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Start-Up NY not worth continuing

Start-Up NY not worth continuing

After two full years, economic development plan not providing good return on taxpayers' investment

The cowardly, cynical, dishonest way in which the state released the latest employment information on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's highly touted job-creation program, Start-Up NY, should tell taxpayers all they need about whether they should continue to pour good money after bad into this program.

Start-Up NY provides massive 10-year tax breaks for companies and their employees for operations established in conjunction with college campuses around the state.

The program is costing New York taxpayers about $55 million a year, just in promotion and advertising, not including the lost tax revenue the businesses might have generated.

More than 90 days after the March 31 deadline for releasing updated information on the program, Empire State Development finally released its Business Incentives Report — after 4 p.m. on the Friday of a three-day holiday weekend.

The release of the report — which wasn't accompanied by a press release or any of the other notifications the state traditionally issues — was deliberately designed to catch the media off guard and the public not paying attention. Politicians know citizens tend to put aside their newspapers, skip the TV news and ignore their Internet alerts in favor of family gatherings, fireworks and other July 4th activities.

The report, if you scroll down to the fine print on page 10, indicated that the two-year-old program only generated 408 jobs and $32.25 million in salaries last year. That's up from just 76 jobs the year before.

(See the report here. Start-Up NY is only on pages 9-11, so it's a quick read.)

The weak numbers should come as no surprise. A state comptroller's report issued in May had already questioned the value state taxpayers are receiving in return for their investment.

Certainly, 400 jobs and $32 million in new wages is nothing to sneeze at. As a friend used to say, it's better than a sharp stick in the eye.

But given what the state has invested in the program, and given that despite all that promotion it has not generated significantly more jobs and investment after two full years, the program appears to be headed for a premature demise.

The report states that the program will create 1,128 jobs this year and 1,932 next year, and a total of about 4,100 by 2020.

But the projections for future job growth touted in the report are no guarantee.

Those projections assume the companies involved will stay in the program and will fully meet their projections. Already, several companies have dropped out or said they plan to. And some have committed to the program but not actually gone forward. Will they ever?

You can't blame the colleges for not doing their part. So far, 75 public and private colleges have committed more than 5.1 million square feet of space to the program. But so far, only 159 companies, minus the drop-outs, are taking advantage of it.

It's clear that despite the state's expensive and aggressive promotion, Start-Up NY is not providing taxpayers with enough return to justify further investment in it.

Maybe if New York's lawmakers and the governor put more effort into reducing the real impediments to job growth in New York — high taxes, high energy costs and overregulation — the state might not need such gimmicks to get businesses interested in locating or expanding here.

But if we do need to incentivize through tax breaks and other perks, we obviously need to find a better way to do it than Start-Up NY.

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