By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a plan to develop "tax-free communities" for new businesses on higher-education campuses throughout the state during a visit to Western New York on Wednesday.
Cuomo’s “Tax-Free NY” plan would eliminate all taxes – including income tax for employees - for new companies that locate on and around college campuses.
The initiative is aimed at combatting New York’s image as a bad place to do business and to capitalize on the high-quality public schools of the State University of New York system, Cuomo said.
“New York is a high-tax state,” Cuomo said in a packed auditorium on the State University of New York at Buffalo's north campus in Amherst. “That’s the problem. That’s the perception. We want to shatter that perception, and that’s what we’re trying to do with the program we’re announcing today.”
State schools – including Niagara County Community College and UB – would see the lion’s share of the available tax-free space with 120 million square feet of space for businesses planned. The initiative would offer another three million square feet of space for private universities. Up to 200,000 square feet of additional tax-free space will be available in the community surrounding selected campuses, according to the governor's office.
New businesses located in the communities would pay no taxes for the first 10 years of their existence under the plan.
Cuomo believes the initiative would make New York one of the most competitive business climates in the country.
"There is no place you could go in the United States of America where you would pay less taxes than you are paying in these communities," Cuomo said.
Cuomo said that while the state university system produces a large pool of talented, young minds, it fails to capitalize on that asset, as high taxes and “red tape” often chase young entrepreneurs to other places after they graduate.
“We birth the ideas in New York because we have the schools and we have the minds and we have the talent,” Cuomo said. “But, we lose the businesses.”
The program, which he hopes to push through the legislature before the end of session in late June, would help to retain graduates, attract investors from other states and encourage partnerships between private-sector companies and the higher education institutions, Cuomo said.
“That’s what these tax-free communities are going to do,” Cuomo said. “They’re going to liberate the assets of New York and bring jobs back here and keep jobs here and keep young people here. That’s what it’s all about.”
The program would not reduce revenue for the state because the businesses and jobs created would otherwise be in other states, Cuomo said.
"These are all new jobs that wouldn't have existed anyway, so there is no lost revenue to the state,"Cuomo said.
Mayor Paul Dyster attended the press event Wednesday afternoon. He said New York lags behind in the creation of businesses and the filing of patents, in part, because of the state's anti-business reputation.
"Part of it, at least, is the perception," Dyster said. "The governor is trying to break that cycle."
Dyster said the program will create a partnership between the private sector and the state's strong university system that will help to make it more like other innovation hubs such as Austin, Texas and San Francisco, Cali.
"This is a very bold plan and big problems sometimes call for bold measures," Dyster said. "I think this is the kind of thing that is going to be talked about in economic development circles around the country. How could it not?"
Not everyone was as supportive. In a statement issued following Cuomo's announcement, CSEA President Danny Donohue slammed the new proposal, saying it represents yet another tax giveaway to business at the expense of local communities and middle class jobs.
"The governor doesn't get the fact that more corporate welfare is no answer to New York's economic challenges," Donahue said.Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257