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Disney grant for 'Newsies' better spent on economy

Disney grant for 'Newsies' better spent on economy

Why would a corporation rivaling the U.S. Mint and Donald Trump in their ability to make money need

Through last Friday, the Disney corporation had made $1.4 billion from people going to see its latest blockbuster movie, “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

Overall, the Mickey Mouse company took in $12.6 billion in revenue — just from January to March of this year.

So why would a corporation rivaling the U.S. Mint and Donald Trump in their ability to make money need $1 million of New Yorkers’ tax money destined for job creation to help offset the cost of putting on the play “Newsies” at Proctors in Schenectady last year?

More importantly, why, after the company failed obtain a 25 percent movie tax credit that wasn’t in place when it decided to come to Schenectady, did Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, through the Empire State Development Corp., feel obligated to arrange to give Disney the million bucks after the fact?

That million dollars is part of a $17 million pool of grant money being distributed to 22 projects around the state to create nearly 1,300 jobs and help retain more than 1,500.

Empire State Development gives out the grants to strengthen companies’ positions in New York, spur local economic growth and offset incentives offered in other states. The money is leveraged against $200 million in private investments to boost New York’s economy.

Among the projects funded with the grant money were a major rehabilitation project in Syracuse to create commercial space for medical and financial services, equipment for a medical education program for disadvantaged and underserved students on Long Island, the fuel conversion to natural gas at the International Paper mill in Ticonderoga, an ice rink and arena in Niagara County, rehabilitation and equipment for a print technology company in central New York, rehabilitation of an old bank building to generate economic activity in the struggling city of Utica, the creation and retention of jobs in the Ground Zero area of Manhattan, and the Market NY program to promote tourism and other activities around the state. These seem like worthy projects that will help their respective communities generate business and economic growth over the long term.

Emphasis on “long term.” Unlike the other grants, none of the money from the Capital District’s allocation created any permanent jobs, although it did create 155 temporary jobs in the area while the play was in production.

The $1 million given to Disney also was the only allocation awarded to the Capital District from the latest round of ESDC grants. Were other local applications passed over so the state could give Disney this gift?

What other projects could this money have funded, how many jobs could it have created, and what other struggling companies could have been helped were this million dollars not diverted to Disney? Shouldn’t need factor into the equation in awarding grants?

The state was not obligated to award Disney this money. The company had to go and ask for a financial incentive to replace the tax credit it didn’t get. If the state was somehow in error by not awarding Disney the tax break, then the company certainly had the means to take the state to court to recover the lost revenue. But if this was just a case of the company missing out, then how are state taxpayers responsible for that?

Maybe the money was insurance against Disney snubbing its nose at New York the next time it has a play. But do state officials really want to start the practice of rewarding companies that happen to miss out on tax breaks coming back to taxpayers for more?

With all the state’s economic problems, officials didn’t need to find a back door way to reward a multi-billion-dollar entertainment giant with money that could have been put to better use helping businesses and taxpayers in New York state.

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