax-free Areas to Revitalize and Transform Upstate New York included an expansion of the program to Long Island and New York City. These areas are generally regarded to be more ripe for development than areas upstate that desperately need jobs, but won’t have the competitive edge the program initially provided.
Duffy said the expansion was due to negotiations with the state Legislature, but stressed that the governor still envisions this program as an upstate program.
“I don’t think in any way it will negate the impact on upstate,” he said of the expansion.
In order to qualify for the tax-free zones, a business needs to demonstrate to the state that they’re aligned with or will further the academic mission of the college.